Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Challenge - Vegan, Gluten-Free Dinner Party

A few days ago a friend and I were eating dinner in her kitchen when somehow we had the idea of giving a dinner party to celebrate the end of term. We talked about who we might invite, and I made a few suggestions. Of the people I asked, two of them can't make it on the date we chose.

Our table will not be this fancy, but the company will be good! Click for source
And the other two are my "food fussy" friends. One is a straight-forward vegan, which as a vegatarian I don't feel is a very big step. The other is lactose-intolerant (not a problem when the cuisine is already vegan) and also gluten intolerant, with a few other exciting allergies to spice things up.

So that has presented me with a challenge! Not prepared to opt out and cook separate dishes for each guest, I have been scouring the internet for vegan, gluten-free dishes.

And I have discovered that... apparently NO ONE is both vegan and gluten-free. Really? Not one person in the whole world? No free-from range can guarantee total absence of all animal products and all gluten. I got excited when I located dairy-free, wheat-free ginger biscuits, but on closer inspection they contained oats. Not suitable.

Despite the inherent difficulties I have almost settled on a menu. To start, we will have either some kind of soup, or a salad, or maybe even both! I made leek and potato soup recently, which was totally vegan and gluten-free, so I might take that route. Alternatively a fancy greek-style salad with replacements for the feta is looking tempting, assuming my allergy-prone friend can eat olives.

The main course will be vegan mushroom risotto: a perfect excuse to try out the fancy dried mushrooms which are sold in my local supermarket, or even to go out to the specialist food stores and pick up some even more exciting mushrooms. I'll have to have a test run with some standard mushrooms to see if I can get enough flavour in without relying on my old standbys of butter and cheese. I had been planning on making a mushroom wellington (or as my mum and I call it when we make it for Christmas dinner, mushroom pate-en-croute - either way it is mushroom pate in pastry) but then I realised I was totally mad thinking I could make vegan gluten-free pastry when I can't even make normal pastry reliably. So risotto it shall be.

For dessert, the piece-de-resistance: vegan trifle. I have sourced vegetarian jelly, vegan custard and dairy-free squirty cream, so the only difficulty is the sponge layer at the bottom. One recipe suggested crushed ginger biscuits, but as I have mentioned I can't find any that are totally wheat-free so I may have to resort to experimentation with nuts or similar. I'm certain I'll be able to find something.

I'm quite excited about the prospect! My friend isn't a huge cook, she admits herself that her approach to food is "put it in a pan, heat it up, put it on a plate, eat it up", but she is happy and willing to help, and also has nominated two of her guests to come along early and assist! The vegan friend will supply drinks (which is useful as I have recently discovered that many commercial fruit drinks contain non-vegan food colourings, entailing a whole new level of label-checking that I'm not sure I wish to enter) and everyone else will provide wonderful company and entertainment! The guest list has been carefully drawn up from our most lovely friends, and provided I don't poison anyone it should be a wonderful evening. Watch this space - there are two weeks to go!

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