I Threw a Vegan Dinner Party for Non-Vegans. Here’s the Menu With Recipes
The plan: Invite my non-vegan friends over for dinner and serve them vegan food. That's to say, my kind of food. While not a great cook, I am a champion at ordering all things delicious. So I headed over to Pura Vita Vegan Wine Bar (not far from where I am living in West Hollywood) and ordered a tray of their vegan lasagna made with cashew cheese to be picked up the night of the party. You can always make vegan lasagna, or any traditional dish of your choosing, simply by subbing out the dairy cheese with non-dairy cheese, either made from cashew or other nuts. But I had tasted this particular dish and thought it would be the perfect thing to serve to friends who were non-vegans, and who would all agree that is it absolutely delicious.
My house, my rules
How did we get here? My husband loves to entertain, but he also has non-vegan tastes that run on the comfort food side of the spectrum. The last time we invited people over I let him choose the menu, and watched in mild disgust as everyone around me ate some form of meat, chicken, and dairy. (I gave up meat and dairy three years ago, and the more I eat this way, the less I miss meat, and the idea of it turns my stomach.) That's when I ordered the lasagna "to-go" from Pura Vita the first time and brought my own vegan dish to my own dinner party. It felt like a bit of a loser move, not only because I wasn't eating what my husband was serving, but because it was so darn delicious and I didn't have enough to share.
I hate being that guest with special requirements who gets a different dish. It happened at my son's wedding, which was sweet of my new in-laws to think of me and make a delicious lentil-based pasta sauce just for me. But when the food is delicious, I actually want to share it. So now that this party was on the horizon I told my husband: I got this. We are going to serve all-vegan food, from the hors d'oeuvres to the dessert. And everyone is going to love it.
The vegan dinner party menu was simple
For the appetizers: Hummus and celery, carrots and guacamole, and lime-flavored pita chips when guests arrive. Also some mixed salted nuts and olives. Who needs cheese? So last century!
For the main: Vegan lasagna with cashew cheese, lentil, and mushroom meatballs, as a side dish, also from Pura Vita, because they are so amazingly good everyone had to try them. I wanted her recipe since the chef Tara P is a legit genius and long-time vegan but she is also working on a cookbook so we may have to wait until that's ready to market to tease it out of her! For shaved vegan parmesan I found Follow Your Heart in my local market and used that.
For the side: Roasted Brussels sprouts, my go-to green since they are so easy if you time it right. I cut them in half, take off the stems, and lightly brush them in olive oil and sea salt. They turn out crisp, and if you want to spice things up, dust with a shake of paprika for a little bite.
For the salad: Kale & spinach salad with pomegranate seeds, shaved pear, and walnuts. Stole this idea from our golf and tennis club, where it's so simple and completely delicious. Homemade vinaigrette is also super easy to make tangy and not too greasy: just a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil, vinegar, and a tiny bit of ponzu dressing, or vegan mayo to add thickness.
For the dessert: Dairy-free oat milk vanilla ice cream or sherbert, mixed berries. Oh, and: Vegan chocolate chip cookies! A big hit. The oat milk ice creams on the market today are so real tasting you don't even have to announce that they are non-dairy since no one would know. That said, most of the guests were tasting Oatly for the first time, so I felt like I was opening a door for them and leading them into a land of delicious dairy-free ice creams. For a full list of the best non-dairy ice creams, check out the taste tests (what we call Beet Meters) to find your next favorite flavor.
The wine was also vegan
When you throw a vegan dinner party, be sure to buy vegan wine, which most people never think about. The truth is that wine is often processed with all sorts of added elements – no, it's not just made from grapes – and vintners use different "fining" agents to clarify and purify the final product, including bones, egg whites, dairy proteins, and also filter it through fish bladders. I know, gross, right? The FDA does not require the labels on wine to show anything but alcohol content so when you buy a wine, unless it's labeled vegan and organic, assume there is other stuff in there. For how to pick a vegan wine, read this guide to vegan and organic wines.
What did they think?
The lasagna was a big hit. The question: What is it made of? Is something I wish I had the whole answer to, but I had failed to get the recipe since the chef is writing a cookbook and smartly not sharing. But there was a mix of veggies such as spinach leaves and eggplant and other vegetables as filling, along with the cashew nut cheese, and super tangy red sauce.
I also added a side of vegan meatballs, which I had tasted at the restaurant and were so Italian, traditionally flavored, and before I could even announce that they are made from lentils and mushrooms one of the guests, who is an accomplished chef herself, immediately guessed: These are made of lentils and mushrooms. That recipe is also under lock and key. They are absolutely delicious and as satisfying as any real meatball I have ever tasted.
Meatballs are easy! Not near a vegan Italian takeout place? I love the meatballs from Gardein, which were actually the first ones I ever tasted and helped me bridge the gap between my "old" diet and my new plant-based ways. But there are also vegan meatballs made by Beyond, with pea protein, and from Impossible, but there are so many out there, including nutritious ones made of Jackfruit from Jack & Annie's. Jackfruit is uniquely high in fiber, low in calories and fat, loaded with vitamin C and also known to be a great substitute for vegan pulled pork.
Here's how it went
All in all, it was a bit hit. The Vegan chocolate chip cookies were a major hit. I bought mine from Pura Vita (and they could have a whole cookie business, judging by the fact that everyone savored theirs, every single crumb of the big cookie in a brown bag), but you can buy vegan cookies from Tate's Bakery, or even impress guests by making your own! Simply substitute egg alternatives and use vegan butter to veganize a family recipe. Or, try these vegan chocolate chip cookies when the spirit moves you to bake, just for relaxation.
Takeaway tip for any vegan dinner party
Even non-vegans love to try vegan food. Bring your favorite dishes or order your favorite vegan meals, and let people know that eating vegan doesn't have to be "rabbit food" or weird macro mush. It can be delicious traditional dishes made over without the meat and dairy, but just as full of taste as the ones they are used to. When you love something, chances are your friends and family will, too.
As you explain what you're serving, go light on the messaging. Don't make it a "have to" but a "want to" as you approach the questions about trying new types of vegan food. This is the way of the future, and your friends will be happy you brought them up to speed on what's happening in the culinary world. Tell them plant-based recipes are generally made with whole food ingredients that are healthier for you, and more sustainable for the planet too. Chance are they will feel grateful for the chance to experience fine vegan dining, served with love.
Make your own vegan dinner party with these recipes
Start with an appetizer: Chef Matthew Kenney's Butternut Squash Carpaccio
Add a side dish: Smoked Eggplant Loins With Beet Blood
The main dish of pasta: Mark Bittman's Dairy-Free Tempeh Ragu Lasagna
Or you can go with In the Wicked Kitchen's Creamy Vegan Carbonara with Shiitake Bacon
For dessert, serve up Chef Chloe Coscarelli's Vean Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies
For more great plant-based recipes check out The Beet's 1,000 recipe ideas.