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Help with Dinner Party planning (vegetarian, paleo, and meat-eaters in the mix)!

I've been scouring the boards for dinner party menu ideas, and am coming up flat.

The simple solution is to NOT invite this particular mix of people at the same time... but, the occasion warrants this particular group of people to gather.

Here are the challenges (5 people in this group):
One is vegetarian (can do eggs, dairy)
One is Paleo (trying to stay away from dairy (but not strict), no wheat, no sugar)
The guest of honor is a lactose-intolerant meat eater.
The other two are open to anything.

Here's my brainstorm so far. I'm open to any and ALL suggestions!

Appetizer: hummus and veggies
Salad: Some sort of mixed greens w/ nuts
Main: The only thing I can think of so far is brown rice pasta (ok but not ideal for the paleo) with two kinds of sauce (one w/ meat, one w/o meat)
Dessert: Fruit and some other 'special' dessert.

I'm not thrilled with the main or the appetizer... and would love some input on another type of dish that might work for this group.


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  1. My first thought was summer rolls - rice paper, sprouts, daikon, avocado, could add peanuts, could have some with shrimp for the seafood eaters. Still contemplating a main!

    9 Replies
    1. re: Bigley9

      Summer rolls are a great idea! I've actually never made them, but my guess is I could prep most of the ingredients ahead of time. How far in advance can you assemble them (with the rice paper)?

      1. re: The Oracle

        I've found they can dry out really quickly. I lay them out in a single row and top with a damp cloth and then another row on top and another damp cloth etc.

        They can be pretty fussy to make until you get the hang of it so making ahead is a great idea. I love these so much. I serve them with nuoc cham and a peanut sauce.

        1. re: ChervilGeorge

          Sounds delicious and a perfect summer meal. Do you make your own sauces? If so, you KNOW what my next question is going to be? Recipe, please?! :)

          1. re: The Oracle

            Here you go.
            Nuoc Cham
            1/4 c Lime juice, freshly squeezed
            1/4 c Fish sauce (nuoc mam)
            1/4 c Water
            1 T Rice Vinegar
            1/2 tsp Garlic-Chile paste
            1 T Carrot and Daikon radish, shredded
            1 T Sugar

            Mix all the ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

            I make my peanut sauce different every time so you may want to google a recipe, I don't really have one but I always include, lime, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, chili paste, brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil. I thin it out with a chicken or vegetable stock if I have some on hand, otherwise I use water.

            1. re: ChervilGeorge

              Thank you for the recipes and tips on the peanut sauce.

              My new game plan is:

              Appetizers: Spring Rolls (shrimp & veggie) w/ dipping sauces
              Main: Veggie Red Curry (with chicken for the meat eaters to throw in) w/ rice
              Dessert: TBD - my backup plan is coconut milk ice cream... but I'd love to pull off a show-stopper!

              Any thoughts on what I'm missing or drinks to pair with the courses (alcoholic)?

              I'll have to make the spring rolls about 10 hours prior to serving, and I'm hoping they won't dry up too much!

              1. re: The Oracle

                That sounds fabulous with some version of the parfaits discussed downthread. Let us know how it goes!

                Oh, and drinks, I am very partial to a well chilled Provençal rosé, I think it would play very nicely with your proposed menu.

          2. re: ChervilGeorge

            I agree - but I have made them several hours in advance and covered with a damp paper towel and plastic wrap.

            1. re: Bigley9

              Funny - I opened the food section of my newspaper to this article today! I hate when they eavesdrop on our conversations!

              1. re: Bigley9

                Love it! Thanks for posting that link! 4 hours seems like the max these will keep. I may do a 'build your own' type bar, since I have about 45 minutes before my event (scheduling gaff, for sure!)

      2. I had a get together with similar parameters. Mine was for about 15 people, most paleo and a couple of vegetarians. The vegetarians weren't picky though and didn't care if meat touched the vegetables, they would just pick around the meat.

        I mostly used middle eastern dishes, and mostly from Ottolenghi's cookbooks.

        For the appetizers, I had a butternut squash dip, beet dip and hummus. The hummus I split into 2/3 and 1/3 (for the vegs). The 2/3 was hummus with lamb and lemon sauce. All of the above are from the Jerusalem cookbook (it was COTM and I've reported on the result there).

        For the main, I made a roasted herb turkey breast (from Ottolenghi's original cookbook, Ottolenghi) and meatballs baked in tahini sauce (same source). I also had two sides, roasted cauliflower with pomegranate seeds and yogurt (Melissa Clark's, Cook this Now) and roasted butternut squash with pine nuts (Jerusalem).

