Hosts seem to panic when they have to prepare food for guests with special dietary needs. They wring their hands and furrow their brows in worry. It can be especially troublesome when the holiday is very meat centric like Thanksgiving---I mean how many times have you heard the holiday called "Turkey Day"?! If the big bird isn't the focal point of the meal, then what will fill the void?
Well, the answer varies by vegan or vegetarian in question. Some are content filling up on side dishes, others like a protein based entrée such as a bean dish or tofu. Ersatz meat-looking products are a must for some.
My best suggestion is open up a dialogue with your guests that have special dietary needs. If you feel their meal requirements are out of your wheelhouse, don't be afraid to say so. This is especially true when someone has a food allergy or celiac disease. If you are honest that the task of assuring each ingredient is free of their off limits food, or you feel the whole cross-contamination thing is too overwhelming--then tell them! Better safe than sorry.
Arrange for them to bring their own food and heat it up in a manner that is "safe" for them. This can alleviate the worries of both host and guest on many levels. In any case, take their lead. If your guest says "I'm happy munching on the salad and some of the veggie sides." Trust that they really are happy with the salad and sides, and don't spend the whole meal being apologetic, and saying that you're so sorry you don't have more for them, etc. Most people on special diets have come to an internal realization (even if it was an uneasy one to achieve) that they have to look beyond the food as the focal point at social gatherings. Provide a warm reception and sparkling conversation to make your guest feel included in the meal.
For some great vegan recipe ideas check out Isa Chandra Moskowitz's book Isa Does It. Although she uses wheat flour, I found her baked goods come out well when I sub all purpose gluten free flour blends. Her marble banana cake (half plain-half chocolate) is one great example of this!
The following salad is great because it has a complete vegetarian protein (legumes and rice), so it can serve as an entrée or side dish. Additionally, it is good both warm or chilled. This is also my tribute to Trader Joe's--a store that clearly marks vegan and gluten free offerings on their packaging. All the items are easily found at Trader Joe's both in their traditional forms (i.e. raw rice or whole sweet potatoes), and convenient forms--pre-cubed and peeled sweet potatoes and frozen pre-cooked brown rice. It doesn't get any easier than this!
1 cup green lentils (it's important to use this variety, as they hold their shape and don't turn to mush when cooked), cooked according to package directions
2 cups prepared brown rice
1 large sweet potato, peeled, cubed and boiled or steamed until fork tender
3 stalks scallions, chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons honey or 2 Tablespoons agave nectar
1 garlic clove crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried sage or 3 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
sea salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
Gently toss all salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over salad ingredients and mix gently to coat.
The salad may be served warm or covered tightly and chilled. May be prepared and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings