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Dinner Party Ideas for Food-Restricted Guests

I'm having a get-together for about 6 people -- a few friends who haven't seen each other for a while, and a few significant others who have never met any of us. My vision for this was easy and "fun". When I say "easy," I mean easy to eat and appreciate, doesn't have to be super-easy to make. I was thinking homemade pizza with a couple different salads with bitter/sour notes.

But then I found out that one of my guests doesn't eat wheat or dairy. So that rules out pizza, along with dumplings. And I quickly realized that most foods I consider easy and comforting involve cheese or dough as essential components.

I also have two guests who do not eat red meat or pork.

I don't want to do tacos or other Mexican-influenced fare, as a) we live in LA and you can get something delicious and easy and Mexican on any corner, and b) I'm no expert, and two of my guests have lived in Mexico City for extended periods and are themselves accomplished Mexican culinaires. (is that a word?)

Anyway, any suggestions for me? I am really scratching my head here, and can't get out of the box.

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  1. Does goat qualify as red meat? What about doing a goat (or chicken) pozole?

    Edited: Oh, sorry, I just realized you said you didn't want to do Mexican-influenced fare - I read your question the first time as a Mexican recipe request. Oops! Hmmmm, easy wheat/dairy/red meat/pork free... Roast chicken is the first thing that comes to mind. Very easy, very tasty - add some roasted root vegetables (maybe something offbeat; apples + fennel + carrots?) and as your dinner guest, I'm impressed. (Frankly, I'd be impressed with any host who graciously accommodated so many dietary no-go's!)

    1 Reply
    1. re: muirne81

      This sounds great! It's hard to find someone who doesn't like roast chicken.

    2. I think you could do a nice Greek-inspired spread. Serve baba ghanoush and hummus to begin, with sliced cucumbers or other veggies and pita for dipping. Follow with stuffed grape leaves (you can find a really good recipe here with no red meat: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ty...), a big salad with maybe arugula and grapefruit, and fruit and cheese for dessert.

      The person who doesn't eat wheat or dairy can pass on the pita and cheese with no problem.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Euonymous

        I'd consider a nice roast chicken ( or 2), with roasted roots, a couple of different salads and cornbread made entirely with cornmeal. for dessert, hmmm, a fruit crisp and ice cream , which the non dairy person can skip. BTW, i have just described one of my very favorite winter meals (even though you don't have winter, do you???.

        1. re: Euonymous

          I hate to be the voice of dissent, but as someone with a serious gluten intolerance, I won't even go near anything that pita or other bread products have been dipped in - the risk of cross-contamination is just too high.

          If the person who doesn't eat wheat is avoiding for reasons other than an allergy or Celiac disease, this sounds like a great meal.

          1. re: whitneybee

            Providing separate bowls for the dips solves the problem easily.

        2. I recently did a chicken stir fry which was really good and would follow your guidelines. To go with, I also made some spring rolls using the rice papers, filled with shredded cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, mushrooms and mung bean noodles (you could also had shrimp to these as well). Made a sweet chili thai dipping sauce. Could be fun to make a number of different sauces and these can be made up ahead of time. Had some jasmine rice to go with it as well.

          4 Replies
          1. re: boyzoma

            I was going to mention that going Asian opens up a whole world of possibilities since not being able to use dairy or wheat isn't really an issue.

            1. re: eight_inch_pestle

              agree on the dairy, but it can actually be rather difficult to avoid wheat in some Asian cuisines. many of the sauces & condiments contain wheat in the form of soy sauce or wheat starch. just something to keep in mind :)

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                True that; a wheat-free tamari would solve most of those problems.

                How about veggie sushi (which could sit around without food poisoning worries)?

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Good point on the wheat starch. Completely whiffed on that one.

            2. I would be making fish. With potatoes and olive oil and garlic and rosemary.

              And salads that have vegetables, not just lettuce and greens. With cheese on the side for those who would imbibe.

              And for dessert, sorbet or macerated fruit on top of angel food cake, with whipped cream on the side. Plus cheese and fruit for those who don't care for angel food cake.

              As an aside, can someone tell me whether this menu would be, if not kosher, then at least not categorically unkosher? I wouldn't be serving shellfish.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Jay F

                It is not strictly kosher unless prepared in a kosher kitchen, but it is, I think what you are calling " not categorically unkosher." If someone keeps strictly kosher they will not expect kosher food in a non kosher home. We call this meal "kosher style" in my world.

                1. re: Jay F

                  just a note that angel food cake isn't wheat-free unless prepared with alternative flour.

                2. Grilled salmon on a bed of lentils and sauteed greens. Easy. Classic. Satisfying.

                  1. I'm a graduate student and frequently have some of my cohort for dinner. Being old and settled they love coming to my house for a "real grown up" meal as they call it and indulging in thigns they often won't buy themselves. That said....it can be hard to plan a menu for them...some are vegetarian, some eat meat but don't eat dairy, some eat fish others don't and on and on.

