Well, you said "no meat."

Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Friday Food Post: Diagramming Diners' Diets

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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These days, it's not uncommon to give a dinner party where you find that one person's a vegan, a second eats gluten free, the third is allergic to tree nuts, and a fourth will not eat shellfish or berries. After you add up all the religious and moral prohibitions, the allergies, the sensitivities, and the preferences, what remains to serve your guests is ... a nice big helping of air. HEPA-filtered, low-humidity air.

I recently saw just such a problem in my Twitter feed: One brunch guest was a vegetarian and another guest had eschewed gluten, nuts and dairy products. How do you cope with such a conundrum?

There are three basic strategies you can employ here: Capitulation, Divide and Conquer, or Armistice. As a fun exercise for this Friday morning, I'm going to explore the pros and cons of each, and then for your edification and amusement, I attempt to solve the hardest version of this problem with some recipes.

Capitulation is for those who are grimly determined to find a menu that will enable you to serve all of your guests the same thing. You ruthlessly chuck out any dish that contains one of the offending ingredients. You find yourself perusing websites of obscure cuisines in the hope that the Afghan Kyrgyz nomads may have a solution to your problem. (They don't.) Then you set aside your weekend to procure ingredients and cook things you have never made before.

Divide and Conquer begins with acceptance. You accept that not everyone will be able to eat everything you cook. For example, we not-infrequently dine with couples who have one vegetarian and one meat eater. So I make steak and serve mushroom vol-au-vents on the side, doubling up the vol-au-vents for the vegetarian. Or grilled chicken with a side of some vegetarian pasta like pesto or caprese. You think of a meal like a Venn diagram: Not every item has to go on every plate, but every plate must have some items and every item must go on some plates.

Armistice puts the onus on the selective eater. You tell the person that you'll be making a salad and would love to have them bring a dish they can eat. When I was a vegan, I always volunteered to bring my own main dish and supplementary dessert, because vegans who expect non-vegans to suddenly learn to cook for them are history's greatest monsters. People with seriously restricted diets should not be offended if you say "I'm afraid I don't have any good recipes that fit your dietary requirements; would you mind bringing something you like for the table?" Trust me, they're used to it.

As you may gather, I am a fan of the latter two approaches. But I am also a bit of a masochist, so here's a proposed menu for the Capitulation approach to that conundrum on Twitter: a brunch where one guest is vegetarian and another avoids gluten, nuts and dairy. Yes, you actually could have everyone eat the same thing. This menu fits the basic parameters of brunch: a starch, a salad, a protein and a sweet. And it contains none of the offending ingredients.

Salad: Arugula salad with lemon-truffle vinaigrette

  • 1 large container pre-washed arugula
  • Shaved red onion (use a mandoline or a vegetable peeler to get very thin slices)
  • (optional) 1 cup frozen peas (thawed), or grape tomatoes

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 tbl lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon high-quality truffle oil

Shake the vinaigrette together in a small sealed container just before you sit down to eat. Drizzle over other ingredients and toss.

Eggs: Eggs baked in mushroom caps or eggs baked in tomato sauce or plain eggs baked in ramekins

Eggs baked in mushroom caps: The hardest trick is finding the right mushrooms. You need large mushrooms (generally portabellas) that have enough breadth and/or depth to hold an egg. Once you have found the right number, carefully wash them and use a spoon to scrape out the black gills. saute the outside in olive oil and garlic over high heat for about 2-3 minutes. You don't want them to get mushy, just pick up a little flavor. Then place on a baking sheet, crack eggs in, and bake at 350. Start at 5 minutes, then check every minute or two to see how they are getting along. Remember that they will continue cooking for a bit after you remove them from the oven, so pull them out when they look just a shade underdone and serve immediately.

Eggs baked in tomato sauce: The Middle Eastern version of this is the delicious shakshuka, which is spicy, but a good marinara sauce will also work very well. Make the sauce a day ahead and throw together at the last minute by heating the sauce in the microwave. Traditionally this is made in one big pan and scooped up in bread, but since we do not have any bread, thanks to the gluten-free people, we will instead serve this in individual ramekins, baked at 400 for 8 to 10 minutes.

Egg cups: Spray muffin tins with cooking spray. Line each up with a deliciously gluten-free corn tortilla. You may place things you like at the bottom: spinach or mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic, leftover beans, or whatever non meat, gluten, or nut-based foods strike your fancy. Top with a thin slice of tomato, and salt and pepper. Bake 8-12 minutes at 325.

Starch: Crispy stove-top hash browns, or rice salad

Hash browns: To heck with these people. Buy Ore-Ida shredded hash browns. Thaw them. Toss with salt and pepper and a clove of crushed garlic. Heat olive oil in a pan and cook on one side over medium-low heat until the potatoes are crispy. Invert onto a plate in one piece, and slide back into the pan, crispy side up. Cook on the other side until done.

Rice salad: You can make a fancy one, a la Martha Stewart. Or seriously, to heck with these people. Buy a box of Near East Lentil Rice mix, available from Amazon, and a delicious go-to meal when you have no time to cook. Cook according to directions with the addition of one chopped onion, one teaspoon of olive oil, a lot of fresh ground black pepper, and a couple of cardamom pods. When the rice is done, add a handful of raisins, cover for 15 minutes to let the raisins plump in the heat, toss, and serve. Optional: Squeeze the juice of one lemon over it before serving.

Dessert: Gluten- and dairy-free chocolate mousse, or angel torte

Chocolate mousse: Make a tofu-based vegan chocolate mousse, which is really much better than you think, but use coconut milk instead of almond. Top with shaved dairy-free chocolate and chill for at least four hours.

Angel torte: There are a lot of things going around under this name. The version I mean is essentially two or more giant meringues, baked and cooled and then filled.

Meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 225.

Mix sugar and cornstarch together. In a stand mixer, whip egg whites and cream of tartar at medium low until foamy, about one minute, then increase speed to medium high until they're soft and billowy. Now you gradually add the sugar mixture, one tablespoon at a time, until they are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Toss in the vanilla and beat just until incorporated.

On two sheets of parchment paper, use an 8-inch cake pan to trace a circle, then flip the parchment paper over, and lay on two baking sheets. Divide the meringue mixture in two, and carefully fill the circles, making sure each is level. Bake at 225 for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, then turn off the oven and let cool in the oven for at least another hour. Remove from oven and cool for at least another 15 minutes. Fill with fruit compote and vegan coconut sorbet that you have frozen into an 8-inch springform pan. Serve with a triumphant glare.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net