A Vegetarian Comes to Dinner

I am always stumped when a vegetarian comes to dinner. It’s not that we don’t have a whole archive of family-friendly vegetarian meals (ok maybe flexitarian meals would be more accurate) in the DALS rotation. Or that I’m in any way annoyed that there won’t be meat on the evening line-up. Quite the opposite actually — I feel like I’ve been heavily leaning towards more plant-and-whole-grain based dishes at our everyday dinner table. But on a weekend night when a guest is at that table — a guest who has sometimes traveled from the far corners of Brooklyn — the 15-minute black bean and goat cheese quesadillas that get the job done on a Tuesday night after soccer is just not going to cut it. I don’t think it’s going overboard to want to present something a bit more elevated than your everyday fare when you’re entertaining — whether your guest is a carnivore, herbivore, locavore, or whatevervore. Do you? (Maybe don’t answer that.)

Anyway, this is why twice a month I seem to issue a plea on facebook begging you for your most show-stopping vegetable main dishes. (One out of three of you seem to point me towards Smitten Kitchen’s Mushroom Bourgignon.) And why one of my resolutions this year was to come up with a meat-free meal that someone might describe as “enticing.” There are way too many vegetarians in this world now for me to NOT have expanded my horizons beyond my comfort zone of minestrone and Amanda Hesser’s tangy-sweet Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onion. (I’ll never forget my friend Laurie taking a bite of that one back in the 90s and saying, “This is, like, a whole different flavor that I’ve just…never….experienced before.”)

But the comfort zone still tastes so damn delicious! And so a few weeks ago, when a vegetarian came to dinner, I stuck with my tried-and-true pasta, but changed up the starters and the sweets. But for some reason it was one of the more successful menu line-ups I can remember. You know how when you buy a new sweater it somehow makes an old top feel fresh? I guess that’s what happened, because it just… worked. And it was incredibly easy, too. Anyway, I thought you guys might like to hear what I did:

To start: blistered peppers. Ratio of Time Spent Making to Wow Factor: obscenely unbalanced. Easiest thing ever. I used shishitos, which you can usually find at better supermarkets. (I found mine at Tarry Market.) I served these alongside burrata (that really soft, creamy mozzarella) and drizzled it heavily with good olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt alongside slices of a crusty baguette. [Careful readers might notice that there’s salumi (salumi=pig) scribbled into my diary. Careful readers might also point out that pig is not vegetarian. I have no excuse that would hold up in court other than my kids go crazy for it and I wanted them to have a moment of happiness during the starter portion of the evening.]

DinnerPasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions and Shredded Kale Salad with Lemon & Ricotta Salata (I added a teaspoon of lemon zest and Andy made a very subtly balsamic vinaigrette. Also: You don’t need a lot of ricotta salata because the pasta is already creamy and yogurt-y.)

Dessert: Just-out-of-the-Oven Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Cinnamon Ice Cream (Book owners: Page 72)

Related: A Stress-Free Gluten-Free Menu

Photo of peppers: Ditte Isager for Bon Appetit

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This is my most frequent entertaining dilemma. We eat vegetarian meals all the time! Why can’t I find something worthy of a dinner party? I have one tried and true meal, but that means I panic when it is time to have people over for the second time… Thanks for the suggestions.


Savory bread pudding with roasted squash and or sweet potatoes, and we usually add kale (a tomato basil version would be amazing, if my family weren’t so against them… that could probably be done vegan, even, which probably makes it not bread pudding any more, but whatever). It’s fabulous. We served it to picky omnivores, and they loved it… they even ate the onions!


Also, a ridiculous taco spread always serves us well, with seasoned, smashed black beans (see smitten kitchen for her zucchini/corn/black bean taco stuff) and every trimming you can imagine.
Also, fill your own crepes. May I recommend the fig jam from TJs with goat or blue cheese and baked sweet potato?
And, anything served with Molly Weizenberg’s chick pea salad (ok, it’s really Brandon’s, but who’s keeping score?).
Nori rolls and miso soup and… (I always think that needs one more thing, but I can’t figure out what it should be. Maybe some fabulous edemame dish? have a good tofu recipe???)
(Can you tell we have a monthly dinner with a vegetarian?)

Tom Humphreys

Hi, we always have success with Jamie Oliver’s eggplant (aubergine!) parmesan. It is realtively healthy and definitely satisfies everyone at the table, including the meat-eaters. Of course, it involves cheese so it isn’t vegan friendly.

If your guests eat fish, a nice Coquilles St. Jacques does the trick!

Both are fine with a good salad and warm loaf of bread.

If your guests are vegan, I’m at a loss but am excited to see suggestions!


Here’s my favorite (vegetarian) company dinners:

Cook barley, then broil brussel sprouts with fresh cranberries thrown in, plate over barley and serve with pecans and blue cheese, and a maple-balsamic dressing.

Beet and grapefruit salad over spinach with pecans and blue cheese and a citrus vinaigrette


That pasta looks amazing – do you use sheep’s milk yogurt when you make it, or will cow’s milk yogurt do as well?


This looks amazing – thanks! I have a kale salad I make with thinly sliced kale & brussel sprouts mixed with lemon juice, almonds and pecorino (& a few other things). The brussel sprouts add a different texture, which is nice . . .

PS How was MP Taverna? I’ve been dying to go!


Being a vegetarian myself (well, technically a pescetarian) I always feel bad when my host(s) have to scramble to find food appropriate for me-and I find myself skipping things if I think it’s too difficult for them! I’ve become a HUGE fan of Naturally Ella as she cooks not only with seasonal products but mostly veggie-friendly dishes. I did a great butternut roasted stuffed squash from there.

