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Planning a Vegetarian Wedding . . . Different Strokes for Different Folks
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The word "wedding" and the word "tradition" have always gone hand in hand. Planning any wedding is exciting and labor-intensive, so when something "unusual" is thrown into the mix, it becomes that much more complicated and that much more difficult. It has become much more popular in recent years for wedding couples to veer from the norms and traditions of the past and to establish new traditions which reflect their own way of thinking and living . . . and so, vegetarian weddings have begun to come into their own.

Before discussing the special issues involved in planning a vegetarian wedding, for the sake of clarity, a few definitions are in order. A vegetarian diet, in the most generally accepted definition, is one which contains no meat, fish, shellfish or poultry. Some vegetarians categorize what they will not eat as "anything that has a face."

Another level of maintaining a vegetarian diet is "ovo-lacto." "Ovo-" refers to eggs, and "lacto-" to milk (and, by extension, to all dairy products). An ovo-lacto vegetarian is comfortable eating eggs and dairy products. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs but will not consume dairy products; a lacto-vegetarian consumes dairy products but will not eat eggs. A majority of vegetarians are ovo-lacto.

A vegan refers to those who will eat nothing at all containing an animal product. That includes products which have nothing to do with causing an animal's death to obtain the product. Vegans eat neither eggs nor dairy products. Many vegans also avoid honey and refined (white) sugar.

The process involved in planning a vegetarian wedding is much the same as planning any other kind of wedding, except that the choices are fewer and the legwork may be greater. First the couple will need to address the emotional issue of dealing with family, for there is no doubt that they will want to avoid offending guests who may expect meat at the wedding and especially they will want to avoid offending those who are contributing financially to the event. The key words here are conversation and compassion. The couple will need to discuss their beliefs with their families, in the hope that the people closest to them will understand, respect and support their wishes. The couple needs to be mindful that sticking to their beliefs need not mean offending others or criticizing those who "don't understand."

Shelley Boris, a partner in FRESH Company and in the catering business for thirty years, explained her approach when designing a menu for a vegetarian wedding. "I make every attempt to not offend the guests who are not vegetarians. Instead, I think of ways to satisfy them without meat." How does she do that? Shelley responded, "I don't often use meat substitutes such as seitan, or tempeh. I use combinations of vegetables that themselves are tasty and satisfying, items that are familiar to non-vegetarians. There are things that meat eaters enjoy that are in and of themselves hearty and tasty, such as macaroni and cheese, vegetable curries with different toppings that guests can garnish to their own taste (e.g., lime, cilantro, peanut sauce). Sometimes, with the couple's permission, I'll also serve braised lamb and chopped chicken that the meat eaters can add to the vegetarian dishes."

A really good way to mitigate the vegetarian "problem" is to offer familiar foods that just happen to be vegetarian. Items such as breads, pasta bars, vegetable trays, sweets, cheeses, soups, salads and potatoes are all familiar and will help make guests comfortable with the food choices. It is probably also a good idea, in keeping with the emphasis on sensitivity, to let guests know, in advance, that the reception will be vegetarian. There are a few ways to do that. The least formal is to have key family and members of the wedding party know and have them casually mention the fact to the friends and family with whom they have contact. The more formal option is to include special wording on the wedding invitation, such as "Vegetarian reception to follow," or to give guests a choice of vegetarian meals to return with their response card.

Deborah Dichter of Blooming Hill Farms works directly with the couples. She suggested a newer way to get the word out. "Most of the brides," Deborah said "do their own web site and that's a great way to get the message out."

Your next, most important task is to choose the proper caterer. Shelley advises, "Choose a caterer who is enthusiastic and likes to eat vegetarian foods." She adds, "If it's a struggle for the caterer, then it's not a good fit." It will be easy to find a caterer to accommodate a vegetarian event, but it may require a bit more of an effort to find one who can suggest a varied and interesting menu. Deborah and Shelley agree that there is no reason to have to settle for pasta primavera, or stir-fried veggies. Even if the decision is to have a completely vegetarian wedding, there are many delicious ways to cater the affair as an elegant sit-down dinner or as a more casual buffet. We advise you to sit down with the caterer, make suggestions and even provide him or her with recipes. Ovo-lacto vegetarians might do well to look for a caterer who does kosher receptions, since the laws of kashruth prohibit meat and dairy in the same meal, a kosher caterer probably has experience with meatless meals. Just remember that no matter what anyone says, it is absolutely possible to have a delicious, innovative vegetarian event.

