Cooking a festive vegetarian dinner isn't as daunting as you may think. The key is to gather recipes that go together and make a delicious statement for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. I've tried recipes for main dishes such as lasagnas, quiches, strudels and casseroles to feed a group. These are all great but they aren't "wow" items.
So after years of trying different menus, I've decided the easiest and most impressive is one I refer to as my "Med Fest." It's an assortment of Mediterranean recipes including some items I buy and doctor up as well as homemade dips and spreads.
Here is how I bring this meal to the table followed by five of my favorite Mediterranean recipes:
My Week's Preparation Schedule:
The nonperishable items can be purchased ahead. Try shopping the discount warehouse stores, which often stock beautiful jars of olives, sun-dried tomatoes and other Mediterranean-inspired items. The dairy items can be purchased up to a week before the meal.
- One Week Before Serving: Purchase 2 (7.5-ounce) jars or cans of roasted red peppers; an olive assortment; 2 (14-ounce) jars or cans of marinated or water-packed artichoke hearts; a 19-ounce can of white beans or chickpeas; 2 (14-ounce) jars or cans of sliced or whole hearts of palm; assorted crackers, breadsticks, flatbreads.
- Two or Three Days Before Serving: Marinate all the vegetables separately. You can use the recipe I give for Mediterranean Marinade or buy a favorite Italian dressing and use it. I place the roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, beans and hearts of palm in separate nonreactive bowls and pour a cup of marinade or dressing over each. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. For additional flavor, add a different fresh herb to each vegetable as they marinate. For example, add whole fresh basil leaves to the red peppers as they marinate or fresh sprigs of oregano to the artichoke hearts. Another way to alter the flavors a bit is to roast 12 cloves of peeled garlic in a 375-degree oven 10 minutes until golden brown and add these to one of the marinating vegetables.
- The Day Before Serving: It's time to go to the store and purchase fresh pita bread or French bread.
Assembling the Med Fest Table:
- Set a table of various heights by placing small boxes, wicker baskets, large cans, bricks or tiles under the cloth on the table. Place the dips in attractive bowls, place the marinated vegetables on platters and in bowls at various heights. Add attractive olive jars to the table.
- You can also add platters of cheese such as goat cheese or feta cheese cut into small chunks. Fill the table with small wedges of pita as well as slices of French or Italian bread cut into rounds along with crackers, bread sticks and crisp breads or flatbread crackers.
- You can also add a platter of sliced raw fennel, celery, peppers and broccoli florets. Place utensils in all.
—By Steve Petusevsky