        The vegetarians munched on the appetizers and sides and were more then happy. Even though hummus isn't technically paleo because of the chickpeas, I didn't care.

        For dessert, I don't remember what I made but it wasn't even close to paleo.

        Lastly, the beauty of these recipes is that most of the dishes could be made ahead of time or were maintenance free (just stick in the oven and then slice). So it all came together quickly.

        1 Reply
        1. re: beetlebug

          This is a great menu that I'll keep in mind for another time. I need to get my hands on those Ottolenghi cookbooks!

        2. What about a meal of tapas? Hummus, falafel, some sort of skewered meat or two, salad, olives, roasted nuts, a nice feta, tabouli, a nice flat bread, some middle eastern rice or potato, etc? And then fruit and baklava w/o butter or a honey nut cake of sorts for dessert?

          1. For the appetizer - veggie eggrolls (filling baked in mini-muffin pans for the paleo).

            For the main: Kabobs w and w/o meat, prepared on separate grill for the vegetarian. Barley for the grain?

            Take a look at this blog for other inspirations? She has great meat & non-meat dishes.

            Or the KitchenTreaty blog, which features one dish two ways (veg / meat) http://www.kitchentreaty.com/hawaiian...

            1. I would do a "build your own" taco bar for the main dish. Have a "meat" filling (chicken, steak, beef, shrimp or fish), a bean filling, paleo can make a taco salad (or taco/burrito "bowl" since I see you already have a salad course planned).
              Include salsa, corn, shredded lettuce, sour cream, rice, diced jalapenos, tortilla chips and tortillas, etc., your usual taco stuff.

              1 Reply
              1. re: OhioHound

                Also, avocado would go nicely with both this theme and your guests' dietary restrictions. Diced in a salad, or guacamole (and salsa) for tortilla chips in an appetizer.

              2. Looks like potatoes may be another common meeting point for overlapping restrictions. Roasted with herbs as appetizer or main side.

                1. Gado Gado should work, with a choice of shrimp/chicken/tofu for the protein. I've had good luck with stir-fries, as well. Do the rice/veggies, and have tofu and shrimp for folks to add as they prefer.

                  1. Do the Momofuku Bo Ssam and grill/roast tofu for the vegetarian. Super easy and can be done ahead of time.


                    13 Replies
                    1. re: bumble

                      I had to do a meal for 2 vegetarians and one lactose intolerant. I went with fish tacos, I did a really nicely grilled whitefish served on corn tortillas with a great fennel red cabbage slaw topped with a spicy aioli. on the side was a salad of quinoa, roasted veggies, corn, black beans cilantro and a spicy vinaigrette. The vegheads just put the salad right in the tortilla. I don't know a ton about Paleo, but perhaps they could do a lettuce wrap if they don't eat corn, and you could make a salad without the corn and beans at the same time.

                      Recently I made a lovely lemongrass ginger infused coconut sorbet parfait with gingerbread crumbs and sliced mango. Great dessert for a lactose free guest of honour.

                      1. re: cleopatra999

                        Do you have a recipe for your parfait? Sounds lovely and the perfect ending to the current dinner plan. I'm also assuming you can make it ahead of time (which is needed for this event!). TIA

                        1. re: The Oracle

                          You can make all components of it ahead of time, but I would wait to assemble until the evening.

                          here is the sorbet: I made it with about half the simple syrup and let the ginger and lemongrass steep for a couple hours while the mixture cooled in the fridge.

                          Here is the ginger cookie I made, I cooked about 5 of them longer so they crumbled easier. You could also use a store bought ginger cookie.

                          Assemble ingredients in layers in a parfait glass or large martini glass. Top with a whole cookie if you want. I cut the mango into slices.

                          I wonder if you could assemble ahead of time and leave in the freezer? The problem I see with this is that the sorbet melts quite quickly so it may melt faster than the cookies and mango will thaw? Maybe a tester is required!

                          1. re: cleopatra999

                            Thank you so much! I could see this being so beautiful in a martini glass! Silly question: how many layers did you do? And, was it: sorbet on the bottom, then mango, then cookie crumble (repeat). Love the idea of topping it with a whole cookie!

                            1. re: The Oracle

                              I did sorbet, cookie, sorbet, mango. I was in a bit of a rush and put too much sorbet on the bottom, so other layers were a bit wonky. I think it would also be nice if you did sliced mango along the side of the glass then sorbet, cookie crumbs, sorbet, whole cookie.

