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Advice needed on dinner menu w/vegetarians

So we're having 6 friends over for dinner in a couple of weeks. 2 of our friends are vegetarian. In the past, I've generally prepared a separate main course for them. However, I'm wondering whether you other 'hounds have found that it's better to just create a fully vegetarian menu for the entire dinner so that everyone is eating the same thing?

Here's what I'm thinking so far for a (mostly) vegetarian menu:

hors d'oeuvres:
- gougeres
- shrimp sauteed in butter/white wine/garlic/shallots (these are wonderful w/the gougeres)
- ??? (need something vegetarian to complement the gougeres)

soup course:
- roasted tomato soup garnished w/parmesan crisps

salad course:
- mixed greens served with a wedge of a puff pastry wrapped brie stuffed with roasted peaches and walnuts

main course:
- butternut squash ravioli with rapini and pine nuts in a brown butter sauce
- ??? (do I need to serve something else with the ravioli?)

dessert:
- bittersweet chocolate mousse

Any suggestions for the gaps? Does this sound like a well-balanced menu in terms of flavors and textures? Will the rapini work well with the ravioli and the brown butter, or should I go with a different sauce?

I would love other ideas for the menu, as well, and am totally open to suggestions -- particularly around the main course.

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  1. Doesn't appear to be many gaps in your menu, dear....you've a very nice menu planned. Were I making butternut squash ravioli, I think I'd make a sauce with a mix of butter and evoo, some fresh sage, a little fresh marjoram, and yes, the pine nuts would work well, too. You could even make a separate sauce for the meat-eaters by adding a little pancetta to the same sauce mix. Serve with parmesan cheese.

    Enjoy your dinner...sounds lovely.

    1. Your dinner does sound quite delicious. To complement the gougeres for the vegetarians, I'd suggest the same savory flavorings complementing sliced zucchini and one minced hot pepper, minus seeds and core.

      The main course sounds very nice - but I do notice everything else is very creamy/buttery/cheesy (not that that's a bad thing) and you might want something with a "sharper," less unctuous taste for contrast, particularly since you're ending with mousse. Perhaps a tagliatelle or other long pasta tossed with roasted vegetables - red and yellow peppers, sliced, shiitake and/or crimini mushrooms, zucchini, sweet onion, garlic, and a few kalamata olives and capers and chopped Italian parsley and fresh basil mixed through toward the end. The rapini would be very nice on the side of this.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rcallner

        The ravioli sound brilliant, and the bitter greens will cut nicely through the cream. Or, you could do the ravioli with the butter/sage sauce suggested above, and have the rapini with pine nuts as an accompaniment.

        I would try to include some sort of pulse in the menu for protein. For example, white navy beans, cooked in the same manner as the shrimp, would be a great vegetarian version of the first course.

        Instead of the peaches in the cheese pastry, I would just mix sliced pears or apples in with the greens. More seasonal, refreshingly crunchy, great with brie, and less work.

      2. Hi TorontoJ! You have made a great start, and I am going to copy some of your ideas in the future. But one thing I do when I have my (married) two good friends over is try my very best to adapt the entree to what I am serving her husband and myself. I understand it makes her feel more comfortable and not like such a "to-do" is being made over her.

        For example, last weekend, I had NY strips for the entree meat, and then grilled portabellas for her (nice "steaky"-type substitute). The time before that, I made Coq au Vin and took out all the non-chicken touched ingredients/sauce/broth and had marinated/cooked tofu in the place of the chicken.

        I hope this helps. I can't wait to read this thread. I always want to come up with good ideas for veggie entrees for my friend.

        1. Your menu sounds wonderful. I'm a vegetarian and would love to enjoy a dinner like the one you have planned.

          For the apps, you could cook sliced mushrooms with the same butter/white wine/garlic/shallot combination. I often make camarones al ajillo for my husband and hongos al ajillo for myself.

          For the salad course, why don't you include a piece of prosciutto in the puff pastry? (if that would go well with peaches; it's been so long I forget the flavor of prosciutto)

          1. I was thinking along the same lines for the app as an above poster.. perhaps stuffed mushrooms. Another idea would be marinated, skewered tomatoes and mozzarella balls with basil. Or, endive leaves stuffed w/ herbed cheese.

            For the main, you could add a side of brussel sprouts sauteed with chopped onions, a little wine, and seasonings. If you don't do mushrooms as an app, perhaps some caramelized onions and wild mushrooms stirfried, depending upon your recipe for your sauce for the ravioli, sometimes parsley and a little bit of crushed walnuts and wine... but if your ravioli has a white wine butter sage sauce, you don't want competitive flavors. Or, if you don't do a mozzarella/tomato app, try grilled or broiled seasoned tomatoes as a side... I think their juiciness would be a nice contrast to the ravioli.

            For dessert, I think a tiramisu might be nice as well, or perhaps a flourless chocolate cake. For some reason after the texture of ravioli and it's filling, I don't know that I'd want a similar texture in dessert, but I may be of the minority here. I could easily see a little hazelnut or mocha gelato w/ biscotti as well.

