Food brings people together. It’s a universal language of yumminess that is understood no matter where you come from, no matter what you grew up eating, and no matter what language you speak. And yet too often, vegetarians are isolated in dining situations and made to feel as if their personal choices (whatever they may be) can be accommodated, not praised or valued. I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me feel less valued at a restaurant than the phrase “we can accommodate your vegetarian lifestyle”.
Luckily, one of the things we value most out of our vegetarianism is the fact that our friends and family are incredibly supportive. We have been able to maintain our lifestyle while enjoying some pretty fantastic food. Our friends truly respect our choices and understand that being vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean missing out on anything. We often dine out with non-vegetarian couples and order multiple dishes to share—there is no “this is my vegetarian entree” but rather “OUR vegetarian shared meal”. And we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to get to enjoy things like asparagus panzanella, a broccoli country captain, and green gumbo with great friends, good wine, and the amazing culinary team of Butcher&Bee at their most recent Lettuce Turnip the Beet vegan dinner.
This weekend we also said goodbye to a close (vegetarian) friend as she heads across the Atlantic for the summer for professional and personal growth opportunities. In true Lowcountry style, an outdoor potluck was arranged and we feasted under the stars for hours on an entirely veggie-meal. We brought 2 different quinoa dishes (both vegan!) to compliment a green salad with pomegranate seeds, sunflower seeds, cherry tomatoes, hearts of palm, and cucumbers, plus a baked ziti. Here’s how to be the talk of your next potluck – hopefully it inspires you with some fun summer meals. With quinoa cooked up in advance and stored in the fridge for up to a week, these are also great weeknight dinners for the nights it’s just too hot to cook!
Cold Quinoa Salad with Jicama and Corn (farthest right in the picture)
2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 medium jicama, diced finely*
¾ cup corn, either frozen or cooked kernels off the cob (depending how far in advance you’re making it, you can even throw the corn in frozen-it will thaw!)
½ jalapeno, seeded and finely diced OR2 dried jalapenos diced (soak in warm water to rehydrate)
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
Shake of chili powder
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp garlic powder
Pinch of cayenne
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the jalapeno, all spices, and oil in a small bowl or Tupperware container. Whisk or shake to combine. In a large bowl, combine quinoa with jicama and corn. Pour the dressing over and let sit for a few hours to absorb the flavors. Before serving, taste and re-season as needed.
*Jicama is also called a Mexican potato- it’s almost like a mix of a potato and an apple. It’s crunchy, a bit sweet, and fun to experiment with. Peel off the outer skin with a knife or vegetable peeler then cut into slices, stripes, and dice.
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad (center of the picture)
2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 large cucumber- peeled, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper
¼ cup tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Feta cheese (optional)
Cut the bell pepper into large pieces (remove the ribbing and seeds) and rub with olive oil. Char over a gas stove or grill (alternatively roast it in the oven) until softened and the skin is lightly blistered. Remove from heat and let cool, then dice. In a small bowl, mix tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stream in olive oil until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. In a large bowl, combine quinoa with cucumber and roasted red pepper. Pour dressing over the quinoa and toss to coat. Let sit in the fridge for 2-3 hours to let the flavors marinate. Add in feta cheese if you’re not worried about being vegan—the saltiness and creaminess is a great complement!
Having a strong support system is one of the most essential components to enjoying a vegetarian lifestyle instead of feeling like its an uphill battle with society. With close friends who understand our dietary choices, we’ve been able to not only maintain our social lifestyle but also share our values and passions with others in a very non-confrontational, non-proselytizing way. And when there’s good food on the table, it’s hard to not enjoy the friendship of those around you!