One of my husband’s dearest childhood friends, Dan, is a pastor and literature buff. In the interest of cultivating more creative outlets and experiences, he started throwing poetry nights. He holds these parties at his home, and every guest is told via invitation to find a poem and come prepared with a print-out. After enjoying appetizers and cocktails, the guests convene downstairs to take turns telling the group why they picked the poem that they did, how it’s relevant or meaningful, and then reading their poems to the group. The parties usually involve 12 to 16 people of various backgrounds, some of whom have a passion for poetry and others who have just picked up the practice of reading it for the night.
Before this past weekend’s gathering, Dan contacted me about preparing appetizers for the event. He doesn’t have much inclination where cooking is involved, and knowing that I have that interest and skill set asked if I’d like to act as caterer for the evening. I immediately said yes and then began working out a menu. Obviously all of the food would be vegan, but since David and I would be the only vegans (or even vegetarians) in the group, I wanted a spread that would showcase the beauty and complexity of plant based foods while also being recognizable to people. At the event, some of the guests told us they’d never (knowingly) had a vegan meal before that night.
Since it was a night built around poetry, it seemed only fitting to include it in the theme. With each appetizer, I searched for a matching poem online. Then I wrote out the appetizer description on a little card, and printed the poem to lay next to each platter. If you’re interested in reading the poems I picked, here are the party appetizers with links to each poem:
- Lentil Pecan Pâté
- Stuffed Grape Leaves
- Black Olive Bruschetta with Cashew Cream
- Black Bean Taco Pizza
- Chips & Peach Salsa
- Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Before the guests arrived, I spread lentil pecan pâté from Spork-Fed onto crackers. Then I topped each cracker with a garnish of fresh thyme. (I also served a small bowl of pâté on the side with carrots and celery.) The pâté is wonderful for parties, because it can be made well in advance. It actually gets better after a day or two as the flavors meld. It tastes great at room temperature, and so it can be put out just before guests arrive, leaving time and attention for food that needs to be served hot.
One of my favorite go-to appetizers is stuffed grape leaves, also known as dolmas, dolmades or sarma. They are a cheat, because I don’t make my own. They sell them in the deli at our local Co-op, and of course, they can also be purchased at Mediterranean restaurants. Again, they can be laid out ahead of time and don’t require any additional attention, other than plating them. In my experience, people have been surprisingly open to trying them and they’ve been an almost universal hit, even with children. Several people at the event told me it was the first time they’d ever tried them. Stuffed with rice and with a pickled flavor and hearty bite, they are a lovely addition to any meal with a Greek bent.
The day before the party, I’d started soaking cashews for the black olive bruschetta with cashew cream from Color Me Vegan. Then on the day of the event, I made the olive mixture and cream ahead of time, stored them separately, toasted slices of baguette, and then compiled them at Dan’s house. The mixture of black and white with a garnish of fresh basil and parsley make such a beautiful and eye catching combination. (One note: next time I’ll make double the amount of olive mixture, because while there was plenty of cashew cream left over, I ran out of the olive mixture.)
Knowing that this would be a taco pizza-loving crowd, I made my black bean taco pizzas on cornmeal crusts and cut each pizza into eight slices. When David brought the pizzas into the living room and announced, “vegan taco pizza,” people actually cheered. What can I say? Midwesterners love their taco pizza. Every slice was snapped up.
I finished off the appetizers with corn tortilla chips and peach salsa made of tomato, peach, onion, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice. The sweet and spicy salsa was a fresh and light addition on a very hot summer’s day.
Then while we read our poems and discussed them, people nibbled on chocolate covered strawberries. They’re so easy to make, and they take advantage of the deliciously ripe strawberries currently in season.
People were very warm about the food, which touched my heart, of course. One couple told David they’d only had a vegetarian meal one other time, and that was in Arizona twelve years ago. Another young woman in her twenties told me that she’d really enjoyed experiencing something new. Lots of people asked about getting recipes of various dishes. One lady said everything was delicious and that her favorite part was that while she’d had a lot, she didn’t feel gross or heavy. She said she felt light and like she’d done something good for herself. One gentleman in his sixties told me with a laugh, “You may just get me to go vegetarian after all.” His wife said, “Write that down. June 30, 2012!”
Since sharing vegan food (or as I call it – food) is something that is very personal to me, I’m always relieved and happy when people are willing to try something that might be outside of their norm and especially when they come away with a positive feeling about it.
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