When I invite guests over for dinner, I ask if they have any dietary restrictions or allergies. Every once in awhile, I’ll get requests for gluten free, dairy free, or vegetarian. I made this recipe for Vegetarian Red Lentil Dal with a vegetarian in mind, though it happens to be gluten free and dairy free, too! It’s a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal that guests (vegetarian or not) will love.
When I host a guest with dietary restrictions, I try to make the whole meal friendly to their allergy or restriction. I would hate for a dairy-free to LOVE banana cream pie and have a dairy-filled pie staring them in the face when it comes time for dessert. Or I couldn’t bear to serve warm, fresh-baked biscuits if my gluten-free guest can’t touch them. I don’t know if this stems from compassion toward my guests or my propensity toward people pleasing. It’s probably a little of both. 🙂
When I’m planning a menu for someone with a dietary restriction, I brainstorm ingredients, dishes, and even cuisines that could fit their specifications. Here are a few examples:
Gluten Free Guests
Rice-based main dishes are perfect for gluten-free guests, like this Seafood Paella or Chicken Souvlaki. Salmon Kabobs served over sesame & scallion rice with grilled vegetables is one of our favorites and also falls in this category. Twice Baked Potatoes or Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes are a great grain-free side dish for a beef roast or roast chicken. Fresh berries with whipped cream or most ice creams and sorbets are good gluten-free desserts.
Dairy Free Guests
Many dishes in Indian and Mexican cuisine already don’t contain dairy, or can be adapted to leave it out. Most curries and other Indian dishes are made with coconut milk (which is non-dairy). Skip the cheese-laden Mexican dishes and stick with serving Sheet Pan Fajitas or a taco bar with cheese on the side.
There are so many interesting and filling dishes made without meat for vegetarian guests. You could use lentils to make this Lemon Lentil Soup (one of the most popular on my blog!) or skip the lentils/beans altogether and serve this veggie-packed Vegetarian Spaghetti Squash Lasagna. A DIY Pizza Bar is another vegetarian-friendly idea. Just be sure to check the label on the cheese for animal rennet!
Now that gluten-free and dairy-free lifestyles are so popular, there are so many recipes that have been adapted. So even if you’re dying to serve your famous Southern biscuits and you have a gluten-free guest coming over, you’ll be able to find a recipe for gluten-free biscuits to serve with them—there are over 6 million Google results for gluten free biscuits. Choose one with a few (good) reviews, or use a recipe site like Allrecipes that has plenty of reviews.
So back to the Vegetarian Red Lentil Dal! I know a handful of vegetarians, and I can imagine each one of them devouring this dish. With its colorful hue and ginger-packed flavor, it’s interesting enough to capture the attention and adoration of meat-loving guests, too.
The recipe calls for a full tablespoon of ginger, and you can taste the ginger in the finished dish. If you’re not a huge fan of ginger, you can halve the amount and use 1–2 teaspoons instead.
I served it with sliced jalapeños and naan. Trader Joe’s makes a garlic naan that you can find in their bakery section—it is SO fluffy and delicious.
The dinnerware is from Q Squared, and get this—it’s shatter resistant! It’s made of a blend of melamine and bamboo, but it honestly looks like handcrafted pottery. They just started making table linens, and I am in LOVE. The bowls are the perfect size for a big scoop of rice and a hearty portion of Vegetarian Red Lentil Dal.
Vegetarian Red Lentil Dal
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (can be halved if you don’t love ginger)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup red lentils
- 2¾ cups vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1½ cups basmati rice
- To serve: chopped cilantro, sliced jalapeño, naan
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5–6 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, and crushed red pepper. Stir and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
- Add the plum tomatoes, lentils, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the lime juice.
- Meanwhile, place the rice and 3 cups of water in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Uncover rice and fluff with a fork.
- Serve the dal with cooked rice, chopped cilantro, sliced jalapeño, and naan.