When I decided to give up meat, I discovered that one of the surest ways to lose friends and alienate people is to become a vegetarian. Dinner invitations, which used to come emphatically and often, have dwindled to an occasional disingenuous suggestion of "brunch sometime." Some of the most intrepid cooks I know (including my own mother) think twice before having me over. Confident in their ability to work wonders with meat of all kinds, they haven't a clue about preparing a meal without it. And that scares them.
Vegetarians can inspire hostility, too. That's understandable. What cook wants to present his or her special game hens, exquisitely stuffed with prunes and wild rice, to guests who, it turns out, would just as soon eat small children?
The fear and hostility are familiar to me not just as a guest, but also as a hostess. Before I picked up their eating habits, you wouldn't find me jumping to the phone to ask my vegetarian acquaintances to dinner. If I'd invite one inadvertently (such as the spouse or date of a carnivorous friend), I'd serve one of the two meatless entrees I knew how to prepare: quiche or some kind of vegetable stir-fry. Boring.
No Patience With Timidity
Finally, a vegetarian friend who had no patience with my timidity, and no particular fondness for my quiche, bullied me into exploring vegetarian cuisine.
Somewhere among the lentil soup, curried garbanzo beans, baked stuffed eggplant and mushroom stroganoff, I lost my taste for meat.
But I didn't lose my empathy with the host or hostess who suffers what I call veganphobia, or fear of vegetarians (derived from vegan, a type of vegetarian).
Here is a list of the fears associated with veganphobia, as well as some practical remedies. Overall, a little knowledge about vegetarianism can be invaluable when it comes to retaining your culinary pride in the company of those who practice it.
What Kind Are They?
Fear No. 1: "I'll make something they won't eat."
In advance, find out which kind of vegetarian they are. Some eat dairy products--milk, cheese, yogurt, butter--and eggs. Some eat dairy products and not eggs. And some eat neither.
For guests who belong to the first group, cheese-filled pastas like lasagna or manicotti, main dish omelets, hearty quiches or rich souffles are welcome entrees.
Mexican dishes based on corn, beans and cheese are good choices for vegetarians of the second type, as are Middle Eastern entrees featuring garbanzo beans, whole grains, exotic cheese and yogurt sauces.
Dishes of Indian or Oriental origin, often including highly spiced legumes, whole grain or tofu go over well with the real hard-liners.
Choosing an entree is a lot easier if you have on hand a good vegetarian cookbook or a comprehensive general cookbook with a substantial selection of vegetarian main dishes. The vegetarian cookbooks I consult most often are "The Moosewood Cookbook" by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press), "Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking" by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf) and "The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two" by Anna Thomas (Knopf). Two of the best general cookbooks for my purposes are "The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook" by Jean Hewitt (Avon) and "Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook," edited by Charles Gerras (Rodale).
Fear No. 2: "I won't be able to tell whether I've served a meal ."
This fear is justified by the fact that no single vegetable or grain carries the kind of usable protein that comes in beef, poultry, pork or fish. Grains and vegetables contain various parts of protein and must be eaten in certain combinations in order to substitute for meat. In other words, you can't put out a bowl of green peas and call it dinner.
When you combine grains, legumes and dairy products in the following ways, you end up with a protein that's every bit as good as the protein you'd get from meat. Plan meals accordingly, and you won't have to worry about starving your guests.
Combine legumes (dried beans of all kinds; lentils, garbanzos, favas, limas, black-eyed peas) and wheat. An example of this is lentil soup with whole-grain bread.
Combine nuts and wheat. One way is in Almond-Mushroom Pate on whole-grain toast.
Combine legumes and corn. An example of this is vegetarian chili with cornbread frijoles with corn tortillas.
Combine legumes and rice, as in Sweet and Spicy Garbanzo Beans over rice.
Combine pasta and cheese, as is done in Spinach-Cheese Lasagna.
Combine rice and milk; for example, Mushroom Stroganoff over rice.
Combine eggs and wheat, as in a quiche.
Combine legumes and cheese. Example: bean-cheese enchiladas.
You can enhance the nutritional value of your meal by preparing a dessert that conforms with the dietary principles of your guests. Homemade puddings, fresh fruit and yogurt combinations, or confections like the eggless carrot cake featured here, provide additional nourishment as well as all the pleasure you would want from dessert.