                    I typically try not to solve everyone's issues in one menu but instead put out several choices so people have enough to pick from. The last time I did this I did a side of grilled wild salmon, a spanakopita, some ratatouille and some lemon roasted potatoes. Other times I"ve done grilled leg of lamb, barley stuffed tomatoes, greek salad(with feta passed on the side), and greek style green beans. You get the idea....enough things that everyone has a few things they'll eat, not too many things that i'm cooking for days, and hopefully things that go together well enough to somehow form a cohesive meal.

                    This time of year for your group I might do a coq au vin(no flour when searing the chicken), some roasted brussel sprouts, a potato dish not involving dairy or cheese(i'm a big fan of simple roasted potatoes actually so might do them again here), and maybe a simple mixed green salad tossed with a sherry vinaigrette and some roasted walnuts.

                    Alternative, I'm a big fan of salmon and lentils which someone else has suggested. There's a great recipe for salmon braised in pinot noir in All About Braising. This goes nicely with lentils. I"m hung up on brussel sprouts right now so I might be tempted to serve them with this as well!

                    1. I'd probably go with something based around rice or potatoes. You could do Indian food, or roasted chicken and french fries, or fried chicken and twice-baked potatoes, or chicken chili, or soup. Or you could do Thai, or something else based around rice noodles. Summer rolls are always good! There's sushi, if you like to make that. That's something you could have ready when you're guests arrive, and not have to do a lot of cooking. Or fish and chips! What about paella? Oooh, or a Spanish tortilla.

                      All right, I'd better stop listing foods and get back to studying. . .

                      1. Roast chicken or salmon, roasted potatoes (or those Crash Hot Potatoes that everyone is raving about - they sound SO good!), a lovely lentil and roasted vegetable salad with balsamic vinaigrette, lemon curd with berries and cream for dessert.

                        1. i think you'd be set with any of the terrific ideas already proposed, but i'll toss a few more out there just to complicate things :)

                          - chana masala with basmati rice
                          - chicken cacciatore with polenta (made with broth, no butter)
                          - African peanut stew with chicken and sweet potatoes
                          - Moroccan chicken tagine served with rice instead of couscous

                          1. Hello All, Thank you so much for all your feedback. Your ideas really got me thinking, and were very helpful. Here's what I ended up doing. In the end, I just couldn't get my mind off pizza. I really wanted the fun, non-serious (but still delicious and creative) aspect of it. Somehow, ziggylu's post about making a spread of dishes, and all the guests not needing to eat the same thing just helped flip the switch for me...duh, I can make multiple pizzas and "pizza."

                            Here's what I served:
                            - One traditional pizza on wheat crust topped with garlicy sauce, fresh tomatoes (still in farmers markets here in la!), fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella. I also added proscuitto to half the pizza.

                            - One tikka paneer pizza on wheat crust. This is a style of pizza currently popular in India. Regular crust, topped with tomato sauce (from same batch used above), cubed marinated paneer (marinade = yogurt, spices, ginger & garlic), raw red onions and red and orange bell peppers, all smothered in shredded mozzarella cheese. This recipe adapted from several Indian food bloggers

                            - One polenta-crust "pizza" for the non-dairy, non-wheat person. Polenta crust recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman. I topped it with pesto (no parm), sliced tomatoes, and a mixture of slow-cooked onions and bacon. (Topping ideas adapted from several vegan food bloggers)

                            - Slow-roasted brussel sprouts. I liked that I was able to make these a day ahead, refrigerate, and just bring to room to temperature before serving.

                            - A salad of preserved lemon, arugula, fennel, and onion. (recipe at epicurious.)

                            - Apple crisp and ice cream for dessert

                            As you can see, your ideas were influential in the sides and dessert departments!

                            Everything was a big hit.

                            Yes, the variety in this menu was a lot of work, but the great thing was that afterward, I had houseguests for a couple days, and it was nice to have lots of leftovers in the fridge for quick meals and snacks during their visit (leftover pesto, proscuitto, marinated paneers, apple crisp, cheese, brussel sprouts, salad, etc.)

                            A great night! Thanks for your help.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: abijah

                              I'm glad your party was a success!

                              I have to say the polenta crust pizza sounds delicious. I'd like to try making something like this. Is the recipe in Bittman's book or on the NYTimes site?

                              1. re: ziggylu

                                It might be in the book, but it is definitely on the site. Here's the link:


                            2. P.S. Also did some baked apple with walnuts for the no sugar/wheat/dairy person.

                              1. You could still do pizza, you just need to find a gluten-free dough. Being in LA, I'd check with organic food places or specialty groceries with bakeries/delis and see if they'd make some for you. I would NOT advise you do it as it takes a number specialty ingredients would be quite expensive for one-time use.

                                As to the dairy omission, I see non-dairy (veggie/sauce or nutella/fruit) pizza done on the cooking shows often.