In many ways, life was easier when my children were small. I was the house authority on all things – Mom has spoken. In most instances, they looked to me for advice and direction. But as every mother knows, they grow up, form their own opinions, follow their own trends and make their own decisions. With two out of my three children being professed vegetarians (and one teetering on the fence), I have to become creative during the holidays and other family gatherings. Preparing vegetarian fare takes planning and commitment. Nothing ticks off a vegetarian more than eating a meal and finding out there was hidden meat or a meat by-product in it (whether intentional or not). Most of my recipes contain some form of meat or meat-based product (even if it’s only chicken broth). To present true vegetarian dishes my children can feel comfortable eating, I seek out vegetarian recipes or adapt my own recipes to utilize alternative ingredients that don’t contain meat or meat by-products.
One crowd-pleaser (and vegetarian-pleaser) is stuffed mushrooms. Sauté minced onion and mushroom stems in butter and add finely chopped water chestnuts; then add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Incorporate an herb-flavored bread stuffing mix (preferably organic) and a couple of beaten eggs, then heat until stuffing is cooked through. Spoon stuffing into mushroom caps, top with grated Parmesan cheese and cook in a 375 degree oven for approximately 15 minutes, until cheese is golden and bubbly. If your vegetarian doesn’t eat dairy or eggs, use a non-dairy or vegan cheese substitute and an egg substitute (or just leave the eggs out). I also prepare a separate bowl of vegetarian stuffing at Thanksgiving for my daughters; they feel more included when there are dishes they look forward to.
Mashed potatoes are always popular; use plenty of butter and cream (I also add a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise – a secret ingredient for added flavor and creaminess). For vegans, a cream or milk substitute can be used, as well as a butter substitute or a little olive oil. Remember, mayonnaise contains eggs, so you may want to leave that out for vegans, or use an eggless mayonnaise. You can also prepare gravy with a few tablespoons of butter, with flour added; let it brown slightly and add spices (cumin and thyme are good choices); then add vegetable broth and stir until gravy thickens. Again, olive oil or butter substitute can be used as an alternative to butter for vegans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. It’s great on mashed potatoes and stuffing; even non-vegetarians will hardly miss the meat.
Salads prepared with spring greens and romaine and topped with Julianne-style or wafer-thin slices of vegetables (carrots, cucumber or scallions) and sliced tomatoes with a Dijon or Balsamic vinaigrette make a great accompaniment to main dishes. A salad topped with sliced fruit (pears, apples, orange sections) and sprinkled with pecans or walnuts and thinly shaved Parmesan cheese or crumbled feta or goat cheese is delicious with a honey or citrus vinaigrette.
Pasta salads are an attractive and delectable substitute for meat dishes. A variety of pasta, such as penne, elbow macaroni, fusilli, rotini, cavatappi, farfalle and orecchiette are available for creating pasta salads. Adding diced celery and cucumber, minced onion, sliced tomatoes, basil and diced or shredded cheese (Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, Gorgonzola and Asiago are good choices), as well as olives, capers, bell peppers or sweet peppers makes for colorful and appetizing dishes. Add an oil and vinegar or mayonnaise-based dressing with salt and pepper and other spices (thyme, oregano) to produce a fresh alternative to heavier meat-based dishes.
A main-dish meal can be prepared by frying thin slices of zucchini, eggplant and sliced mushrooms in olive oil and minced garlic. Brush a loaf of Italian bread, halved, with a small amount of Italian dressing. Layer sliced cheese (Mozzarella and Provolone) with vegetable slices on the bread halves (with a few sliced sweet peppers, if desired); add a little salt, pepper, basil leaves and a small amount of thyme. Wrap in foil and bake in a 375 degree oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bread is toasty. Slice into individual portions and watch your vegetarians chow down. Even the non-vegetarians will love this one.
If you have a hard-to-please vegetarian, try a few of these dishes and wait for the compliments to roll in. Everyone wants to feel included during the holidays and when families get together. Mealtimes are a tradition for sharing family time and making memories. Reach out to your vegetarian friends and relatives and let them know you are thinking of them too. You might even learn to love eating healthier!