Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: The Vegan, One Meal Convince-A-Meathead Challenge

Note: For the 32 days between February 1st and March 4th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, unless otherwise noted]

I hate to say it, but I understand why lots of folks look down on vegan cuisine: a lot of it is really bad. On the upper end of the spectrum, I sincerely believe that vegan and vegetarian food can be every bit as exciting, delicious, and interesting as animal product-based food—oftentimes even more so, because of the sheer diversity of vegetables available. It's the middle and lower grounds that get us into trouble.

The thing is, with meat, a cook's job is pretty easy. Even the most poorly cooked, cheapest meat will still be satisfying to many eaters on a basic level. I mean, just look at the popularity of fast food chains. Poorly cooked vegetables, on the other hand, are simply bad. And there happen to be a lot of poorly cooked vegetables out there, even (or often especially) at restaurants that specialize in vegan cuisine. The solution, as usual, is to take matters into your own hands. I can guarantee you if you put a little bit of time and effort into it, the vegetable dishes coming out of your kitchen will knock the socks of of anything you'll get eating out.

Don't believe me? How about you take this One Meal, Convince-A-Meathead Challenge and see how you feel when you come out the other side.

The rules are simple. Just cook your way through these recipes (or just the two or three that look most appealing to you), feed them to a couple of devoutly carnivorous friends or loved ones, and see if they don't come away thinking to themselves, "Ok, maybe vegetables can taste good after all."

It may seem a little daunting to cook all these dishes, but here's the good news: they are all 100 percent make-ahead. All you have to do the day of the dinner is heat them up (or not, as the case may be), plate them up, serve them up, and watch them go down.

First Course: Portobello Mushroom Carpaccio

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Mushroom caps marinated in miso and sake, slow-roasted to intensify their flavor, then sliced thin and served drizzled with olive oil and lemon, carpaccio-style, with a sprinkling of pistachios. This one is intense in flavor and varied in texture—the perfect appetizer. It can be made 100 percent ahead. Just plate, dress, and serve.

Get the recipe for Miso-Marinated Portobello Mushroom Carpaccio »

Second Course: Marinated Kale and Chickpea Salad with Sumac Onions

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Another make-ahead champion. Kale greens can be stored in the fridge completely dressed and ready-to-eat for at least a few days without losing their crunch. Here, they're paired with sumac-scented red onions and chickpeas.

Get the recipe for Marinated Kale and Chickpea Salad With Sumac Onions »

Third Course: 15-minute Creamy Tomato Soup

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Classic tomato soup so rich and creamy that you'll never believe it has no dairy in it whatsoever. The trick? Thickening it up with a slice of bread and emulsifying it with olive oil

Get the recipe for 15-minute Creamy Tomato Soup »

Main Course: Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew with Ginger

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I probably make this stew more than any other dish in my repertoire. It's super simple, crazy delicious with its ginger and garlic-scented broth, and well balanced with chickpeas and spinach. And—yep, you guessed it—you can make it ahead and reheat just before serving. Make sure you break out the super-fancy olive oil for this one.

Get the recipe for Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew with Ginger »

On The Side: Better No Knead Bread

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No-knead bread was all the rage a few years ago, and it's with good reason. This is the easiest, best bread you will make at home. The key is to mix the ingredients just until they come together, let them sit overnight (where they'll essentially knead themselves), then plop the loose dough into a pre-heated Dutch oven. What emerges is flavorful bread with an airy, open crumb and a crisp, crackly crust. Perfect for sopping up extra chickpea and spinach stew.

Get the recipe for Better No-Knead Bread »

On The Side: Vegan Potato Salad

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This vegan potato salad contains no mayonnaise, but gets its creaminess from thickening up a vinaigrette with a few extra slices of cooked potato. The resulting salad is a cleaner, brighter, fresher version of the classic you're used to.

Get the recipe for Creamy Fingerling Potato Salad »

Dessert: Spicy Pineapple and Tequila Sorbet

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[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Heat, fruit, and booze. What more could you ask for in a dessert?

Get the recipe for Spicy Pineapple and Tequila Sorbet

If this doesn't convince 'em all, then I yield my ground.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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