Here’s a year-end riddle for you: A vegan, a vegetarian, a pescetarian, a gluten-free friend and a hard-core carnivore come to your New Year’s Eve dinner party. What do you serve them? This is a modern dilemma for many cooks. Allergies, health concerns, personal tastes and cultural preferences all challenge the person in the kitchen who just wants to welcome everyone to her table. A challenge yes, but an impossibility, no.

My answer to this riddle of how to please all your party-goers is to create a build-your-own entree buffet. I’ve often done this with pasta and different sauces. This New Year’s Eve I will be making my loved-by-everyone-despite-the-tofu vegan Caesar salad dressing (an inspiration from my one of my favorite vegetarian chefs Didi Emmons) that will top a traditional salad of fresh romaine, red bell pepper, artichoke hearts, red onion rings and black olives. From there, my friends can “build” their own culinary delight by going vegan, sprinkling on some high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano for a vegetarian option and/or choosing grilled chicken strips or salmon strips off the grill.

Here’s my take on Emmons’ Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing

Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: About 2 cups

Serving Size: 3-4 tablespoons of dressing per large salad

Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing

Ingredients

  • Four large cloves of garlic, cut in half
  • One tablespoon Dijon mustard (I use a little bit more and rely on brands such as Annie’s Organics that are certified gluten-free.)
  • One block extra-firm tofu, sliced lengthwise, placed between paper towels and weighted for about 15 minutes (Emmons uses six ounces of silken tofu, so her version will be creamier. We like it thicker.)
  • One-quarter cup fresh lemon juice
  • One-half teaspoon sea salt
  • One teaspoon fresh-crushed black pepper (Emmons uses only a pinch.)
  • One cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • One-half cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (on the side out of consideration for vegans)
  • One tablespoon dried, flaked dulce seasweed (Emmons suggests seaweed—wakame—as an option. We tried the dulce and never changed it. Great subtle hint of smoky fish flavor. Maine Coast Sea Vegetables are very good, organic and sustainably harvested.)

Instructions

  1. In a food processor or blender, puree the garlic, mustard, tofu and lemon juice. Add the salt, pepper and seaweed flakes.
  2. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil, in a stream the width of a pencil. When the dressing is fully emulsified, you can stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you wish.

Notes

According to Emmons, this dressing is a healthier alternative for all your guests—lower in fat than traditional Caesar and there’s no risk of salmonella from raw eggs. I’ve served this to many people and everyone has loved it—even the die-hard traditional Caesar salad lovers. This recipe makes a lot of dressing and keeps well in the frig for a least a week.

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What about those traditional croutons? In their place, I’m serving THE BEST EVER gluten-free bread I’ve ever made. I found the recipe in Better Nutrition magazine. Like Delicious Living Magazine, Better Nutrition is a strong supporter of local, independent health foods stores. I always pick up a free copy when I’m in Green Earth Grocery. There’s a wealth of nutritional information and some spectacular recipes in every issue. Rustic Rosemary-Olive Bread was on the October 2015 cover—and I’ve been making almost a loaf a week ever since I got the issue—it’s that good. And EASY! I’ve also been switching out ingredients for variety. Our current favorite omits the olives and adds chopped walnuts and a quarter-cup Parmigiano-Reggiano.

loaf of rustic rosemary-olive bread

The loaves are incredibly easy to make. I’ve been doubling the recipe for dinner with friends, since the loaves are rather small.

Rustic Rosemary-Olive Bread

Ingredients:

  • One-quarter cup ground golden flax seeds (I buy these whole in bulk and use a small coffee bean grinder to pulverize them into powder. Flax seeds are not digestible left whole, by the way.)
  • One-quarter cup ground chia seeds (Again, I use the small coffee bean grinder.)
  • One-half cup unsweetened almond milk
  • One tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Three eggs (unfortunately, your vegan guest will need to abstain; however, a gluten-free cracker such as Nut Thins is a nice alternative.)
  • One teaspoon baking powder
  • One-half teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Two cups almond flour (I found that one and half cups almond flour with a half cup quinoa flour created a bit lighter bread.)
  • One-half cup black olives, chopped
  • Two tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • Coarse salt for finishing

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small mixing bowl, combine flax, chia, almond milk, vinegar and eggs. Whisk smooth and let stand five minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Stir in the olives and rosemary.

Add the chia/flax mixture to the flour mixture and stir until completely combined to form a stiff dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and begins to form a ball (Using your hands will help here.).

Turn the dough out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and form into an oblong free-form loaf. Using a serrated knife, cut two or three diagonal slits in the top and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes, slice and serve. Wrapped on your counter, this is good for next day. It will form moisture underneath, so cool on a rack to ensure ventilation.

So, if you’re throwing a party that’s got you puzzled about how to please everybody, maybe you can give these ideas a try. Got other great ideas? Let us know!

Happy New Year—may 2016 empty our hearts through kindness and giving, leaving us space for abundant future joy.

 

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