Lecture 15: Vegetarian Catering

Required: Vegan in Volume, Chapters 6-8, Appendix D
Recommended: See if you can locate a restaurant that caters vegetarian options.

****** Last Project (Menu) Due Next Lecture!!*******

By the end of this lecture, the student should be able to:

  1. Suggest at least ten vegetarian appetizers
  2. Suggest at least ten vegetarian entrees
  3. Suggest at least ten vegetarian accompaniment dishes
  4. Suggest at least ten vegetarian desserts
  5. Suggest vegetarian holiday items that take the place of traditional holiday items

Culinary elegance is universal and vegetarian catering is becoming more and more popular. Leaving out the meat doesn’t mean leaving out the finesse. Several large newspapers have contacted me in the past several years, wanting information on "how-to’s" for vegetarian catering, especially weddings. I have been asked to consult with many catering companies on how to add vegetarian options to their menus.

Vegetarian catering is needed everywhere. A local caterer, who has a long-standing contract with several pre-schools, has just added vegetarian options, at the request of parents. The executive chef for the United Nations has been asked to add vegetarian options for catered events. The list goes on.

Often, a catered event is expected to be elegant and "special." Catering for elegant occasions requires the correct ambiance. Go for simplicity with a grilled portobello fillet or for bounty with a grand grain tasting menu (a la Charlie Trotter).

Vegetarian entrees can include a center-of-the-plate attraction, such as a seared tofu steak in a cabernet au jus or a vegetable cutlet with a lemon-caper sauce. If dairy products are acceptable, fettuccini Alfredo or a four-fromage quiche are simple to prepare and gorgeous when served.

If several small items are preferable to the traditional entrée and two sides, try a spicy vegetable, a more subtle vegetable, a crunchy grain, and a soft finish. Spicy Moroccan eggplant, roasted herbed carrots, couscous with onions and garlic, and sautéed mushrooms come together for visual and palate appeal. More ideas: ratatouille (eggplant and summer squash stew with tomatoes, olive oil, olives, parsley and garlic), rosemary mashed potatoes, spicy green beans, and roasted corn; mushroom and barley pilaf, sautéed bell peppers (try at least three different colors), jasmine rice and petite pois (baby green peas); spinach fettuccini (served as individual baskets) topped with fresh tomato sauce and basil, wilted greens with garlic and crisp carrot and cabbage sauté.

For make-ahead elegance, prepare crepe skins (they can be made vegan with a product called Egg-Replacer; go to for info) or purchase premade crepes. Stuff with chopped, grilled seasoned vegetables and freeze, unsauced. When ready to use, place frozen on a baking sheet, sauce, reheat and serve. Lasagna, stuffed shells and manicotti can make a beautiful plate and hold up well to freezing. Stuff tomatoes or sweet onions with herbed grains, sautéed mushrooms and nuts, such as almonds or pistachios. Cook them off and freeze until ready to use. For vegans, use soy-based cheese or pureed tofu in place of sliced cheese or soft cheese (such as ricotta). Several companies offer convenience pasta entrées, such as Mon Cuisine and Putney Pasta, sauced and unsauced, that fit the vegetarian dinner bill. There are also soy- and grain-based frozen vegetarian entrees designed to be handled like meat roasts which can be stored frozen until needed. Just slice these items, sauce with an onion or mushroom vegetable gravy and serve.

Accompaniment dishes add the color and texture to the plate as well as complimenting the entrée. Fresh seasonal vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli florets, baby carrots, and summer squash, lightly steamed and herbed require little handling while offering lots of class to the plate. Grains and rice can be steamed into pilafs, shaped into timbales (small drum shapes) or sautéed with fresh or dried herbs. Potatoes, white or sweet can be pureed or whipped with complementary seasonings, browned as an au gratin or oven-roasted. Rice, brown, jasmine, basmanti, or wild, can be used as a bed for an entrée or tossed with herbs or nuts to stand on their own. Pasta can be sauced, tossed with sautéed vegetables or also used as a bed to carry an entrée.

Accompaniment dishes don’t always have to be hot. Wilted spinach or kale, chill and toss with chopped onions, olive oil and vinegar; grill root vegetables with an Asian marinade and chill for a crunchy side dish. Fresh fruit medleys are a complement to every type of entrée, especially when the textures are assorted, as in a pineapple-mango-orange-apple medley.

