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Odd Dinner Guest Mix

I'm having 3 friends over for dinner next weekend, but am stumped as to what to serve.

One will eat anything and is gladly my guinea pig when I experiment with new dishes. The second is a vegetarian. The third tends to avoid red meat, and will not touch anything on the bone.

The best idea I've come up with so far is chicken fajitas. Vegetarian can eat veggies and cheese fajitas.

Any better suggestions?

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  1. Not exactly inventive, but eggplant parmesan or vegetarian lasagna? You can also make a lasagna using slices of polenta rather than pasta. I might combine the eggplant and polenta layers, adding a layer of smothered tricolor peppers.

    ETA: In case you don't know, there's a Vegan & Vegetarian Board on Chowhound where you might find some inspiration.

    24 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      Hmmm. Maybe some sort of mushroom lasagna. That would be good!

      1. re: Davedigger

        Honestly, if there are only 4 of you and one is a vegetarian, I would make the meal vegetarian and not do a thing where everyone else eats meat and the other one eats everything but the meat, even if you don't think the person would mind. This mushroom lasagna from Ina Garten is outstanding and no one will miss the meat one bit:

        1. re: Nyleve

          Yeah, I agree on just making it a vegetarian meal. If you give thoughts on type of cuisine, how much prep time you want to put into it, it would be easier to recommend some dishes from the long, long, long list of vegetarian dinner entree options.

          1. re: Nyleve

            Voice of dissent: as an omnivore, I really appreciate having a meat component available. And yes, I do notice when there's no meat, and I while I wouldn't necessarily say that I mind not having meat, I would prefer having some available even as a separate small dish. When I throw dinner parties I do try to be very accommodating, but at the end of the day I don't think it's fair force everyone at the table to cater to the preferences of a single guest. Depends on your guests, of course, but I do get frustrated when people say that no one will miss the meat, because that's really not true.

            Also, that Ina Garten recipe looks good but do be aware that parmesan cheese is not vegetarian.

            1. re: caseyjo

              You are not really an omnivore. If you need meat at every meal you are a carnivore.
              I am surprised to hear this; if you came to my house I suppose I would want to provide some kind of meat.

              Also, most vegetarians I know eat all kinds of cheese though vegans do not.

              1. re: magiesmom

                I certainly don't want to suggest that some people require meat at every meal! However, I do feel best eating meat once a day (usually at dinner), so if there's no meat available I do enjoy at least a heads up so I can have some at lunch.

                Omnivore means eating all things, including vegetables, fruits, and meats. Carnivores eat only meat. So humans are not carnivores, regardless of what they eat for dinner ;-)

                Parmesan is not vegetarian because the rennet used to make it is derived from animal products. It's similar to serving a vegetarian jello. Some vegetarians take this very seriously, some less so, but I would definitely make sure beforehand before serving it!

                1. re: caseyjo

                  That's hilarious about the rennet. My vegetarian won't touch jello, but eats cheese like it's going out of style!

                  1. re: Davedigger

                    I think you may have the definition of hilarious confused with some other word.

                    Not all rennet is animal based. There are microbial-based rennets not derived from animals, as well as a number of fresh cheeses that do not use rennet at all.


                  2. re: caseyjo

                    I would never consider announcing my dinner menu to my guests ahead of time unless I feel the could be a problematic component. A lack of meat would never occur to me as being problematic. I often decide to serve a meal that lacks meat - even to dinner guests who aren't vegetarian - i don't think it has ever been an issue (or, at least, no one has mentioned it to me). A hearty meatless main - and the mushroom lasagna is one - would not require anything else, besides the usual accompaniments.

                    And yes, I understand about Parmesan and rennet and all that. I would hope that a vegetarian who won't eat that type of cheese would let me know that this is a restriction for them. I usually do ask if there are any things they don't eat. If I am not informed, I would assume something like Parmesan is ok.

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      I too ask if there's something people don't eat. Dinner Friday night included a guest that doesn't eat beef or pork. No problem working with that.

