This year, like the last, the year before that, and the years before that, I dragged my four-course Christmas dinner from one side of the country to the other.
As I'm the only member of my family who is vegan, my relatives struggle to find foods that I eat, so that system where every family unit brings one course to the meal doesn't apply to me.
It's no big deal – it’s hard to cook for 20 or more people, and cooking for 20 or more people plus one person who eats differently to everyone else, is even harder. In my book, fussy eaters, who don't offer help in cooking or bring some of their own food for such occasions, are assholes.
Still, I’d rather not cook all the food for all my friends and family all the time, so I'm always happy when someone offers to cater to my needs, and I guess the same holds for other vegans/vegetarians/people with allergies/fussy eaters.
So, here are my tips on cooking for (vegan) friends, plus some recipes. If you’re not going to be cooking for a vegan any time soon, then feel free to use them for yourself (and your January vegan food challenges if you're Alisande) as well.
First of all, check exactly what your friend doesn’t eat. 'Vegan' sounds very black and white, but it actually is a bit of grey area. No meat, no fish, no gelatin, no cochenille (a red colouring), no dairy, no eggs is pretty standard. Most vegans also don’t eat honey (I do, but I'm not really a vegan, I'm a vegetarian who is allergic to dairy and eggs, so I don't mind a bit of honey occasionally).
This is just the easy stuff. Some wines, beers and fruit juices have been filtered with an animal protein-based filter, some vegans drink them, and some don't. Commercial bread often contains a product made out of pig hair to prevent it from going stale within hours. Again, some vegans don't mind, some do.
In any pre-made food product, you could find some animal part, some obvious, some not, some unintentional, some not. Everybody decides for himself or herself how far they want to go in avoiding animal products, and some people are less strict when eating out than when they are eating at home, so ask your guest about that.
This also gives you the opportunity to ask about ok brands for things like stock cubes and puff pastry. When your friend isn't vegan, but vegetarian, make sure to check whether they eat cheese made with animal rennet or not (I think this is less of an issue in the UK than in the Netherlands, as traditional Dutch cheeses have to be made with animal rennet, not a bacterial one).
And obviously, when your friend has allergies, make sure you know what they are.
Next, find out what sort of thing your friend normally eats. Most people cook for themselves quite regularly, so they know what they like, and what works in their diet. You don't have to cook them the same meal they eat every day, but knowing what they do eat makes it easier to think of new ideas.
For vegans and vegetarians, it’s often as simple as switching cuisines. Western European food tends to focus on meat, with side dishes including vegetables and starch. Southern European food includes more complete meals, which are easier when you’re leaving out or replacing ingredients. Asian food often already is vegetarian/vegan, so it takes minimal effort to ensure your food is appropriate for your friend.
Then, decide what you're going to make. When serving friends, I tend to cook differently to when I come home from work (then, I either nuke something I made before, or I stir fry some veggies and add tofu and nuked rice – btw, leftover rice, with a cup of water in the microwave makes the best rice ever).
Most of the time, I prefer to have something in the oven, and spend the time talking with them and having fun. But sometimes, eating is a fun activity, such as when I make vegan cheese fondue, or when we're BBQing.
After you've decided what you're going to cook, it could be wise to run the ingredients past your friend, just to be sure. Especially if your friend is like me, there are so many things I can’t eat, I sometimes forget what they all are.
So, onto the recipes, I'm not a very exact cook, so neither are my recipes/tips:
MayonnaiseLets start with mayonnaise. I love mayonnaise, and use it on a lot of things, but regular mayonnaise contains egg, and store bought vegan mayonnaise usually is really expensive, and contains apple cider vinegar, which I cannot have because of my apple allergy. So, instead, I make my own mayonnaise, and it is really simple:
You'll need 2 parts soy milk, 3 parts neutral oil (I usually do 100 or 150 ml, but ½ cup and ¾ would work just as well, or tablespoons if you really need a little), some mustard, some vinegar, salt and pepper.
Make sure all the ingredients are room temperature, blend the soy milk and oil, and season your mayonnaise with the other ingredients. It will be really pale, and sometimes mine comes out runnier than other times - I have no idea why this is.
This is a pretty good basis for other things; add garlic for vegan garlic sauce; replace some of the neutral oil with truffle oil for truffle mayonnaise; add horseradish for a dressing for your beet Carpaccio; add gherkins, onions and some of the fluid the gherkins come in for a dressing for your oven potatoes; or add cumin, agave syrup and cilantro for a dip.
Leek piePies are pretty perfect friend food for me. You put it in the oven before your friends arrive, have a nice chat, toss up some salad, and take your pie out of the oven. Leeks are available all year around and are pretty cheap, and this pie freezes really well, so if you have any leftovers you don't need to eat the same pie all week.
You'll need leeks, 750 grams to a kilo/26-56 ounces for a regular size, some margarine, vegan pastry, some flour, sundried tomatoes, almonds, no-egg and soy cream.
Heat up some margarine, and braise the chopped leek until tender. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350-360 Fahrenheit, butter your tin and blind bake your pastry (I either use vegan puff pastry or the vegan pie pastry, whatever I have in the fridge).
Once the leeks are soft, you need to check how moist they are – drain any excess liquid, add the flour and stir. Add the chopped up sundried tomatoes (I like sundried tomatoes, so I use about half a jar), and add the almonds. I prefer the sliced ones for baking (which I roast a little), but regular chopped up almonds work as well. I use about 50-100 grams/2-3,5 ounces, but you can do what you prefer.
Now mix the no-egg with water, and then add the soy cream, and add that to the leeks. (I thought corn starch would be a good alternative if you didn't want to buy no-egg, so I tried that out for you, I think it does have a slightly less neutral taste, but I'm not sure, as I forgot to mark the pie with cornstarch, so I couldn't tell which one it was).
Alternatively, if you’re not cooking for vegans, you could use a couple of eggs, and replace some of the almonds with goat's cheese. Pour the entire mixture in your pastry-lined tin and put in the oven for 45 minutes to one hour.
You can serve this in summer with a salad of tomatoes, roasted almond slices, basil and balsamico, but in the winter it also tasted great with a salad with lettuce and some oven roasted veggies. When I have leftover couscous salad, I serve that with it.
Vegan cheese fondueThis also is a great friend food. You cannot do much of the preparation before hand, but it does give you a terrific excuse to spend the night at the table, dipping things in chäs.
You'll need about one sausage roll of vegan cheese (chäs) “no-muh Melty” per person, 2-3 glasses of wine per sausage roll and garlic.
Heat up the wine with the garlic, add the chäs, and add more wine until the consistency is okay. I serve this with broccoli and Brussels sprouts that have been microwaved, cherry tomatoes, raw bell pepper, grapes, small potatoes (also the microwave kind), garlic mushrooms and bread.
I sometimes do a salad on the side, but this is a really fulfilling meal without it already.
What are your top tips for cooking for vegan/vegetarian friends? Share with me!