Continue the vegetarian black-tie affair with dessert. Offer a trio of sorbets garnished with fresh berries or topped with a simple tuile cookie. Bread pudding can put on a tuxedo with specialty sauces, such as a brandy-ginger sauce or a fresh apricot and strawberry coulis. Poach pears in wine or syrup and serve with a sorbet, chocolate sauce, or with a sprig of fresh mint.

Tropical sundaes, ice cream or frozen soy or rice dessert topped with chopped papaya, mango and shredded coconut create a cool ending.

Beverages can be a vegetarian consideration. Vegans will be concerned about non-vegetarian wines and beers, as the clarifications methods used to finish them may involve animal products. Ask your suppliers about the vegetarian status of their products. Information about beers and wines from the UK can be found at: Fresh fruit juices, sparkling beverages and hot beverages should be included as part of the catered event.

Although not a particularly vegetarian topic, edible centerpieces are dramatic and aromatic ways to decorate tables. Try bouquets of herbs (think of the aroma of fresh basil, lavender, and rosemary) carved fruit and vegetable arrangements and edible flower bowls. This style of centerpiece will add a simple elegance to your table and will prime your customers for dinner!

Here are some suggestions for elegant vegetarian dinner menus:

Here’s some more ideas (are you getting some of your own?):

Veggie Appetizers: use the following suggestions to create an elegant statement with passed hors d’oeurves or as a light dinner buffet

COLD: cold tortellini or mini-ravioli stuffed with mushroom, herbed cheeses, grilled vegetables, and spicy tomatoes served with tomato-basil or harissa (Moroccan pepper sauce) dipping sauces. Mini-bruschetta topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, garnished with fresh basil.
Stuffed mushrooms or cherry tomatoes (stuffings to included herbed rice or grilled vegetables) with a lemon-dill vinaigrette. Deviled eggs. Assorted crudities and bread sticks with flavored hummus, tapenade (chopped olive dip) and yogurt and sour cream-based dips. Caponata (marinated eggplant combined with tomato puree, olives, and celery). Assorted marinated vegetables and olives.

HOT: Potato skins stuffed with chopped, seasonal vegetables, flavored mashed potatoes (try rosemary, horseradish, and garlic) and topped with soy yogurt-cucumber dressing. Grilled fruit and vegetable skewers (use various flavored marinades). Mini spring rolls (steamed rice paper wrappers) steamed and fried won ton and egg rolls stuffed with shredded fresh vegetables and herbs. Fried, breaded ravioli and steamed gnocchi with tomato and cream-based dipping sauces. Vegetable (sweet potato, green bean, carrot, etc.) tempura with dipping sauces.

Holiday Happenings
Hiring a caterer is becoming more and more popular during the winter holidays. Here’s a guide I have handy when local caterers call about veggie options . You can use this for your own happenings or out in the world:

From Carnivore to All-I-vore with Holiday Menus

Carnivore Instead of Try
Sweet potatoes butter, cream, marshmallows margarine, silken tofu,chopped fruit and nuts
Mashed potatoes butter, milk margarine, soy milk,vegetable stock
Cooked veggies butter margarine, flavored oils,vegetable stocks, herbs
Stuffing meat and meat stock chopped veggies and nuts,veggie stock, fruit juices, corn, dried fruit, chopped nuts
Pie Crust lard or butter margarine, vegetable shortening or oil
Salad Dressing cheese, mayo use oil and vinegar based
Gravy meat and meat stock use vegetable stock or broth to create onion and mushroom gravy.cranberry and dried fruit sauce

Veggie Holiday Menu Ideas



Cruise the Mediterranean

Veggie Holiday Desserts
Some desserts can be simple, yet elegant, and some can be all-out!

Time and Motion
The holidays are a time of comfort and joy for most everyone on the planet, unless you are involved in planning and preparing the holiday meals. Rather than slowing down for the winter solstice, the designated cooks are revving up for special menus served at holiday banquets, receptions, and parties.

Analyze your vegetarian holiday inclusions from a production standpoint, where less is always better. Under the best conditions, you can produce vegan items to serve to everyone. If this doesn’t suit, an addition of one or two ingredients can produce a vegetarian or carnivore item. It still takes less time to prepare a vegan couscous dish and then add dairy ingredients, rather than preparing two or three separate batches. For example, prepare a vegan rice pilaf with rice, vegetables sautéed in oil and vegetable stock. Serve this to everyone or divide batches and add a soy Parmesan cheese garnish for vegetarians.

