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Catering a wedding, need vegetarian main course

Sigh... if only if were as simple as the title. As I said, I will be catering a friend's wedding - at the end of October. The work is to be split between myself and another of the bride's friends - he's dead-set on keeping an upscale North African theme (flavors that aren't too much of a stretch are okay - south Mediterranean, maybe some Spanish or Portuguese, but NOT the American, Mexican, Korean, and Japanese dishes I'm more practiced with).

~150 attendees. Most of whom are not vegetarian, but all will be welcome to try the vegetarian entree of course.

We have pitifully few resources available for the day of the wedding - the venue lost its kitchen to a caved-in roof this winter. Nothing left to use on-site, save a few refrigerators. So we are renting (and bringing) grills for the meat-based entrees. We can rent more equipment, but the whole point was to keep costs down for the bride, so I'm hesitant to do so. So far, no chafing dishes, but that may change.

I will be making vegetarian (hot) butternut squash soup and the other guy will be making some sort of (cold?) bean salad along with various vegetarian desserts, so all I need is an entree idea to start test-kitchening. Ideally, it would be something I can make in advance and either serve cold or reheat quickly on the day of without sacrificing quality. There is no need for it to be vegan. I want it to be filling and substantial.

I've considered a couscous based dish, but haven't much idea of how to engineer couscous to hold up when made in advance. I'm open to any suggestions.

I should add, neither of us have catering experience, though we are both pretty solid home cooks. And I can manage sous vide preparations (enormously useful in a situation like this) if that helps, though I don't normally do much vegetable cookery sous-vide.

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  1. Since you will have a grill, how about some colorful veggie kabobs? You could also add tofu. Or some Eggplant Parm? That should hold up well to a quick reheat.

    2 Replies
    1. re: boyzoma

      Skewered lamb is already one of the meat mains, so I was leaning away from kabobs. And also away from tofu due to the North African theme. Will have to give the eggplant parm some consideration. Thanks for the suggestion.

      1. re: cowboyardee

        I'd give a second look at tofu. It doesn't sound like the wedding couple are going to be hardcore about the North African requirements and if you marinate the tofu in harissa - BAM you have North African tofu. I'm actually a bit bewildered by the concerns about couscous holding up. I've used it as a pasta salad grain and it's sat around for hours without any discernible drop in quality.

    2. ok, so more Mediterranean than North African, but could u get away with polenta or risotto? maybe find a way to make falafel more upscale? also, I have seen couscous at a wedding before, so hopefully it could be done somehow... maybe a veggie stew with North African flavors?

      9 Replies
      1. re: PotatoPuff

        Any of those are plausible. The problem is how to execute them without a large amount of last-minute preparation and still have them turn out okay. I could definitely come up with ways to upscale the humble falafel, and i like how filling it is. But I don't know how far in advance I can make it and how well it holds (or even how best to hold it and reheat). I almost certainly will not be able to do any deep-frying at the time of service.

        1. re: cowboyardee

          i love polenta as a vegetarian offering, but i'd stay away from risotto - the texture and quality will definitely suffer. same goes for couscous.

          quinoa would be a good option...

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            I've heard recommendations of cooking a risotto to VERY al-dente in advance, refrigerating, and then finishing with more broth at the time of service. I haven't tried this though, so I don't know how the texture compares to risotto that's made start-to-finish for service. If anyone's tried this, please do tell. I don't have much experience with couscous.

            I could also use suggestions for making vegetarian risotto or polenta feel like more of a main course than a side dish. Failure of imagination on my part right now.

            1. re: cowboyardee

              "I could also use suggestions for making vegetarian risotto or polenta feel like more of a main course than a side dish. "
              ~~~~~~~
              serve the polenta with a hearty mushroom ragout. these are my two favorite recipes...
              http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/...
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/648921

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                Yes! I knew chowhound would come through for me.

                This is the type of thing I would not have thought of. I could do a risotto, taken half-way and finished at the wedding, a mushroom ragout, and maybe some grilled veg with it for color. Sounds good. Sounds like a vegetarian main course.

                How would you recommend doing the risotto, if I'm serving it with the ragout - a straight stock/white wine/Parmesan cheese version, mushroom risotto (this might make the dish too one-note?), or something else entirely?

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  how are you planning to finish the risotto? in a pan on the grill? honestly, i think the risotto is going to be a huge pain in the rear for you to deal with at this event. even under ideal circumstances with a fully functional kitchen there's a chance you could end up with a gluey mess on your hands if something goes awry, and risotto needs to be served at the right temperature to be really, really good. personally, i'd go with mushroom ragout served over polenta...but if you're really wedded to the idea of risotto (sorry, i couldn't resist!), how about serving the ragout over baked or fried risotto cakes instead? they'll be more forgiving in terms of texture, and less of a hassle for you.

                  if you go with risotto (loose or in cake/patty form), i'd tweak the ragout - use white wine instead of red, & add some heavy cream...and maybe white wine, toasted pine nuts & good Parm for the risotto.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I'm not really married to risotto - I just found it engaging. Truth is I have some arborio rice in my pantry right now so one of the upsides of risotto is simply that I could test-kitchen it with stuff I already have.

                    I like the pine nuts idea - I often cook with nuts as it is. I imagine risotto cakes are pretty straight forward, like polenta - cook risotto, spread it, cool it, cut it, fry/bake it?