            1. i agree that the menu sounds terrific. last week, i made dinner for a friend who's been going through a hard time lately. i wanted an emphasis on comfort food. i made a butternut squash risotto, and served it with grilled chicken apple sausages. it was a nice flavor combination....might work well as an addition to the main course for the non veggie folks.

              1. 1) There is a potentially large "gap" in your planning. Many vegetarians do not eat dairy products, which would throw a major curve in your plan. "Lacto" vegetarians do, but many of them will not eat cheeses made with animal rennet. Gougeres is (are?) typically made with gruyère, a cheese made with animal rennet. Other cheeses you plan to use may be as well.

                2) Be careful not to use things like chicken stock or other animal parts like rendered fat from bacon.

                3) Simply removing the meat from something does not make it vegetarian; your menu looks good there -- just keep the shrimp from the rest.

                While some of you gentle readers will roll your eyes at what you think of as being excessively strict, keep in mind that these vegetarians simply think of it as being consistant.

                Four ways you can address this -- do a bunch of research yourself (hardest and potentially incomplete), ask someone knowledgeable for help, ask all the vegetarians for their restrictions, or have vegan alternatives.

                Have fun!

                1. Thanks to everyone for your feedback! My guest do eat dairy and eggs, so that's not a problem.

                  Your posts made me realize that I have cheese in every course. Oops! I think I'll come up with a different garnish for the soup -- does anyone have any suggestions there? I'd like something visually interesting that I could either float on the soup, or lay across the bowl.

                  I love the idea of sauteeing some nice mushrooms in the same sauce as the shrimp (separate pan, of course) for the app.

                  And for the brie, I like the idea of using pears or apples instead of peaches. It's definitely more seasonal, but I think I'll still put them in the brie itself (it's so yummy to have the fruit right in the warm brie itself).

                  For the ravioli, I like the white wine, butter, sage sauce. I'll toss the pine nuts in with the ravioli, and I'll serve the sauteed rapini as a little bundle on top of the ravioli. And I will definitely add some pancetta for the non-veg folks -- great idea!

                  I may reconsider the mousse because of the textural/richness issue some of you raise. But this is a group of chocolate lovers and the mousse is soooo good! I think serving it with some good espresso will help there. :)

                  Thanks so much for all the input! Please keep the ideas coming -- planning dinner parties with vegetarian friends definitely requires some thought.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    I really like apricots with brie - and I've also seen people post about cranberries and brie.

                    Maybe you could fry some onions as a garnish for the soup? Or parsnip chips (haven't made those!)?

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Ooh, I like the idea of parsnip chips, thanks!

                    2. re: TorontoJo

                      Parsnip chips sound good. Or you could fry some sage leaves; the color and texture combo would be great, and it'll tie it together with the flavor of the ravioli.

                      Chocolate mousse is never a bad thing. :) You could put a pirouline in each glass if you want to add a little crunch.

                      1. re: TorontoJo

                        Your menu sounds delicious! I love butternut squash ravioli and it never occurred to me to cook it with rapini, but will try that in the future.

                        To cut down on the richness I would suggest a fruit based dessert instead - things like crisps and cobblers are always big hits and easy to make. I'm always surprised at people's reactions to them since they don't seem like anything special, but really are always good. Or a fruit upside-down cake maybe. That would be my only suggested change.

                        Edit: Oops, just noticed that this is kind of old and you already had your dinner. Oh well - glad it turned out well!

                        1. re: ScarletB

                          Thanks! I agree with you, but most of my guests have a chocolate weakness, so I stuck with the mousse. But I did serve some fresh berries to minimally offset the guilt factor. :)

                      2. Remind me, what time is dinner? And I seem to have misplaced your address... ;)

                        The menu does sound delicious. I liked what someone said about a bitter greens taste to contrast with the ravioli. What about a side of sauteed kale or other greens with garlic, caramelized onions, butter and a pinch of salt?

                        Have a great dinner! Your guests will be thrilled.

                        1. Hi everyone, I just thought I should post back on the results of dinner. I stuck pretty close to my original menu, with some of the great tweaks suggested by the other posters.

                          hors d'oeuvres:
                          - simple tray of olives and nuts for the early arrivers
                          - white cheddar and chive gougeres
                          - shrimp sauteed in butter/white wine/garlic/shallots
                          - mini cremini mushrooms sauteed in butter/white wine/garlic/shallots (separate pan, of course!)

                          We served a Domaine Carneros brut and shots of Stoli Elit vodka for those who wanted something stronger!

                          The nibbles went over well. I was a bit disappointed in myself because I had made the gougeres in advance and froze them and I didn't rewarm them quite enough in the oven so they were slightly cool inside. But I did have them on a hot plate and they actually warmed up on their own there. A couple of people started stuffing the mushrooms and shrimp into the gougeres. :)

                          soup course:
                          - slow roasted tomato soup garnished w/baguette crisps broiled with grated parmesan

                          Yum, love this stuff and it was a big hit. It's amazing what taking yucky winter tomatoes and slow roasting for 7 hours will do to their flavor!

