The how-tos of planning a vegetarian wedding meal

MEATLESS MARVELS

September 24, 1995|By JANA SANCHEZ-KLEIN

Sarah Bradley's mom was so nervous about the vegetarian meal that was going to be served at Sarah's wedding reception that she ate a turkey sandwich beforehand.

But she needn't have worried. As it turned out, everyone, including Sarah's mom, thought the Asian-style vegetarian food was great. Many people even asked to take home leftovers.

What was viewed by Ms. Bradley's initially skeptical family as a "West Coast phenomenon" is becoming more commonplace in Baltimore and around the country, according to caterers and restaurateurs.

As vegetarianism moves into the mainstream -- with many restaurants offering at least one vegetarian entree each day, for instance -- more couples are also choosing to serve vegetarian food at their wedding receptions.

But the trend is larger than just vegetarianism. It's part of an overall move in this country toward health-conscious diets. So it's not surprising that more couples are choosing low-fat foods and alcohol-free drinks at their receptions.

All of these changes are easier than before "because today's bride and groom are planning their own wedding" and they are more likely to have developed a particular entertaining style, says Shelley Pedersen, president of the National Association of Catering Executives.

Couples getting married now "may be older and have traveled more. They may cook as a hobby so their palates are a little more well-trained than [those of couples] 20 years ago," she says.

As for the all-important issue of etiquette, even in the face of considerable family opposition, it is perfectly appropriate to plan whatever kind of food the bride and groom want, says Letitia Baldrige, author of "Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to New Manners for the '90s."

"You don't go to a wedding for the food -- you go for the company and to celebrate a new union. A wedding is a time of joy and the food is secondary," says Ms. Baldrige.

And the hosts of the party demonstrate their combined entertaining style by the type, quality and style of food they serve.

Just as a hostess chooses foods she likes for a dinner party, "if you are planning a wedding that's a reflection of who you are, you want a wedding to reflect your taste," says Martha Rose Schulman, author of many mostly vegetarian cookbooks, including "Provencal Light," recent recipient of the Julia Child Cookbook Award.

And for some couples, the gesture of serving vegetarian food is more than just a matter of showing their particular taste. They have even more compelling reasons for serving vegetarian food.

"Being vegetarians is much better for the world ecologically, and we felt better about serving it to our guests," says Sarah Bradley, who married Michael Hyman of Baltimore in September 1993.

"If you feel strongly about something, why are you going to change it for someone else? It would be wrong for us to serve meat," she says.

Besides, adds Mr. Hyman, "we knew that the food was going to be really, really good."

Ms. Bradley says friends and relatives alike were delighted with the buffet, which included a colorful sculpture made of vegetable sushi; steamed dumplings stuffed with mushrooms; a seaweed salad in a peppery sauce, and several different courses of stir-fry vegetables. The highlight was something that guests thought was an orange-chicken dish, but which was really tofu. The wedding meal was catered by Mr. Chan's, a Chinese restaurant in Pikesville.

"Everyone thought the appetizers were the main course, and then the next eight courses arrived," says Mr. Hyman.

"Both Jewish and Chinese traditions involve having a lot of food," he adds. (Both he and Ms. Bradley are Jewish.)

Since many people associate vegetarianism with less food, wedding planners may need to take more care than usual to provide plenty of food, so no one leaves the reception hungry. "You can have what you darn please, provided you give them enough," advises Ms. Baldrige.

Serving Asian or Mediterranean cuisine can help ensure that guests will like what they eat, says Ms. Schulman, because both of these popular cuisines generally place more emphasis on produce and less on meat.

The author's suggestions for hors d'oeuvres include mini quiches, Spanish tapas and Greek phyllo pastries.

Of course, appetizers are the easy part. The real test is getting meat eaters to accept as an entree what appears to them as just a side dish.

Middle Eastern couscous dishes and Mediterranean pasta dishes are two examples of foods that can be made colorful and filling enough to stand on their own.

There are a number of other options. Just as there are different types of vegetarians -- from those who consider themselves vegetarians because they only rarely eat red meat to those called vegans, who do not eat any animal products -- there are also different types of vegetarian wedding meals.

Even when vegetarian couples eschew fish, they often will offer it at their wedding party as an option for guests.

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