KITCHEN SHRINK: If your dinner guests come with labels, here’s how to read ‘em

By Catherine Kaufman


With holiday season around the corner, chances are you’ll be cooking and entertaining more robustly than usual. The ultimate host caters to the tastes and dietary preferences of his or her dinner guests. Obviously, you wouldn’t serve a roasted crown rack of lamb to vegetarians, or a tofurkey to a crowd of die-hard carnivores. Here’s the run-down on assorted categories of gastronomic practices to help you accommodate your dinner guests.

Vegging Out

Vegetarianism is the umbrella term for people who don’t eat anything that once walked on two or four legs, had fins or shells. So beef, venison, buffalo, lamb, goat, pork, etc., chicken (and assorted game), shellfish and fish are off the table. This group then splinters into sub-cultures for those who incorporate certain animal by-products into their diets.

One of the most common groups is the lacto-ovo vegetarian who eats dairy products like milk, cheese and ice cream, along with eggs. The lacto vegetarian eats dairy and no eggs, while the ovo vegetarian eats eggs, but no dairy.

Fruitarians eat a fruit diet with nuts and legumes, and usually only fruits that have fallen from trees, not those picked or harvested.

Raw food vegetarians eat raw fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, and to maintain the enzyme integrity of these foods, will not cook at temperatures exceeding 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, the purists of the vegetarian family are the vegans who eat a plant-based diet without any animal by-products, which sometimes includes honey.

When cooking for vegetarians, most of your favorite recipes can be easily rejiggered.

Do ethnic like Asian-themed dishes including vegetable stir fries with organic tofu, egg foo young and ten veggie fried rice (for ovos). Try Mediterranean like tabouli with dried fruits, walnut and pomegranate stew with basmati rice, babaganoush and other eggplant delights. Have an Italian feast with wild mushroom risotto, pasta e fagioli, eggplant parmigiana (for lacto vegetarians) or roasted stuffed peppers with lemon orzo. Or have a fiesta with black bean, brown rice and corn tortillas or veggie fajitas.

Birds of a Feather

Pollotarians eat chicken, and of course, eggs. The diet might also include other fowl. This expands your menu options to include our feathered friends from the iconic Thanksgiving turkey dressed to the nines, to a roasted garlic duck stuffed with orange-scented Israeli couscous.

Plenty of Fish in the Sea

Pescatarians incorporate treasures from the sea into their diets, including fish and seafood. These can be costly dinner guests, but you don’t have to serve Beluga caviar and Australian lobster tails.

Do serve wild caught, heart-healthy fish like salmon, and others low in mercury and PCBs like deep-sea scallops, mahi mahi and halibut, while avoiding high-risk fish like swordfish and tuna.

A Mediterranean paella with scallop, calamari and shrimp, roasted red pepper cioppino over whole-wheat linguini, or an intoxicating seafood martini are great festive and celebratory holiday dishes.

Where’s the Beef?

Carnivores are heavy-duty meat eaters. Lamb is a healthier alternative to beef, but if you serve the latter, make sure it’s organic, grass fed. If preparing “the other white meat” (pork) also buy organic where the animals are not raised on growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticide-laced feed.

Compassionate Kosher

The first law of following a kosher diet is that, whatever live creatures one eats, they must be slaughtered in as humane and pain-free manner as possible. The second most important law of kashrut is to choose species that, in the meat category (beef, lamb) have cloven hooves and chew their cud. Pig and game are taboo.

Also, fish must have fins and scales making the glabrous skinned ones like shark and dolphin, and shellfish off limits.

Furthermore, dairy and meat products cannot be mixed. The laws are more extensive, but for lack of space this is the gist of a kosher diet.

One of my quick and fresh faves is a veggie and soba noodle dish that you can tailor to your guests. If having pescatarians, add shrimp; if pollotarians, strips of chicken; if carnivores, toss in the works. Ciao!

Soba Noodles and Asparagus with Black Bean Sauce

  • 6 ounces soba noodles
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 4 ounces asparagus, trimmed
  • 4 ounces bean sprouts
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 6 ounces mushrooms, sliced (shiitake, oyster, crimini)
  • 6 tablespoons black bean sauce
  • 8 tablespoons warm water

Directions: Cook the noodles, strain and set aside. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy skillet and sauté the scallions, garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. Add the asparagus and mushrooms, and cook until tender.
Mix the black bean sauce with the water, pour into the wok and cook for 2 minutes. Add the soba noodles and bean sprouts coating with the sauce. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and sesame seeds if desired. Serves 2

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