                      1. re: escondido123

                        When we have friends over for pizza, we leave off the meat/salami/prosciutto/whatever for our vegetarian friend on part of the pizza we make, and the shrooms off of part of the pizza for our friend who doesn't like them.

                        Everybody gets to eat plenty of pizza the way they prefer. No water off my back.

                      2. re: Nyleve

                        Of course none of your guests are ungrateful or impolite enough to mention it to you. But rest assured they're now aware and have their meat at lunchtime when they'll be joining you for supper.

                        1. re: MidwesternerTT

                          Ill make sure there a package of hot dogs in the freezer for anyone who gets visibly wobbly without their meat fix.

                          1. re: Nyleve

                            Grin - With fat content of 86-90%, hot dogs don't qualify as meat in my books. Bacon on the other hand with only 70%..

                        2. re: Nyleve

                          I always let people know what is on the menu when I am having people come to dinner. I have never received one complaint of hunger or dissatisfaction regarding serving a meatless meal at my table. My vegetarian friends all consume small amounts of dairy and eggs.

                    2. re: caseyjo

                      Of course Parmesan cheese is vegetarian, it's just not vegan. There are numerous vegetarian dishes that appeal to omnivores. To say that you need meat at every dinner seems odd to me. Even in my very meat and potatoes household growing up, we had the occasional and delicious meatless meal.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        Parmesan cheese is made from enzymes from the stomach of a cow. Cow's stomachs are not vegetarian last time I checked. Most cheese is not made from animal rennet, but parmesan definitely is.

                        Here's more info: https://www.vegsoc.org/cheese

                        I mean, I'm definitely not a vegetarian, but I do think that it's not fair to feed vegetarians stuff like calf rennet and gelatin and chicken broth, because those are made directly from animals. Sorry, I'm really not trying to be a jerk, but I just think it's not cool to say that some animal products "don't count" because they totally do.

                        1. re: caseyjo

                          I live in a world largely consisting of vegetarians. Though none of them eat chicken broth, they all eat cheese.

                          1. re: caseyjo

                            I agree. Some vegetarians don't care, but many is.

                            Honestly, if you're thinking about using parm in a recipe for a vegetarian, maybe just call up the friend and ask them their feelings on it.

                            If you can find something like pecorino con caglio vegetale, that's a hard cheese that is NOT made with animal rennet.

                            1. re: caseyjo

                              Learn something new every day. I didn't know about the Parm/rennet thing. I will keep this in mind.

                          2. re: caseyjo

                            Many vegetarians consume dairy and eggs. Vegans do not.

                        2. re: Davedigger

                          I would definitely second a mushroom lasagna. I made one for my holiday party this year which was the absolute hit of the entire gathering - vegetarians and meat-eaters alike loved it and it was the one dish where there were no leftovers - much to my dismay!

                          I made it especially rich by using porcini mushroom lasagna sheets I bought in Venice, and mixing dried porcinis with fresh mixed mushrooms in the layers. I used a bechamel white sauce instead of lots of cheese and it was seriously labor intensive but well worth it all.

                          I also got a lot of love for my fried eggplant meatballs. You can make a batch of eggplant meatballs along with some meat-based ones, serve them with sauce, and that way have something for the carnivores who aren't happy unless there is something meaty on the plate! They're good for an antipasti, or actually more an authentic style Italian secondi after a pasta dish.

                      2. Maybe vegetarian lasagna? It is a little pedestrian but it will cover all your restrictions and it is darn tasty to boot. And the veggie possibilities are limitless.

                        1. The chicken fajitas are a great idea. Would shrimp fajitas be okay with friend #3?

                          You could consider polenta with a choice of toppings -- chicken cacciatore, seafood (shrimp and grits inspired), braised greens, mushrooms, cheese.