We asked Deborah to suggest several veggie menu items. She listed Moroccan stew, Indian or Thai style curry. For appetizers, white bean and sage crostini, spinach cakes with a coconut spinach sauce, risotto cakes with peas and basil, parsnip pancakes with seasonal fruit (such as peaches) and black pepper chutney. "Dessert," she said, "is the easy part. She told us that many brides are moving away from traditional wedding cakes, instead choosing cupcakes, or fruit desserts." She suggested individual shortcakes, fruit tarts, and pies. Deborah told us about small plate of cookies including cornmeal biscotti, spicy chocolate cookie, and maple walnut. For vegans she suggested a chocolate cake using spelt, strawberries with a chocolate sauce. Shelley added that "Most desserts are inherently vegetarian" and she added poached fruit, phillo with oil & nuts, and coconut bread puddings to the dessert list.

In case your mouth isn't watering yet, we asked Shelley to list some of her vegetarian favorites. She added Vietnamese rice with different topping such as soft cooked eggs, brown onions, peanuts, and greens. She agreed that many caterers lean toward pasta that people can cook at home. She said that she "likes to find something more interesting," and suggested "hors d'oeuvres such as veggie spinach and chick peas, mushroom pies, mini Greek salad, tartlets of onion and apple, onion, potato and brown mustard seed with a green yogurt sauce," which she said "is almost like a samosa pizza!"

There are several alternatives to hiring a caterer to create the menu. Booking a vegetarian restaurant to cater and host the wedding reception is one option. If the restaurant is one at which the couple has eaten, they can be relatively sure of the quality of the food. It's probably a good idea to limit the numbers of exotic ethnic dishes in order to accommodate the palates of guests. If the restaurant will be catering off-site, it is important to make sure they have experience catering for large parties outside of the restaurant.

There is also, of course, the do-it-yourself alternative. Although this may save money, it's an ambitious, time-consuming and labor-intensive choice. If that's the chosen route, the couple will begin by selecting a menu, collecting recipes, and recruiting helpers to do the cooking and serving. As the wedding day approaches, the food will need to be purchased and as much of the food as possible prepared ahead of time. Last minute cooking assignments will need to be delegated so the couple can enjoy their wedding and be host and hostess to their guests.

Perhaps the most difficult part of planning a vegan wedding is finding a vegan wedding cake. Unfortunately, many bakers don't know how to make a cake without eggs, butter, and milk. If the couple is not fortunate enough to find a local baker with vegan baking experience, they can try to find one willing to use a recipe the couple provides. One way of dealing with the problem is to use an egg substitute like flaxseed in a regular cake recipe. Unfortunately, some people are allergic to flax. A product called Ener-G egg replacer is available in most health food stores. Vegetarian cookbooks will provide recipes for vegan chocolate cake and white cake. Other possibilities include vegan carrot cakes or applesauce cakes, or tofu-based cakes like tofu cheesecakes.

Deborah told us that "some brides are firm about hosting a strictly vegetarian wedding," "For them," she said, we try especially hard to design food that is both delicious and tasty, so much so that the food surpasses every guests expectation about what vegetarian food is about and none of the guests notice that the meat is missing." The little extra time and effort will pay off in the end. What a delightful and pleasant surprise it will be to many of the guests when they find they have experienced and enjoyed a vegetarian wedding!

We thank Deborah Dichter and Shelley Boris for the input of their expertise.

The following is a short list of menu suggestions which can be mixed and matched.

SOUP
cherry
cucumber
gazpacho
minestrone
miso
mushroom
barley split pea
squash
tomato/dill
vegetable

Breads
anadama bread
anchovy-free Caesar salad bruschetta
challah
cornbread
crostini
garlic bread
pita bread
polenta cakes
potato and rosemary
focaccia bread
rolls
scones

Salads
antipasto salad
bean/tomato salad
fruit salad
green salad
Japanese pressed
cabbage salad pasta salad
potato salad
Romaine lettuce, mandarin oranges, candied almonds and a vinaigrette dressing
spinach salad with walnuts
tabouli
three-bean salad
white bean salad with sage and arugula

Sides, Hors d'oeuvres, Buffet Foods
artichokes filled with fennel and yellow and red tomatoes
baba ghanouj
black bean spread
empanadas
falafel
finger sandwiches
fluted tomato and basil tarts
fruit trays
grilled potobbello mushroom sandwiches
guacamole
hummus
mushroom and leek empanadas
potatoes (baked, mashed, fried)
rice pilaf
roasted vegetables
samosas
sesame noodles
stir-fried Sugar Snap peas with shiitake mushrooms
stuffed grape leaves
stuffed mushrooms

Entrees
fusilli primavera in marinara sauce
garden lasagna
marinated vegetables
mini-quiches
morel-stuffed enchiladas
mushrooms with asparagus and a melange of sweet bell peppers and herbs potato pancakes
pasta with creamy or tomato based primavera
penne with marinara
spicy ratatouille served over rice
stuffed cabbage
stuffed peppers
stuffed squash
vegetable stir-fry
vegetable skewers with garlic and rosemary
wild mushroom ragout with fettucini

Desserts and Sweets
baked apples
baked peaches
cookies
filo dough layered with honey and pistachio nuts
jams and jellies
mints
plum tarts

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