                          I really wanted something non-cheesy for the garnish, but ran out of time to do something in advance. The sea salt and olive oil baguette crisps (pre-made by Ace Bakery here in Toronto) worked really well -- sort of a glorified crouton!

                          salad course:
                          - mixed greens served with a wedge of a puff pastry wrapped brie stuffed with wilted spinach, sauteed apples and toasted walnuts

                          This was good and quite rich -- a small slice went a long way. Next time I'll stuff more apples and walnuts into the brie though for better taste and texture.

                          main course:
                          - pumpkin ravioli with a brown butter and sherry sauce and pine nuts, topped with roasted brussels sprouts

                          We served a New Zealand pinot noir with this.

                          These turned out very nice. Hubby and I did a dry run of the ravioli the week before to make sure they would work! Took canned pumpkin puree and added garlic and shallots sauteed in butter, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Used dumpling wrappers (cheating, I know), and trimmed the excess using a scalloped biscuit cutter. They were really cute and looked store bought. Next time I may try a curry seasoning for the pumpkin.

                          I went with brussels sprouts instead of rapini because of the timing factor -- it was easier to have the sprouts in the oven ready to go when the ravioli were done, rather than having to scramble to cook the rapini at the same time as the ravioli. Plus, I love brussels sprouts! The funniest thing is near the end of dinner, we were talking about the sprouts and one of guests said that he hadn't been served any. We said he had, since we plated all the dinners, and he *insisted* that he hadn't and that he hated brussels sprouts so he would have noticed. When asked whether he had any veggies on his ravioli, he said "yes, I had the mushrooms." Those were indeed the brussels sprouts and he is now a convert. :)

                          dessert:
                          - bittersweet chocolate mousse w/a skewer of blueberries and raspberries
                          - teas and lattes

                          Mousse was good except not as light and airy as my last batch. Not sure what happened. But it was still deliciously chocolately.

                          Thanks so much for all of your suggestions and support. I must admit to being a bit nervous at my first full vegetarian menu (with the exception of the shrimp, of course), but it all turned well in the end!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: TorontoJo

                            This sounds great--thanks for the update. Could you share your roasted tomatoes soup recipe? Thanks!

                            1. re: chowser

                              Sure, it's kind of embarrassing to call it a recipe, as there are about 4 real ingredients. Measurements are not exact, but it's crazy simple and really forgiving.

                              10 large plum tomatoes
                              1 red onion, coarsely chopped
                              2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped (or more if you love garlic)
                              vegetable or chicken broth

                              olive oil
                              kosher salt (or whatever salt you like to cook with)
                              pepper
                              dried basil

                              Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place cut side up on a cookie sheet with sides or roasting pan. Brush generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried basil. Roast in 225-degree oven for 6-7 hours. Your house will smell wonderful.

                              When tomatoes are done, sautee onions and garlic in some olive oil. I sautee over low heat to draw out the sweetness of the onions and garlic.

                              I have a Vita-Mix blender and just throw the tomatoes, onions and garlic into the blender with some organic vegetable broth and blend up the whole thing. The Vita-Mix reduces the tomato skins and seeds to nothing, so the end result is so smooth that it's almost creamy. I then transfer the soup to a pot just to heat it. I check the flavor and may add a pinch more basil, but generally the seasonings from the tomatoes are enough to flavor the whole soup. I may also add more broth if I think it's too thick. And that's it!

                              Any blender or immersion blender would be fine, too. You may not get the same creamy texture, but the flavor will be great. Let me know if you try it.

                              1. re: TorontoJo

                                Sounds great--thanks. I could just peel the tomatoes after roasting, too, and put in the food processor. I've been making a lot of roasted vegetable soups lately--perfect for winter. I'll bet this would be good with a little roasted red pepper, too. I can't wait to try it!

                          2. Keep in mind some vegans can't drink most wines as they are clarified with egg whites or fish bladders. I have some friends that are what I would describe as militant in their vegan beliefs so they tell me all this stuff.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Paul Weller

                              Really?! Fish bladders?

                            2. Just a question re your ravioli.....you mentioned dumpling wrappers?? can you clarify - did you mean wonton wrappers or something else?? I like the idea, as well as your filling, so will give this a shot myself!!! TIA

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: LoN

                                Yep, fresh (not frozen) dumpling wrappers. They are round and I think are just a little bit thicker than wonton wrappers. I buy them at T&T in Toronto, which is an Asian mega-market. But you can probably find them in a grocery store in any Chinatown. Wonton wrappers would work fine, too, especially if you trim away the excess dough (I prefer a higher ratio of filling to dough)

                                BTW, I used a 1 Tbsp. scoop for the filling on one wrapper, then brushed an egg wash (instead of water) to seal the edges because I wanted to guarantee that they wouldn't come apart when cooked. Then laid a second wrapper over the top, and used a fork to pinch the edges before using the biscuit cutter to trim away the excess dough. It's also important to get all/most of the air out before sealing, otherwise you get these air pockets that make the finished product look "discolored", lumpy and rather ugly. This may sound like a lot of work, but it really wasn't. Hubby and I had an assembly line going and were able to produce 5 dozen of these in just under an hour.