                          1 Reply
                          1. Not to dismiss your difficulty, but wait till you're trying to serve a mix of guests who are vegan, gluten-free, and meat & potatoes! But actually, anything veggie will do, it sounds like, and fajitas are definitely yummy! (Thank goodness for the easy guests.) Depending where you are, with this cold weather, I might do a nice veggie chili. Or a big stir-fry, with or without tofu (which I love to bake first). Moosewood cookbooks have a few really terrific stuffed squash recipes. A good hearty soup (potato/parsnip, butternut squash) with a side salad & maybe bread. All of these are things that allow you to do most of the prep in advance, so you can hang with your friends once they get there.
                            If you want to do a starter, there's always hummus or tzatziki & crudités/ pita chips or the like, or I've been doing these prosciutto palmiers (http://www.chow.com/recipes/10515-pro...), which you could easily do with just cheese.
                            Have a great time!

                            1. I would do a chicken cacciatore with a mushroom sauce over polenta. Use boneless skinless thighs, and save some of the sauce with only mushrooms for your veggie person. Serve with a salad or green veggie. Good luck.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: CasaCarloni

                                Not that it was mentioned but does the avoids red meat/nothing on the bone person do dark chicken meat? They sound like a skinless boneless breast type...

                                1. re: CasaCarloni

                                  I think this is a poor solution for the vegetarian.

                                  Why not make a nice minestrone soup, crusty bread, salad.

                                2. I like the suggestion of veggie lasagna, or maybe cheese/spinach stuffed shells? My other suggestion is a fritatta/quiche with a nice side salad, if the vegetarian eats eggs.

                                  1. Thanks for all the suggestions guys. I think I'm going to go with the mushroom lasagne or the mushroom bourguignon. The vegetarian is a huge fan of mushrooms, and they bring a certain "meatiness" to the dish that the rest of us carnivores will appreciate.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Davedigger

                                      If you do mushroom bourguignon consider replacing pearl onions with shallots and adding some dried mushrooms to the sauce to deepen the flavor.

                                      1. re: Davedigger

                                        Ah, i posted the mushroom ragu from nytimes in my other comment-its really excellent! Just use whatever looks good at your market.

                                      2. Another sad reminder that the days of "eat what the host puts on front of you and be gracious about it" are ancient history. Good luck with your dinner.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: rjbh20

                                          I disagree.
                                          It is the host's job to please his guests. It is not like vegetarian food is weird and edgy.

                                          1. re: magiesmom

                                            "It is the host's job to please his guests."

                                            I agree with this statement 100%. A good host will take guests into account when planning a menu. A good guest will bring a bottle of wine, eat what's served, and say "Thank you so much for the lovely dinner."

                                            1. re: caseyjo

                                              Would you as a host provide a vegetarian protein, for instance, or expect your veg guest to eat just the sides?

                                              1. re: magiesmom

                                                I'd provide vegetarian protein in the form of eggs and legumes, of course! When vegetarians come to dinner, I make the main component vegetarian, but also provide non-vegetarian sides (like charcuterie, or bacon-wrapped dates, or chicken to put in the salad) for the meat eaters.

                                            2. re: magiesmom

                                              Wrong. It's the guest's job to be gracious to the host.

                                            3. re: rjbh20

                                              I am a vegetarian with huge medical, dietary restrictions. Yet I ~still~ follow that basic rule-of-thumb. I am not attending the party because I need the sustenance, but rather because I enjoy the verbal discourse and other social aspects.

                                              1. re: pedalfaster

                                                As far as I am concerned, you are the epitome of the ideal guest. I would love to work around your restrictions and come up with something enticing and new for all of us to enjoy.

                                                I like to stretch my wings.

                                            4. When vegetarians come over, I often do a quiche along with a separate plate of charcuterie and cheese. I've also done a taco bar, with meat available for the carnivores (corn tacos are also gluten free).

                                              1. if you were thinking mexican, how about huevos rancheros or migas? kind of breakfast for dinner, but eggs are a great veggie protein.

                                                1. Vegetarians are no problem. But the person who "tends" to avoid red meat and won't touch anything on the bone. That's BS. I would not cater to them.

