I’m vegetarian but my friends aren’t. que meat-free dinner party mains sit well alongside meat or fish?
Amy, London SW9
“I try to make one big dish that’s complete in itself, like a turbo-charged potato salad,” says Joe Woodhouse, whose debut cookbook Your Daily Veg is out this month. You could add capers, chopped cornichons, “double up on onion” with chopped red and spring onion, lemon zest and juice, parsley, and dill, then finish with green goddess dressing (soft herbs blitzed with yoghurt, vinegar and lemon juice). Don’t be beholden to rules, though: “If you like something, go big on it.” Spoon some harissa over it, top with grilled, seasonal veg, and pop a pork chop on the side for meat eaters.
Other spuds you’ll like can be roasted and eaten with mayonnaise, says Chantelle Nicholson, chef-founder of Price, which opens in London this spring. “Blend wild garlic with oil, then use that to make a mayonnaise with egg or aquafaba.” Make a meal of it by frying or roasting purple sprouting broccoli in sesame oil, then top with salsa verde or zhoug and sesame seeds. Nicholson bulks things out with cooked emmer wheat or spelled dressed with white-wine vinegar, sesame or olive oil and chopped parsley, dill and/or tarragon. Leeks, both creamed or chargrilled, make a fine addition, too, plus whatever protein your friends fancy (Nicholson recommends fried tofu for you, Amy).
When Tom Barnes, executive chef of L’Enclume and Rogan & Co. in Cumbria, was on Great British Menu, he was tasked with the fish course, as well as a vegetarian alternative. The answer? Carrots. “We baked them in foil until soft, marinated them overnight in koji shio [a sweet, miso-like Japanese cure], then served them warm with dried seaweed.” The texture, he says, is akin to smoked salmon, so fish eaters could have the two together.
Mushrooms are also magic. Barnes fries king oysters, then brushes them with miso. “Serve with shallot puree, potatoes fried in butter and a sauce made with mushroom stock.” Saute mushrooms with onions, thyme and garlic, cover with water and simmer. “Fry more shallots and garlic, add red wine and reduce. Add the stock and finish with butter.” Just add roast beef for your mates, Amy.
Roasted whole veg makes a cracking centrepiece, too. Nicholson is partial to onions stuffed with breadcrumbs and wild garlic butter, which play nicely with most meat. Woodhouse recalls a fancy kebab meal he recently made for friends: “Various salads, flatbreads and marinated boned lamb shoulder, which I thinly sliced.” The latter ended up as the support act: “People said they didn’t need the meat.”
The thing is, though, Amy, your friends won’t keel over without meat, so why not make life easy and stick solely to vegetarian fare? Woodhouse suggests concentrating instead on making “delicious, interesting things.” Mastery of a few dressings will help: tahini with yoghurt, garlic and lemon, say, or a “balancing act between olive oil, grated garlic, lemon juice, chopped chilli and chopped herb stalks”. He grills steamed cabbage wedges, drizzles them in tahini, then spoons the lemony oil on top, or he tosses sliced, raw cabbage in the same dressing to “dump on brothy beans”. Any friend worth their salt couldn’t possibly resist that.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism