Pleasing Picky Palates and Accommodating Allergies
By Cristina Ferrare
April 14, 2010
At my house, I keep a list of people I know who have food issues, meaning there are foods that they can't eat for whatever reason. Even though I may have to prepare a separate meal for anyone who is allergic to certain foods, vegetarian, vegan, not eating sugar that week or no longer eating tomatoes because they're red (yes, I actually had someone tell me that!), I'm no stranger to accommodating food issues.
All of my kids at one point or another decided that they were turning vegetarian—though some lasted longer than others. I tried it once too. I lasted exactly six days until I smelled bacon frying and lost my resolve! My stepson, Denis, who was a massive carnivore, even showed up for dinner one evening and simply stated that he no longer ate meat. I was taken aback since he was over just two nights before and downed a Fred Flintstone-size T-bone steak!
"Okay, eat the salad," I said, thinking this vegetarian phase wasn't going to last long. That was four years ago, and he still is going strong with his veggies. So, when he comes over for family dinners, I have to make sure I have plenty of salad and vegetables for him—and also now for my sister-in-law who is a total vegan, along with any other new converts who may come by.
Now, it's no longer preparing meals just for people who don't eat meat. There are many people who have major dietary concerns, and when that happens, it can throw off your whole dinner menu! Some dietary problems can be life-threatening—allergic reactions from shellfish, peanuts, garlic, onions and other foods can even be fatal. That's why I keep records on index cards of all my family and friends I invite over just to make sure I know what's what. When I invite someone over for dinner, I will always ask if they have any allergies to certain foods and write them down. (I also keep notes on who attended and what I served just to make sure that when they come over again I don't serve the same dish.)
I recently ran into major "food issues" when I had people over for dinner three nights in a row. Normally, when I have a dinner party, I keep it to one night a week, but since I only invited one other couple for each of the three nights, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Wrong!
Night 1: Gluten-Free, Vegan Menu
On the first night of the dinner parties, one of my guests couldn't eat wheat because he suffers from celiac disease, which is an inherited autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten and other proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and oats.
Pasta was clearly out of the question and, to complicate matters, his wife is vegan. My husband, Tony, and I basically eat anything at the end of a spoon or fork with no problem, so I had to rethink the whole dinner to accommodate our friends' dietary needs.
I started the meal with a wild arugula salad with toasted walnuts and walnut shallot vinaigrette.
For the entrée, I served a beautiful bowl of spaghetti squash with a fresh savory Roma tomato sauce and garnished it with fresh basil—safe enough. I roasted the squash in the oven until it was tender but not overdone, just to make sure the strands of squash were al dente, like when you serve real-deal pasta noodles. You would be surprised how wonderfully delicious and satisfying the squash is! Grate on plenty of fresh Parmesan, and you don't miss the pasta at all.
For dessert, I made a warm and crunchy berry-coconut crisp topped with a crumbly coconut topping, totally gluten-free. All in all, it was a wonderfully thought-out and super-delicious meal that we all enjoyed!
Night 2: Onion-Free, Garlic-Free Menu
The following evening, my next dinner guest called me the day of the dinner party to tell me he just found out a few weeks ago that he is allergic to onions and garlic. Well, practically everything in my repertoire involves onions and garlic, so I wasn't quite sure how I was going to make anything taste good without it!
I put my thinking cap on. Since my friend loves pasta with red sauce, I wanted to come up with one that didn't have garlic or onions.
I decided to roast Roma tomatoes with olive oil and kosher salt until they caramelized, and then chopped up fresh basil and Italian parsley. I tossed all three ingredients into my food processor just until coarsely chopped.
Then, I mixed the sauce in with my penne pasta and added chopped black olives, a tad more olive oil, red pepper flakes and plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It was major hit!
I then grilled organic chicken breasts that I marinated in a citrus glaze and served it over a garlic-free Caesar salad along with fresh, oven-roasted asparagus drizzled with a balsamic glaze.
Night 3: Fat-Free, Meat-Free Menu
One of my guests on the third night had open-heart surgery a few months before because of blocked arteries. This meant he couldn't eat any kind of fat or red meat, period. Challenging!
I started with a rich and creamy curry carrot soup—no cream, no oil—with chopped fresh apples and a balsamic glaze.
This was followed by a Miso-Glazed Halibut with Cool Cucumbers, and, for dessert, a tea-poached pear in a nonfat chocolate sauce. Delicious!
Coming up with multiple menu ideas for people with different dietary needs is a problem when you are giving a party for 8 to 10 people, so you need to explore other options and find recipes that will accommodate everyone. The Internet is chock-full of great ideas for vegetarian, vegan, no-fat, gluten-free recipes, so try them out on your family first and see what they think before you serve your guests with eating issues. When I try out new menu ideas on my family and they love it, I'm thrilled that I'm sure to serve a great dish no matter what the problem!