                                                  1. This here is an amazing recipe for mushroom lasagna. Decadent, rich, shroomy.... delicious!


                                                    1. I'd make cheese blintzes/crepes, and chicken & mushroom blintzes/crepes. On the side, sliced raw crisp apples with balsamic and brown sugar and pepper, and two fresh plain green vegetables, like chard and green beans.
                                                      Dessert could be crème fraiche gelato and Fig Newtons.

                                                      1. India has a whole cuisine that is vegetarian, I would consider looking there. There are also many wonderful pasta dishes that use no meat at all. You could also do a wicked mac and cheese.

                                                        1. Here is a great first course: "toasted" ravioli. Buy some frozen cheese ravioli. The morning of or day before, bread about two dozen of them: let them defrost a bit, dredge in flour, give them an egg and milk bath, and then coat with seasoned bread crumbs and grated park cheese. Let them set in the 'fridge. Shallow fry in half inch of oil until golden brown on one side and then flip for the other. Serve hot with a tomato sauce for dipping. A crispy delight!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. Is this a formal dinner or more informal? I've done a "make your own tacos" type thing while hosting veg friends--warm tortillas, a bowl of braised shredded chicken, some roast vegetables, some beans, some nopales...as well as various kinds of cheese, cilantro, onions. Really, whatever you feel comfortable making. Then everyone makes their own and is happy.

                                                            Homemade pizza or a roast vegetable tart.

                                                            1. Eggplant parmesan is a dish that can be prepared and served in individual casserole dishes.The other dish I would consider is stuffed shells Florentine and improvise on what you serve with it. With the eggplant the addition of the grated cheese is optional. The pasta shells could be stuffed with any number of fillings other than cheese.

                                                              1. How about just calling them fajitas....and serve both grilled/roasted vegetables and chicken? Add some more "meaty" vegetables, like eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms with the peppers and onions. Cook the chicken separately, Make some kind of beans, black or red, or whatever you like. Serve with guacamole, grated cheese, shredded cabbage or lettuce, chopped tomatoes/peppers/onion, etc. Maybe a rice dish.

                                                                If you want to make something to appeal to your "guinea pig" how about a few different imaginative salsa's to top the fajitas?

                                                                1. This mushroom ragu is very hearty and earthy, excellent served over polenta and with a glass of red wine.
                                                                  My very meat centric father never even commented on missing meat at the meal-and he is not one to hold back! Haha.

                                                                  The mushroom broth recipe was really easy, i did that a week earlier and froze it.

                                                                  1. any legume based dish will work.
                                                                    how about a hearty vegetarian bean soup with whole grain bread?
                                                                    vegetarian chile with cornbread?
                                                                    evan kleiman's ricotta al forno with mushrooms on top is easy as can be

                                                                      1. Deborah Madison has a fabulous dish -Braised Root Veg. with Black Lentils and Red WIne Sauce in her book "Local Flavors". It's a bit time consuming, but has great richness and umami. No one misses meat when I've serve this.

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: EllenMM

                                                                          You just reminded me of her Veg Suppers cookbook. Lots of great, great, great veg suppers in that book. A couple of my favorites (that I have not made for ages--so thanks for the reminder!)

                                                                          Wine-Braised Lentils over toast with spinach and red pearl onions
                                                                          Brussels sprout and mushroom ragout
                                                                          Eggs baked on a bed of sauteed musthrooms and croutons
                                                                          Polenta squares with gorgonzola cream, braised greens, and cannellini beans
                                                                          Cabbage parcels with sweet and sour tomato sauce

                                                                          I want those wine braised lentils NOW. And the polenta squares dish.

                                                                          1. re: debbiel

                                                                            You can also look at the Flexitarian Menu which gives versions of the same recipe with and without meat.

                                                                            1. re: magiesmom

                                                                              I used to have Peter Berley's Flexitarian Table cookbook. Loaned it out years ago and never got it back.

                                                                              1. re: debbiel

                                                                                That is what I meant, thanks.
                                                                                I like it a lot.

                                                                        2. Here's a very funny take on this problem: http://observer.com/print-edition/in-...

                                                                          Seriously, though, your fajita idea, giving your guests the option of filling them with meat beans, or cheese is a great idea.