Blonde in this City


Erin: I love MP Taverna. I prefer sitting at the bar — that front room is awesome. We always get a bunch of small plates for whole table instead of our own entrees. Pork sausage with oranges, the dips, calamari, etc.


Cooking for special dietary needs can be fun and challenging at once. Especially if you want to make sure your special diet guest don’t feel left out of “segregated” from other guests. (I couldn’t think of a better word at the moment”.
So far, I felt that cooking vegetarian was not too bad, gluten free was also okay to navigate around. However, I find that I had the most trouble with Dairy-Free menus. Perhaps I use too much butter, cheese or cream? The most challenging part is making a dairy free dessert! Recently, I opted for dairy-free ice cream.

Any advice would be great.

Jan @ Family Bites

Mmm…this dinner sounds great, and I’m not vegetarian. My go-to dish for entertaining non-meat eaters is pot pie. In the fall and winter it’s filled with root vegetables, and in the spring and summer it’s a mesh of peas, asparagus, greens and lemon. I find that even the meat eaters devour it, and occasionally I’ll even add some beans or lentils for an extra protein boost.


A vegetarian comes to dinner at my house every night! We tend to reply on lots of bean-based dishes, but this simple creamy and savory pasta sounds like a great plan too.

Ioana Buibas

I’ve had pretty good luck with latkes and falafel when we make vegeterian dinners. Also, Mark Bittman’s basic quiche (which I’m going to serve to a vegetarian friend this weekend).


Another nice vegetarian/vegan dinner is enchiladas. Homemade enchilada sauce is key. Fill with any combo of cooked veggies or beans. Sprinkle with cheese (or not). Serve with fresh toppings like avocado, radishes, cilantro, cabbage.

Am excited to try this pasta.


Dang. I bought the ingredients for your mexican chocolate cookies, oh, about forever ago. And still, there sits the cayenne in my cabinet, being used on everything in the world except those cookies. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll have to get on that!

Maria Tadic

I agree – even as a vegetarian, I want something kinda showy when people come over – especially meat eating company! I love doing a huge rustic platter of family style polenta and ratatouille. It looks beautiful and taste amazing!


If I want to gild the lily a bit when making padron peppers, I grate a little ricotta salata on top using a microplane grater right at the end.


We had an all vegetarian dinner party a couple of years ago and I can’t remember what we served as the main dish, but as I side we sliced up some polenta, pan-fried it, and topped it with the mushroom ragout from the Joy of Cooking. We’ve got three kids and we put that ragout over everything: pasta, chicken, turkey meatloaf … it’s such a winner.

Jenny, what brand of cinnamon ice cream do you use? I’m partial to Jeni’s Saigon Cinnamon but I don’t think they are carrying it now. Where do you find yours?


A great vegetarian (and gluten-free) dish is Quinoa Cakes with Eggplant and Tomato Ragu. They are so tasty. Everyone I’ve made them for has loved them – even picky and/or skeptical guests.

Make-Ahead Tips: You can form the quinoa cakes and make the ragu ahead of time. When it’s time for dinner, just cook the cakes and reheat the ragu.

Changes to the recipe: Adding 2 eggs make the cakes stick together better. Personal preference: I leave out the red peppers and use fresh mozzarella rather than the smoked.



Question: When making the yogurt pasta, do you drain the yogurt still or just Greek style yogurt now that it’s so readily available?


Thank you Jenny! I’ll make sure to get the sheep’s milk kind. And wanted to add – I’ve made: vegetarian lasagna, and in grilling weather – portobello mushroom burgers! They’re the opposite of fancy, but if you top them with some melty cheese (preferably St. Andre) and throw them on a toasted bun, perhaps with some fancy sides? Vegetarian perfection, in my book.


My new favorite is Le Grande Aioli (thanks to Luisa at The Wednesday Chef). It’s generally served with salt cod. Salt cod is impossible to find here, so I’ve used shrimp or no fish at all. I served this on Super Bowl Sunday and it was a hit. I wanted something “snacky” yet not snack food and this worked perfectly.

It’s casual yet elegant at the same time. I’m looking forward to making it with asparagus soon and tomatoes fresh from the garden in the summer. It’s great with some crusty bread and a glass of rosé (or beer).

I made hard boiled eggs, roasted small (1-inch) potatoes, beets, cauliflower, carrots and grape tomatoes. Delicious! I tried making the mayonnaise and it was a flop, so I added lemon juice and garlic to store bought mayonnaise and it was great.





I did not read any of the other comments, so this question may have already been raised, but what is your opinion of quartering some baby portabello mushrooms and adding them during the caramelization?


I made this last night. And if I ever have a veg to serve this is what I would make with noodles on the side.

I prepared a salad mix of baby kale, chard and spinach, even cut it up and spun it in salad spinner, but forgot to add it. Pissed me off. (my daughter used the salad mix in her smoothie this morning) I was looking forward to the flavor with the cauliflower. Next time…

I used 1/2 lb of bacon and made a rue for bechamel sauce with the bacon fat added bacon and cauliflower into the sauce before putting in casserole dish. But Olive oil would work …I just wanted some bacon I guess.

I probably used 1/4 cup flour and 2+cups of warm milk and all the leftover pieces of cheese in the fridge.

AFter dinner I thought I would maybe make a cream of cauliflower soup from the leftovers. Just remove the panko…But the brownbaggers left only about 1/2 cup. I was looking forward to testing it out to see if it would work as soup. ..next time


My husband and I are both vegetarians, so all my company dinners are vegetarian! Ottolenghi’s PLENTY is your go-to book. Many, many company-worthy vegetarian dishes. Try the coucous, for starters, which is served on a big platter and is gorgeous and delicious. Also, keep in mind that vegetarian meals don’t need one big main course. My favorite meal is probably a Midde-Eastern-y array of salads.