How to Cook for a Vegetarian Holiday Guest

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Holidays often mean guests.  Quite apart from your normal wish to be a good host and serve food your guest(s) will enjoy, you might face the added complication of a vegetarian guest.

Are you worried about the double whammy of cooking for a guest, and cooking for a vegetarian? Well, worry no more. This article will tell you exactly what you need to do and know before you start cooking.

As always, the more information you have the better you can cope, so you can start off by finding out what type of vegetarian you are dealing with.

For instance, if you are dealing with a strict vegan, there’s a possibility she will not eat food that contains honey or yeast; if, on the other hand, she is a “semi” or “relaxed” vegetarian, she may actually eat the meal as it is prepared, including the meat.

If she’s a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, she might eat anything with eggs and milk, but will probably avoid meat dishes.

If you can talk to the vegetarian in your family before you prepare your holiday meal, here are five helpful questions you could ask:

1. Do you eat certain types of meat or no meat at all?

If the vegetarian will eat certain meats (generally fish, chicken, and turkey), you could either select a dish that features those products (rather than red meat), or you could consider preparing a small separate dish.

2. Will you use serving utensils that have been placed in dishes containing meat?

Some vegetarians experience severe gastrointestinal stress when they consume meat and grease from meat, so it is a good idea to find out whether or not they can do so ahead of time. If they can’t, you can simply put out one utensil for all non-meat dishes and ask that guests do not cross-contaminate.

3. Do you eat foods that contain milk and eggs?

While Lacto-ovo vegetarians will eat milk and eggs, other sub-categories of vegetarianism will not. Some avoid eggs and milk for health reasons, while others do so as part of a belief system.

Whatever the cause, there are some obvious solutions.  Choose dishes that do not contain milk and eggs; or use egg replacer (available at most supermarkets), and consider a milk replacement such as soy milk (although you will have to consider the possible impact on the taste of the recipe you are changing).

4. Do you eat honey and yeast?

Some vegetarians will not eat honey and yeast for ethical reasons. In such situations, you have little choice but to prepare a different dish.

5. Would you like to bring your own main dish (to replace the turkey, ham, etc.)?

Personally, I would regard this as a “last resort” alternative, only to be considered if you don’t feel you could prepare a meat-replacement dish of your own.

However, those vegetarians who eat popular meat-replacement dishes such as “tofurkey” and “veggie burgers” will probably sympathize with your nervousness at trying such a dish for the first time, and will probably be more than willing to bring their own meat-replacement dish if you ask.

So…while there are a number of things to think about when you cook for a vegetarian this holiday season, the single most important thing you can do is actually ask how you can accommodate your vegetarian guest’s needs,  and whether she would like to cook with you or bring her own dish.

In fact, she will probably be hugely impressed by your courtesy and consideration.

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