                    You're right that I'd likely be finishing it in a (or several) pan[s] over a grill. Sounds like a pain in the butt. But do you think polenta will be less of a pain? How do you recommend pulling it off. I've made hard and soft polentas, but always to serve, never to hold.

                2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  For goodhealthgourmet, or anyone else interested, last night i made a risotto (veg stock, white wine, butter, Parmesan cheese, and toasted macadamia nuts - taken to very al-dente, refrigerated, and finished at meal time) and both versions of the mushroom ragout you posted above. Basically.

                  Actually, I made the tomato-based one pretty straight up but mounted with butter, and the chowhoud-posted recipe spiced in a vaguely North-African manner (cumin, cinnamon, paprika, bit of ginger), also mounted with butter, and with a tiny extra splash of white vinegar added.

                  I presented both to the couple to be engaged and the other guy cooking with me. The non-tomato (second link) was the clear winner for our purposes, with a much stronger mushroom flavor and less tendency to over-acidify and overwhelm the risotto. Really delicious and FILLING. Very much what I was looking for as a vegetarian main course. Thanks.

                  I'm going in this direction, I believe, but I may switch to a couscous with similar flavor profiles. So now I need tips on best way to prepare and hold(?) said couscous.

                  Thankyou.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    cowboy, i'm so sorry i missed your earlier question about the risotto cakes - i just noticed it. but i guess you don't need me to walk you through them now anyway since you're going with couscous and the African spice influence!

                    i'm so glad the ragout recipe worked out for you - whether done to the letter or tweaked for personal tastes, that one is always a hit. as for the couscous, you really should just make it at the wedding right before serving. it's super simple - just get the instant stuff, add boiling water, cover until the water absorbs, and fluff with a fork...doing it fresh on-site will actually be less of a hassle than trying to reheat cooked couscous and maintain the proper consistency. (you can also steam couscous for a wonderfully fluffy texture, but that requires more care & attention, so i wouldn't go that route for this occasion.)

        2. How about a grilled ratatouille? Eggplant is very filling, especially if you've got some vegetarian sides. The only prep is cutting veggies. And the flavors should go well with everything else. Bobby Flay has a recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bo... and there are a few others on Epicurious.

          1. I'll think about the food for a while and post later. As to the problem of keeping the food warm. I know it's not ideal or maybe not as classy as the bride might wish to have (sounds like she is on a little bit of a budget though) but electric roasters would work. You know the usually white 18 quart or so roasters. Here in Minnesota many households have them and you could borrow a few to keep the food warm. It's a little church-basement, funeral food way to go, but it works.

            1. It's not quite North Africa, but what about something Ethiopian. There are fantastic vegetarian offerings in that cuisine and since most are stew-ish (lentil, etc. based) they should be easy to reheat after making ahead. I would think it would be okay to serve with something more universal, like say rice, rather than the traditional injera. Just a thought ...

              4 Replies
              1. re: LNG212

                Is injera something you can make in advance and hold?

                And do you have any specific vegetarian Ethiopian recipes or dishes to recommend? I've only eaten Ethiopian once and never cooked it.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  hmmm, I'm really not sure about the injera. I only made it once in a cooking class and have never made it at home (we just buy it from local restaurants). Sorry I'm no help there.

                  I do have a couple of Ethiopian recipes that I like and I will dig those out and post back. I also know that there have been a number of threads here on Home Cooking about Ethiopian food and recipes and that may also help you out or give you ideas.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    Injera is a large unleavened crepelike flatbread affair; when finished it looks like a huge thin rubber sponge, with a spongy texture as well, and it's made with fermented teff batter (or sometimes buckwheat) so the finished product is quite sour. I've had injera in NY via an Ethiopian friend, and it was, um, more sour than the most sour sourdough I've ever eaten. The injera was stuffed with curried goat, small bones and all, and a very tasty spiced beef filling. Injera is an experience, taste and texture-wise. I don't think they'd hold very well, and are a bit of a PITA to make, as well, authentically speaking; with a specific technique, the temperature has to be just right, etc. Enuff said?

                    Ethiopians have vegetarian stews (Wat) that the Ethiopian Copts eat on (meatless) fast days, mostly fairly simple mixed vegetable stews flavored with spices, and legume dishes. These dishes are certainly reheatable. Google Ethiopian vegetable alicha or vegetable stews and Ethiopian legume dishes for quite a few recipe sources.

                    Here's a link to a very recent Ethiopian restaurant review posted at chow; I include it not for the review itself, but for it's lengthy and fairly in-depth menu descriptons. Possibly you can glean something from it:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7033...

                  2. re: LNG212

                    I totally thought "Ethiopian" too when I read the title. All those wonderful wats (?). They're just humble stews, but the exotic spices and ingredients make them seem special and luxurious. Also, I LOVE injera. I know traditionally it's served under the food. But I've also gotten it just rolled up to go. It could be made ahead and served on the side.

                    I've never made injera. I don't think it looks difficult - but I can't say for sure. The reason being that the only tefe flour I've seen in my area is outrageously expensive. But if you lived in a more metropolitan area I'm sure it could be had for reasonable prices.

                    I think the North African theme is terrific! There are a lot of vegetarian options to choose from. The last Ethopian restaurant I went to was totally vegan even.

                    Another (annoying?) suggestion from a non-caterer (so I probably have no idea what I'm talking about - lol.) The wedding I went to with the best food ever (and was mostly veg), didn't have one MAIN dish. They just had several stations with lots of different things. That way, everyone could find something they liked.