One of my closest friends here, in Canada, is a vegan, and her boyfriend is, too. I am an omnivore and I can’t ever picture myself going vegan, or even vegetarian, or even pescatarian.
Due to my religion (Eastern Orthodox), I am familiar with vegan cooking. We have four periods of Lent every year, and our Lent consists of a vegan diet (although honey is allowed, so I guess it’s not really vegan, but you get my point), plus no drinking, no smoking, no sex, no swearing. You can imagine that the younger generations aren’t too keen on keeping Lent; I haven’t kept it myself in years. However, my father and my grandparents keep all the four Lents, and sometimes my mother does, too, so I know how to cook a few vegan dishes.
This post is not about veganism per se, since we’ve established I’m not going down that road anytime soon, but about being friends with vegans. First of all, in a city like Vancouver (said to be vegan-friendly), it’s very likely that you will end up having a vegan guest at some point.
One argument I often hear is that vegans make fussy and expensive guests, and it’s just too hard to cater to their taste when hosting a party. This is not necessarily true. It may be true for people who only eat organic, but those could just as easily be omnivores. In fact, I was de-friended and blocked on Facebook by a guy who got angry that I don’t make an effort to eat organic. True story.
There are plenty of cheap and easy vegan recipes that can be enjoyed by everybody, so price is no excuse to not have something decent available for your vegan guests. Below, I will list a few ideas, in the hope to demolish the myth that having vegan guests is too expensive.
1. Bean dip, baba ghanouj, homemade hummus. With less than $5, you can make VERY generous quantities of these dips, enough for 4-6 hungry people, and omnivores can enjoy them as well. You need a food processor, spices and condiments. Guacamole is a bit more expensive, and, anyway, I don’t share my guacamole with anyone, ever.
2. Roasted vegetables. Potatoes, yams, turnips, zucchini and Brussels sprouts are cheap and easy to cook. You can put out the grated cheese on the side, so that the vegans can eat the veggies with no problem.
3. Pasta salad. Pasta, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, and a dressing with olive oil, garlic and red pepper paste – you get a huge bowl for $5 or so. Again, you can put grated parmesan on the side for the omnivores.
4. Vietnamese rolls. You can have an omni version with shrimp, and a vegan version with avocado or tofu. Tofu is really cheap, and it comes in a variety of flavours and textures. One avocado will be enough for 4-6 rolls, depending on what else you put in them.
5. Dolmades. I buy them at the Persian store (but you can also find them in Greek and Middle Eastern stores), $3 for a can (2-4 servings, depending on how hungry you are), and I heat them up in a bit of water with spices and tomato paste, to give them a boost of flavour. Others like them as such, but they are a bit too bland for my taste.
It depends on whether you like to bake or not. I love to bake, and I have made vegan brownies, muffins, lemon pies, chocolate cake, shortbread and cookies. I can’t say I enjoy them the same as the dairy ones (I want to sleep on a bed of fresh butter!), but they are pretty good, and many people can’t tell the difference.
If you don’t like to bake, you can get some Oreo cookies, or Dad’s Oatmeal Cookies, or just check out the bakeries in your neighbourhood for vegan options. Some supermarket fruit pies are vegan as well, but you need to check the label very carefully.
An easy option is the dirt-cheap, two-ingredient banana peanut butter ice cream. All you need is a food processor, and you can replace the peanut butter with strawberries or a mango.
Another easy recipe that will satisfy chocoholics is the two-ingredient chocolate ganache. You need dark chocolate (just make sure it has no dairy) and coconut milk, in equal proportions. Warm up in a pan on minimum heat and keep stirring only until the chocolate is melted; if you leave it on longer, the fat in the chocolate will separate, and that’s gross.
This ganache is very versatile, because you can use it as a dip for fruits and cookies (just add a bit more coconut milk to make it runnier), mix it with peanut butter, almond meal or coconut flakes, and roll it into truffles, or use it to fill mini pies. At Extra Foods/No Frills/Superstore, you can find “no name” mini pie crusts – the unsweetened version is vegan. And they are $5 for a pack of 30, a total steal!
As for cookies, the easiest recipe is shortbread. Just replace the butter with vegan margarine. I like to make a few rolls and freeze them. My friend is coming over this week, and I have a roll of brown-sugar-walnut shortbread with her name on it.
So, no, you don’t have to break the bank at Whole Foods or Choices, nor do you need extraordinary cooking skills in order to offer a few vegan options at a party. All you need is a well-stocked spice rack, and the willingness to make every guest feel comfortable and welcome. Don’t choose your friends according to what they eat or don’t eat, unless you want to be like that crazy guy who de-friended me (and who is a total poophead, but very good in bed nonetheless).