My Accidental Near-Vegan New Years Menu

The aftermath of the holidays seems to have produced more articles about becoming vegetarian or vegan whether for a day, a week, or a month than I remember seeing. I’ve even contributed to an article or two myself to the subject. And why not? It’s good to try something new.

I often make meals that could be called vegan, but I never think of them that way. It’s just how things turn out. But the idea of making a vegan meal for a dinner party isn’t something I’ve been much inclined to do. Again, sometimes it’s just how things turn out. It’s pretty much what happened when a friend wanted to give her husband a cooking class for Christmas. After reading The China Study the opera singer became a vegetarian. He already loved to cook, but his wife, who is not a vegetarian, thought a little instruction might be a good idea. And since we were friends, we thought we’d conclude with a dinner party.  And why not New Years? It was coming right up, after all.

In our class I wanted to show my student tricks and techniques, specific recipes, winter vegetables, and introduce him to a passel of different oils and vinegars plus herbs, spices, salts— basically, as much as I could cram into a short afternoon.  We cooked a lot of food. It didn’t all go together as a menu – you wouldn’t have a soup and a stew in the same meal— but I wanted to show him how, in a soup, a little miso could provide that umami quality and how, in a stew, he could tease ordinary vegetables into a robust red and gold dish. We had more than one salad, but each one was provided a lesson or two in itself. Except for one dish, not a hint of butter, cream, cheese, honey or eggs appeared in this meal.

The non-vegan element, and it could have been foregone, was baked fresh ricotta cheese with thyme, one of my favorite dishes. We had it with crunchy crackers and olives. Dessert was a matter of arranging Medjool dates, marzipan, Satsuma tangerines, pecans, figs stuffed with almonds and anise on a platter.

When it was finally time to open a bottle of champagne and nibble on salted almonds still warm from the oven, we were ready for dinner, course after course of it. During dinner we drank a spectacularly delicious Marques de Riscal Rioga (2005) that worked well with the food.  It was a bit of a crazy mixed up menu, but I like to think that my friends went home with a lot of new ideas, a few tricks up their sleeves along with a bowl of Romesco sauce.

While cleaning up I noticed the wedge of Manchego cheese and a lovely blue I had intended to put out and that was when I realized we had just enjoyed pretty much a vegan meal, plus it was for company and not only company, but for New Years. And it was just fine. I just wouldn’t call it vegan, or vegetarian or anything but a good dinner, but with some refinement, I’d do it again. For company. After all, it’s good to try something new. The leftovers saw us into the first days of 2012, the recipes were from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and my upcoming book, Vegetable Literacy, and the vegetables were, with a few exceptions, from the farmers market and my garden. Amazing what we can do these days for produce.

And now it’s time to think about ordering seeds.

raised beds iin March snow

New Year’s Crazy Mixed Up Menu

Roasted Salted Almonds

Baked Ricotta with Thyme

Golden & Chioggia Beets with Red Endive, Black Olives, and Pickled Onions

Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger, White Miso and Black Sesame Seeds

Caramelized Fennel with Toasted Fennel Seeds and Fennel Greens

An Ozette Potato, Chickpea and Pepper Stew with Romesco Sauce

Finely Slivered Radicchio with Walnut Vinaigrette

Winter Tidbits of Dates, Tangerines, Marzipan and Nuts

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