The word "wedding" and the word "traditions" have always gone hand in hand. Planning any wedding is exciting and labor-intensive, so when something "unusual" is thrown into the mix, it becomes that much more complicated and that much more difficult. It has become much more popular in recent years for wedding couples to veer from the norms and traditions of the past and to establish new traditions which reflect their own way of thinking and living . . . and so, vegetarian weddings have begun to come into their own.
What is a vegetarian?
Before discussing the special issues involved in planning a vegetarian wedding, for the sake of clarity, a few definitions are in order. A vegetarian diet, in the most generally accepted definition, is one which contains no meat, fish, shellfish or poultry. Some vegetarians categorize what they will not eat as "anything that has a face."
Another level of maintaining a vegetarian diet is "ovolacto." "Ovo" refers to eggs, and "lacto" to milk (and, by extension, to all dairy products). An ovo-lacto vegetarian is comfortable eating eggs and dairy products. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs but will not consume dairy products; a lacto-vegetarian consumes dairy products but will not eat eggs. A majority of vegetarians are ovolacto.
A vegan refers to those who will eat nothing at all containing an animal product. That includes products which have nothing to do with causing an animal's death to obtain the product. Vegans eat neither eggs nor dairy products. Many vegans also avoid honey and refined (white) sugar.
Breaking the news about the menu
The process involved in planning a vegetarian wedding is much the same as planning any other kind of wedding, except that the choices are fewer and the legwork may be greater.
First, the couple will need to address the emotional issue of dealing with family, for there is no doubt that they will want to avoid offending guests who may expect meat at the wedding and especially they will want to avoid offending those who are contributing financially to the event. The key words here are conversation and compassion. The couple will need to discuss their beliefs with their families, in the hope that the people closest to them will understand, respect and support their wishes. The couple needs to be mindful that sticking to their beliefs need not mean offending others or criticizing those who "don't understand."
One really good way to mitigate the problem is to offer familiar foods that just happen to be vegetarian. Items such as breads, pasta bars, vegetable trays, sweets, cheeses, soups, salads and potatoes are all familiar and will help make guests comfortable with the food choices. It is probably also a good idea, in keeping with the emphasis on sensitivity, to let guests know, in advance, that the reception will be vegetarian. There are a few ways to do that. The least formal is to have key family and members of the wedding party know and have them casually mention the fact to the friends and family with whom they have contact. The more formal option is to include special wording on the wedding invitation, such as "Vegetarian reception to follow," or to give guests a choice of vegetarian meals to return with their response card.
Choosing A Vegetarian Caterer
Once that issue is resolved, next comes the choice of a caterer. It will be easy to find a caterer to accommodate a vegetarian event, but it may require a bit more of an effort to find one who can suggest a varied and interesting menu. Vegetarian cuisine has come into its own and there is no reason to have to settle for pasta primavera or stirfried veggies. Even if the decision is to have a completely vegetarian wedding, there are many delicious ways to cater the affair as an elegant sit-down dinner or as a more casual buffet. If the choice is to hire a caterer, there is no reason not to make it a cooperative effort. In any event, talk, talk, and keep talking. Sit down with the caterer, make suggestions and even provide him or her with recipes.
Ovolacto vegetarians might do well to look for a caterer who does kosher receptions, since the laws of kashruth prohibit meat and dairy in the same meal, a kosher caterer probably has experience with meatless meals. Just remember that no matter what anyone says, it is absolutely possible to have a delicious, innovative vegetarian event. There are also several alternatives to hiring a caterer to create the menu. Booking a vegetarian restaurant to cater and host the wedding reception is one option. If the restaurant is one at which the couple has eaten often, they can be relatively sure of the quality of the food.
It's probably a good idea to limit the numbers of exotic ethnic dishes in order to accommodate the palates of guests. If the restaurant will be catering off-site, it is important to make sure they have experience catering for large parties outside of the restaurant.
There is also, of course, the do-it-yourself alternative. Although this may save money, it's an ambitious, time-consuming and labor-intensive choice. If that's the chosen route, the couple will begin by selecting a menu, collecting recipes, and recruiting helpers to do the cooking and serving. As the wedding day approaches, the food will need to be purchased and as much of the food as possible prepared ahead of time. Last minute cooking assignments will need to be delegated so the couple can enjoy their wedding and be host and hostess to their guests.
Vegan Wedding Cake
Perhaps the most difficult part of planning a vegan wedding is finding a vegan wedding cake. Unfortunately, many bakers don't know how to make a cake without eggs, butter, and milk. If the couple is not fortunate enough to find a local baker with vegan baking experience, they can try to find one willing to use a recipe the couple provides. One way of dealing with the problem is to use an egg substitute like flaxseed in a regular cake recipe.
Unfortunately, some people are allergic to flax. A product called EnerG egg replacer, is available in most health food stores. Vegetarian cookbooks will provide recipes for vegan chocolate cake and white cake. Other possibilities include vegan carrot cakes or applesauce cakes, or tofu-based cakes like tofu cheesecakes.
The little extra time and effort will pay off in the end. What a delightful and pleasant surprise it will be to many of the guests when they find they have experienced and enjoyed a vegetarian wedding!
What follows is a sort list of menu suggestions which can be mixed and matched:
anchovy free Caesar salad bruschetta
potato and rosemary foccacia bread
roast garlic & talegio bread
Japanese pressed cabbage salad
Romaine lettuce, mandarin oranges, candied almonds and a vinaigrette dressing
spinach salad with walnuts
white bean salad with sage and arugula
SIDES, HORS D'OEUVRES, BUFFET FOODS
artichokes filled with fennel and yellow and red tomatoes
black bean spread
fluted tomato and basil tarts
grilled Portabello mushroom sandwiches
mushroom and leek empanadas
potatoes (baked, mashed, fried)
stirfried Sugar Snap peas with shiitake mushrooms
stuffed grape leaves
fusili primavera in marinara sauce
morel stuffed enchiladas
mushrooms and asparagus w/ a melange of sweet bell peppers & herbs
pasta with creamy or tomato based primavera
penne with marinara
spicy ratatouille served over rice
vegetable skewers with garlic and rosemary
wild mushroom ragout with fettucine