                              Also don't roll the cookies in sugar that you plan to use as crumbs.

                              1. re: cleopatra999

                                Thanks for the tips! I will definitely post pictures, if I end up pulling it off (which I'm planning to!) :)

                                1. re: cleopatra999

                                  cleopatra999 - Thanks for the dessert idea! I managed to pull it off! :) I cheated on the cookies and went the store bought route. TJ's had some ginger snaps that worked great. With the sorbet, I may have steeped the ginger/lemongrass a bit TOO long (I left it in for a couple hours) and the sorbet was a bit soap tasting (but, perhaps that's because I use lemongrass soap often!). I took your martini glass suggestion and made a very loose parfait interpretation... the combo of fruit/sorbet/cookie worked well together! Thanks again!

                                  1. re: The Oracle

                                    So glad that worked! Did you use fresh lemongrass or prepared stuff. I used fresh. Maybe that is a difference? I left mine for prob 1.5 hrs.

                                    1. re: cleopatra999

                                      I used fresh! ...maybe it's just me :)

                                      1. re: The Oracle

                                        could be just preference for sure! I found the ginger almost more pronounced than the lemongrass. I would love to do it again and properly layer it up. Maybe do it ahead of time and pop them in the freezer for a bit. I think it would be so pretty.

                                          1. re: Bigley9

                                            It went great! I ended up doing summer rolls with peanut sauce, red curry w vegetables (and shrimp/chicken on the side as add-in's). I was able to make the sauce and dessert ahead of time, as well as prep all the veggies. I think I went a little crazy with the thai basil in the summer rolls, but they were fun and easy to make!

                        2. I would put my budget into a large antipasto platter- the kind with meats and cheeses and olives and marinated veg all nestled in corners and not touching! Lots of prociutto wrapped around asparagus for the centerpiece and you might find a wheat free or paleo bread if you have time but any nice artisan bread for everyone- paleo can have a slice of Ezekial bread.
                          I have made lasagna with rice pasta and it is okay but has to be eaten immediately. Rice pasta does not reheat well at all.
                          How about a roast chicken and a ratatouille for the main?
                          Can you find a honey based sorbet made with no dairy?

                          1. Not everyone has to eat every course so as long as there is something available, that would be fine. I think most people w/ dietary restrictions feel the same way.

                            Add to the appetizers: stuffed grape leaves, stuffed dates (many variations but this might please the meat eaters):


                            For a main, what about morrocan chickpea stew. Again, man variations and I use whatever vegetables are in season, which is plentiful right now.


                            Have a side protein like a Greek roast chicken over potatoes


                            If you want a "pasta" like dish, use spaghetti squash or ribboned roasted zucchini slivers. They don't taste like pasta but can work like it, either w/ sauce served over, or baked.

                            1. I would probably do some sort of roast for the paleo person, perhaps a Porchetta. And then something like a spinach and cheese ravioli in a homemade sauce for the vegetarian. Then a bunch of vegetarian side dishes.

                              I've also seen a recipe for a vegan mac and cheese that uses cashews

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Atomic76

                                That vegan mac and cheese sounds incredible!

                                I know this group will be dining together again... so I'll likely be referring to this thread for inspiration often.

                              2. Too late for this dinner, but here's a menu that I made a few months ago for a crazy combination of dietary restrictions (various combinations of no meat, no gluten, no carbs, no refined sugars, no alcohol, no cow dairy).

                                - grapes rolled in goat cheese and chopped almonds (goat cheese was ok for the lactose-free guest)
                                - roasted cauliflower and garlic dip served with crudites
                                - a platter of prosciutto, parm and figs drizzled with aged balsamic (had to have something for the carnivores and cheese eaters!)

                                1st course:
                                - garlic and white wine sauteed shrimp served on a grapefruit, avocado and jicama salad.

                                2nd course:
                                - roasted tomato soup with a parmesan frico (no frico for the lactose-free guest)

                                - pear, lime and ginger sorbet sweetened with honey

                                Main course:
                                - seared salmon with a Korean marinade and glaze over sauteed spinach
                                - stir-fried baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms
                                - basmati rice (left this out for the no-carb couple)

                                - Brown butter, pecan cornmeal cake topped with berries and bourbon whipped cream (no cake, just fruit and cream for the no carb couple)

                                For your vegetarian friends, I'd leave the shrimp off the first course and sub marinated tofu for fish in the main course.

                                1. Another idea for the appetizer, how about some sort of vegan lettuce wraps? You could get creative with mushrooms, ginger, red pepper, cashews, garlic, scallions, etc...