Examples of labor-saving vegan menu items for everyone would be crudities with humus or bean dip or vegetable tempura (use rice flour and water for the coating, no egg) for appetizers. Many side dishes are inherently vegan, as in roasted potatoes (drizzle with herbed oil or margarine), baked potatoes (offer salsa and margarine as toppings), vegetables steamed with fresh or dried herbs, sautéed mushrooms, green beans amandine, glazed carrots (use maple syrup or orange juice concentrate to keep it vegan, as many vegans don’t use sugar or honey), fresh fruit salad or fruit compote, pasta with tomato sauce, steamed barley, couscous or rice served with chopped nuts or sautéed veggies and grilled vegetable brochettes (skewer cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers).

Soup to Nuts
Soups are a "comfort" starter for the winter holidays. Potage Crecy (puree of carrot soup - you’ve got the recipe in Vegan in Volume) is a fast vegan study. Cook carrots and potatoes together until they are tender enough to puree. Puree until creamy, season with garlic, white pepper and parsley and you have a silky soup that gives the impression of being creamy and buttery. The same vegan soup routine can be done with winter squash (try banana or butternut), sweet potatoes, or any root vegetable. Season squash or sweet potato soups with white pepper, cumin and thyme (savory) or ginger, mace, and nutmeg (holiday flavors). If you have the time, create a compound butter or margarine by softening the fat, mixing in herbs and refrigerating. Serve a dollop of compound butter on top of the soup. It keeps it still lower fat and vegetarian. Use compound margarines (margarines whipped with fresh or dried herbs or spices; for example, have a rosemary and sun-dried tomato margarine or a strawberry preserve and orange zest margarine) to top hot breads and to season vegetables.

Salads can be vegan make-aheads for holiday buffets and receptions. Tossed assorted greens with French dressing, three, four or five-bean salad, fresh fruit salad, marinated mushrooms (use Italian dressing), marinated cabbage salad (thinly slice red and green cabbage and toss with diced onions and Italian dressing) and Caesar salad (minus the egg yolks and anchovies) can be served to everyone. Fresh fruit salad can be used as an appetizer or a side dish. Grill fruit brochettes (skewer pineapple, apples and pears) that have been marinated in fruit juice for a hot appetizer or a side dish.

Fruit can be used for vegan desserts and savory or sweet sauces. Fruit pies (use vegetable shortening or margarine for the crust), turnovers and cobblers can be made ahead of time and frozen for later use. Baked apples and pears can be a dessert or a side dish, and apple or pear sauce can be used as an entrée or dessert sauce. Stewed apples and raisins, seasoned with cinnamon and maple syrup can be a side dish for a savory entrée or served over fruit sorbet or soy or rice ice cream for a "fire and ice" dessert.

Tofu is the secret ingredient in "creamy" vegan desserts. Blended tofu can be used to create "cream" pies, puddings and custard. Tofu is already the consistency of custard, so the set-up time is shorter. And tofu has a neutral flavor, so you can create chocolate, butterscotch, lemon, pumpkin, orange or any other flavor you’d like for a tofu pudding or pie filling.

Lentil and Mushroom Wellington….
Why not? If you have the time, prepare a thick lentil and potato stew, enrobe it in pastry and serve just like a beef Wellington. There are specialty products made of seitan (solid gluten) or soy protein that roast and slice just like meat roasts. Add mushroom or onion gravy and you have a vegetarian holiday entrée.

Baked peppers or tomatoes, filled with stuffing or rice pilaf, sweet potato fritters with curried spinach, multi-colored pasta sautéed with garlic and tossed with vegetables, marinated Portobello mushroom steaks and vegetable lasagna fit the vegetarian holiday bill.

Vegetarian holiday menus can be quick to prepare and, if planned correctly, can be used as crossover items. In addition to the ideas in this article, look to ethnic specialties, such as Moroccan vegetable tangines (stews), Asian stir-fry with rice and noodles, and Mediterranean dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice and chopped nuts). Happy holidays!

Hope this gave you some catering ideas. On to Lecture 16!

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