Friday, December 21, 2007

Seven Ways to Host a Vegetarian-Friendly Cocktail Party

1. Focus on Cocktails: Cocktail parties are much easier to vegetarianize or veganize since the emphasis should be on the drinks and the finger-food, not on a main dish that must seemingly be meat-based. Perhaps you’ll decide to make wine the centerpiece of the event. Have a few bottles of white, a few bottles of red, and you’re done. If you’d like to make an actual cocktail, focus on making one or two rather than buying enough hard liquor bottles to stock your neighborhood watering hole. The point is to welcome and share time with loved ones, not to overwhelm yourself and your guests with choices. Make a pitcher of pomegranate margaritas or green apple martinis. Have some ice-cold beer on hand for those who want less sweetness in their life. An even cheaper and particularly festive cocktail option is making bellinis. Buy a few bottles of Asti Spumante or Prosecco at around 12 bucks a pop and a few cans of Goya apricot, peach, or mango nectar for less than a dollar each. Fill a champagne flute about a quarter way with nectar and top with the fizzy wine. No need to stand around pouring, shaking and stirring various liquors as you consult a mixing bible. A bonus is that everything always looks more delicious and bright when there are champagne flutes involved. Whatever the main cocktail will be, be sure to have some sparkling water and ginger ale spiked with grenadine or cranberry juice on hand for the teetotalers and for booze breaks. Also, not all alcohol is vegan. Stella Artois and Yellowtail wines apparently are. Check company web sites and the following resource on vegan liquor for more information.

2. Hello Hummus: Vegans are notorious for loving hummus. I never even really ate much hummus until I started dating Brian and I am now addicted to it to. Hummus is also one of those "naturally" vegan foods, meaning that meat-eaters don’t give much thought to whether or not it is vegetarian as they might with, say, tofu. They just know it tastes good. Hummus is a wonderfully nutty, creamy dip can be made in classic form-just tahini, chickpeas, and olive oil-or enhanced with red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, fresh garlic cloves, or kalamata olives. The possibilities are endless. Hummus complements cut up, raw vegetables, crackers, pita wedges, bagel chips, sliced and toasted baguette, anything you can dip. Mixing up a batch at home is not difficult but there are many quality brands you can pick up at your local market. I like Sabra, as it is the creamiest and most vibrant-tasting store-bought brand I’ve come across and is sprinkled with fresh parsley or paprika.

3. The Grapes of [Having a] Blast: I’d consider this option no matter what drink you choose to highlight, but a plentiful bunch of plump black grapes draped onto a simple white dish is a no-brainer choice for the wine party. Sumptuous on its own or with cheese, grapes signify abundance, sweetness, and a true party. Bacchus, often depicted as surrounded by grapes, was not the god of wine and getting down for nothing.

4. Cheese-One Word Says It All: Cheese is not vegan. Unfortunately, I cannot yet endorse an edible vegan cheese substitute, particularly ones that can be eaten without having to melt it and hide into other ingredients first. Certainly you can have a cocktail party without cheese and no one will notice but if you choose to include it along with myriad other plant-based options, I don’t see a problem. If you want a truly vegetarian cheese-meaning it is made with microbial rennet rather than with the stomach lining of baby cows-there are plenty that are easy to find. I just found a great one, Andes Panqueche Cheese with Chive for less than three dollars at Stop and Shop . Cabot, Organic Valley, Horizon, and kosher cheeses have varieties that do not contain animal rennet. Alouette, makers of herby cheese spread, do not use any enzymes so it’s entirely lacto-vegetarian, no cow tummies whatsoever.

5. Put the Vegetable Back into Vegetarian: Meat-eaters often think of tofu, veggie burgers, and oddly formed Tofurky when they envision a life without eating animal flesh. They forget that there are no vegetables that are off limits. There are hundreds and thousands of vegetable varieties that are all for the taking. They are delicious raw, steamed, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, or spiked with garlic, lemon juice, oil, and sea salt. For a cocktail party, stick to varieties that are naturally finger food-sized or can be easily cut and served raw, like crudite standards carrots, broccoli, grape tomatoes, and celery. But don’t discount other less obvious choices such as sliced radishes; sugar snap peas; olives brined in gin and stuffed with whole garlic cloves; glistening platters of ruby-red and savory peppadews; caramelized red onions; blanched asparagus turned in a small amount of balsamic vinegar and tamari; peppers roasted into sweet, charred blackness and seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil (you can buy them frozen and just reheat according to package directions if you don’t have the time or wherewithal to torch them yourself); fried green beans; even fried onion rings. The options are as infinite as your imagination or recipe library. The salty, savory notes of these dishes go great with alcohol. Besides, these are guaranteed to go so much faster than any half-hearted vegetarian cocktail sausage that just ain’t gonna cut muster with avowed meat-eaters (believe me, I tried and failed at tricking one with mock meat).

* This is me, pre-party, as Hostess Bear. Whenever I make this face, I turn into a bear, any kind of bear I choose. It's a really long story. It's also one of those Couple Things that only Brian and I find endlessly hilarious. My mother too. But that's the sorta story behind this picture.

6. Relax and Enjoy Your Guests: There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious in the kitchen but if you’re having people over to eat with the sole mission of impressing them, consider becoming a caterer. The whole point is to be with people you love and perhaps don’t get to see very often. If some dishes are eaten up more than others, don’t take it personally. Food left behind is a sign that people were thoroughly enjoying rather engorging themselves. And if anyone complains that there wasn’t enough or any meat or that the queso-less quesadillas taste bad without cheese, don’t give up throwing parties. Consider having a talk with or even getting rid of a “friend” who’d judge you and your hospitality so harshly.
7. Always Serve Dessert: Especially when dessert is a vegan chocolate ganache chocolate cake from Whole Foods that you surprise your Christmas baby girlfriend with. Other lovely cocktail party desserts: brownies or rice krispie treats cut into mini, bite-sized squares and stacked like a pyramid; cupcakes; dried fruit dipped in dark chocolate; roughly cut shards of bittersweet organic chocolate with almonds and dried blueberries; a big bowl of clementines alongside small plates and more than a few napkins; spritz cookies.

No comments: