When I went vegetarian back in 2013 in my home state of Arizona, I was the only person in my family-and-friend circles who didn’t eat meat, and many of my nearest and dearest gave me a hard time about it. This was right before going meat-free became the cool thing to do, before brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods perfected their burger patties, and before restaurant menus carried a good selection of vegetarian main dishes. And as I ate my meatless meals, my friends seemed committed to convincing me that I wasn’t “eating good.”
Flash-forward to today, when eating vegetarian (or vegan) isn’t just super common—it’s widely accepted. Recently, I even saw one of my best friends (who once referred to my lunch as “rabbit food”) post an Instagram photo of himself dining at his new favorite vegan restaurant. I never thought I’d see the day, but I was delighted to know that like many across America, he’s become more open to eating vegetarian dinners.
But even though skipping the meat has become more widely acceptable, even among omnivores, there's still a final frontier for vegetarians to conquer: Inviting meat-eaters over for dinner. For some reason, non-vegetarians still seem to get antsy when they know they'll be eating a veg-centric menu in someone else's house. Perhaps in the deepest recesses of their minds, they fear they'll be served a naked plate of wheat gluten topped with nutritional yeast and garnished with a single enoki mushroom. But I have a magic phrase that I utter to these suspicious souls that calms all suspicions: "Taco Night." Tacos are universal. Tacos are glorious. And tacos are so irresistible that no one will bat an eye when they realize they're meatless. To that end, here are a few more tips that make serving vegetarian fare to a meat-eater into a mutually rewarding exercise:
A week of healthy meat-free dinners to get ready for spring.
Rule No. 1: Don’t mention the words vegetarian or vegan.
For some reason, meat-eater friends can be really repulsed by these words. Apparently, they consider them synonyms for “healthy, bland, and not filling.” This couldn’t be further from the truth—and with the right strategy, it’s easy to disprove. In the meantime, just call them tacos, rather than vegetarian tacos; or pasta, rather than vegetarian pasta.
Rule No. 2: Don’t try convincing them that they’ll like meat substitutes.
Don’t waste your energy trying convince your guests that meat (or cheese) substitutes taste exactly like the “real” thing. Not only do my friends find this annoying—in many cases, it simply isn’t true. In the last five years, most of the substitutes I’ve eaten don’t have the exact taste or texture of what it is they’re trying to imitate (and that’s OK). Who said food has to taste like meat to be delicious, anyway?
Rule No. 3: Be generous with the dairy.
If you're a vegetarian who's down with dairy, bring it on. In its many forms, dairy brings a creamy, gooey, salty (and a little bit funky) character to whatever dish it’s in. Not only does it enhance almost everything it touches, it’s good for masking veggies for people who claim to hate vegetables—yes, adults can hate vegetables (my twin brother still refuses to eat them). But if they’re are topped with layers of thick, melted cheddar, then my brother can’t get enough of them. Case closed.
Rule No. 4: Stick with the classics
When it comes to cooking for my non-vegetarian friends, I’ve learned that it isn’t necessary to overcomplicate things. It’s best to stick with ingredients they’re already used to eating. My go-to dish is always some variation of tacos. They’re simple, flexible, and even when they’re meatless, my friends still love them.
The base of my taco filling is usually canned black beans for two reasons: I always have them in my pantry, and they’re packed with protein and fiber that make them filling. Depending on the amount of guests coming over, I simply sauté a couple cans-worth with onions—sometimes I smash them into the pan for a quick version of refried beans, and sometimes I like to keep the beans whole. And I've learned that black bean tacos taste even better during this time of year, because their versatility means you can easily throw in some of summer’s best ingredients—particularly sweet corn.
These Spicy Black Bean Tacos are one of my favorite ways to embrace mid-August, since they incorporate an effortless lime-marinated corn salsa. The best part? You don’t even have to cook the corn. Because it’s already so flavorful, all you have to do is marinate the kernels in a bowl with lime juice and cilantro. The citrus helps tenderize the crunchy kernels, creating for a bright, fresh topping.
To add even more texture and crunch, stir a mixture of toasted jalapeños, pumpkin seeds, and hazelnuts into the corn salsa for a twist on a traditional Mexican salsa macha, a nutty combination of seeds and spicy chili oil. A simple, tangy lime-sour cream adds some coolness to the spice, and avocado slices top it all off. Pro tip: use corn tortillas and heat them directly over gas burners to get the edges a little crisp. If you don’t have gas burners, you can do this in a dry cast-iron skillet pan over the stove over medium-low heat.
To put it simply, this recipe has all the elements a vegetarian meal needs to impress non-vegetarians: depth of flavor, a hint of spice, and most importantly—heartiness. Your friends will love it. They will crave it. And the most die-hard meat-worshipper will ask you to make it again.Katherine Sacks
Originally Appeared on Epicurious