How To Cook For A Vegetarian On Valentine’s Day

You eat everything; your date eats… well, anything that doesn't have a face. No worries! Whip up a romantic meal at home you can both sink your teeth into for Valentine's Day with these tips.

By Kent Miller

ell, you've gone and done it. You grew up eating fried chicken and double patty melts, and even now, you feel something's not quite right with a day that doesn't begin with something crunchy, fragrant and pig-derived on your plate. But look at you now… you've
The omnivore cooking for the vegetarian probably has the easier job.
fallen head-over-heels in love with a vegetarian!

Maybe your honey won't even touch honey (or dairy, for that matter). These people identify themselves as vegans — and they won't eat any animal by-products. If they'll eat eggs or dairy but no meat, they're ovo-lacto vegetarians. Finally, pescetarians will eat fish and seafood, but no pork, chicken, turkey, lamb or beef. They're not members in good standing of the vegetarian club, perhaps, but they still provide a challenge for the rib-eye lover in you.

And now, Valentine's Day is upon us. Wondering what to do about dinner? Have no fear — we've got you covered!

Advice from chefs
First of all, relax. "The omnivore cooking for the vegetarian probably has the easier job. Just putting forth an effort gets you a sort of 'ahh' factor," says Brian L. Patton, author of The Sexy Vegan Cookbook: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Dude (, which will be published in March 2012.

Jennifer McLagan ( is the author of Bones: Recipes, History and Lore, which won the prestigious James Beard Award for food writing. She then went on to pen Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes and, most recently, Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal (which contains excellent advice on cooking brains and organs, if you're so inclined). McLagan is as far from being a vegetarian as Argentina is from Anchorage, Alaska, but that doesn't make her anti-vegetables.

For pescetarians, here's what McLagan recommends: "Shrimp, or gently stewed octopus with chili and olive oil and a little garlic. When cooked in a pot, it becomes really tender. You can serve it sliced up or as a topping for pasta. If they don't eat fish, I would probably stick with various kinds of Indian dishes. Indian cooking makes wonderful use of pumpkin, eggplant and okra."

A big advantage Indian dishes have is that they can be prepared in advance, and then heated in the oven when your sweetheart arrives. "You can spend more time with your guest rather than hanging around the kitchen, so you can spend most of your time quaffing the champagne," explains McLagan.

Jennifer McLagan's Indian pumpkin recipe
The flavors in this dish come from the pumpkin and the mixture of spices. Amchoor is a brown powder made from dried green mango. It gives a pleasantly sour taste to the dish, balancing the sweetness of the pumpkin.

1 tablespoon ghee
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon amchoor powder
1/4 teaspoon chile powder
8 3/4 ounces/250 grams peeled, diced pumpkin
1 green chile, seeds removed and diced (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander

In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the ghee. Add the cumin and fenugreek seeds and cook, stirring for two minutes. Add the ground coriander, amchoor and chile powders and continue to stir until fragrant.

Remove the pan from heat; add the pumpkin, diced chile pepper and salt. Stir to coat the pumpkin with the spice mixture, and then add the water. Return the pan to the stove on low heat; cover and cook, turning the pumpkin from time to time until tender, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve; makes two servings.

Nava Atlas, author of The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet and many other cookbooks, says that a vegetarian can lead you on culinary adventures: "Vegetarians and vegans often have
Food doesn't get in the way of romance. Food enhances it!
broader palates and preferences than meat eaters, because we've explored so many options and so many different kinds of ethnic cuisines." Patton advises would-be culinary Cupids to "make something that matches your partner's personal preferences. If you're in a relationship, you should know what that person likes, and if you don't, you probably shouldn't be in that relationship."

Patton, who grew up eating chops and sausages in small-town Pennsylvania, observes that while meat-eaters might crave something substantial — something they can sink their teeth into, so to speak — vegetarians prefer "something lighter and brighter… nothing incredibly rich or highly sauced."

Brian Patton's chanterelles and linguini recipe
6 ounces linguini
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-sized chanterelle mushrooms (if you can't find them, 1 large portobello will do), cleaned and cut into big chunks
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lemon wedges

Cook pasta according to directions, drain, and set aside. In a medium skillet, heat the oil to medium temperature and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook for three to four minutes until tender. Then, add the garlic and cook for another two minutes. Next, add the mushrooms and thyme. Cook, tossing occasionally, for four minutes, and then add the wine. Let the wine reduce for one minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Now, add your cooked pasta and parsley to the pan and toss it all together and cook one additional minute. Taste a piece of your pasta for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Plate the pasta and garnish with lemon wedges to be squeezed on top just before eating; makes two servings.

Avoiding heavy foods may have certain, ah, post-dinner benefits, too. Says McClagan: "If you're having someone over for Valentine's Day, you're probably hoping for a little action, so you don't want a really heavy meal. You don't want to say to your partner: 'Oh my God, I'm going to pass out on the couch now because I just ate 250 pounds of cheese and cream.'"

Laura Gross's husband, Maurice, is a confirmed vegetarian; Laura, however, most definitely is not. She doesn't even like those vegetarian standbys: beans and fake meat ("I tried. Oh, I tried!") As the president of a Washington, D.C., PR firm and the mother of twin 15-month-old girls, she doesn't have lots of free time, either.

The couple's happy solution: cooking together. "The other night, we made spaghetti and meatballs," Gross says. "I used real meat; my husband used fake meat. And we always make two pizzas — one with meat and one with vegetables."

Eating out
"[E]mbrace ethnic foods," advises Tara Gilles, who works in public relations in Elmwood, NJ, and often goes restaurant-hunting in Manhattan with her beef-loving boyfriend. "Japanese, Indian, Thai, and often Italian restaurants have options for both of you."

What about other, less worldly date-night fare? "A lot of American places are all meat," says Gilles. "There's nothing on the menu, and it feels like the only thing they'll make you is steamed broccoli. But, surprise — steakhouses can be good, because they have so many vegetarian side dishes. And then my boyfriend can get his red meat!"

But unless you two have been an item since before anyone heard of the Kardashians, you may want to think twice before booking a table at Ye Olde Chop Shop. After all, your sweetie may be turned off you tucking into that filet mignon with enthusiasm once it arrives at the table.

Gross shares one sly benefit of being married to a vegetarian: "You know how when you go out, you feel you have to share a dish because it's expected? Well, I don't have to do that!"

Love conquers all
Even dramatic dietary differences can shrink down to infinitesimal sizes when two people are truly, deeply, madly in love with each other. Julianne Soviero, a softball coach living on Long Island, is a dedicated vegan. Her pharmacist husband, Frank Guillot, has a simple motto about eating: "Don't fall down in front of me." So how do they get along at the dinner table… especially during a romantic date? "We don't take Valentine's Day seriously. We take it as a fun day," says Guillot, who is planning to take his wife out on February 14th. "Food doesn't get in the way of romance. Food enhances it!"

Kent Miller is currently writing a comic young adult novel. His articles have appeared in Nintendo Power magazine, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The San Francisco Chronicle and The St. Petersburg Times (Florida).

Are you a vegetarian cooking for a carnivore this year? Read: How To Cook For A Carnivore On Valentine's Day.

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