When my older kids were grown, I thought that I was through with the days of “deconstructed” meals. You know what I mean, right? It’s when you take the dinner you’ve just lovingly prepared and customize it for each family member. No sauce on her pasta. Skip the grated cheese on his chicken. Dressing on the side for both.
But when my daughter came home during the winter break of her senior year of college and announced that she was a vegan, I flashed all the way back to those earlier days. She had been headed down this path for about a year, making minor changes to her diet along the way, so I was not totally surprised and was somewhat prepared for what to do. When she graduated and moved back home for a year, I was faced with the nightly challenge of making meals that everyone could eat without making ME lose my mind in the process.
Maybe you don’t have a vegan in your house, but if casual conversations with friends are any indication, it seems that most families have at least one member with a dietary restriction or preference. No dairy. Gluten free. Vegetarian. Low carb. No carb.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for “deconstructing” dinner:
1. Keep it simple
Deconstructing dinner is complicated enough, so start with a recipe that is fairly simple. Ideally, I try to use one that required no more than one or two pans.
2. Plan ahead
Take a look at the recipe beforehand to think about what “trigger” ingredients could be substituted or added at the end. For example, if chicken stock is the culprit, swap it out for vegetable stock. If grated cheese is used, place it in a bowl and pass it around rather than adding it into the dish.
3. Stock up
Baking two packages of tofu (which takes little prep) on Monday means I have main courses for much of the week. Since it’s easy to make vegan-friendly side dishes, I can grill up some sausages or roast a chicken to serve to the rest of the family while I heat up a serving of tofu (read here for how to make perfect tofu).
Now that you have those tips down pat, I wanted to show you a recipe that, with just a few little tweaks, can give you two dinners (one vegan, one not)! Shrimp fried rice is an easy crowd pleaser that is great for weeknight meals. In this case, the main “culprits” are shrimp (of course) and eggs. See after the recipe for tips on how to cook the two dinners at once.
Shrimp Fried Rice
adapted from Bon Appetit
2 T. vegetable oil, divided
1 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
8 scallions, whites chopped, greens thinly sliced
2 chopped garlic cloves
1 T. finely chopped fresh ginger
3 c. cold cooked white rice (from 1 c. dry)
2 eggs, beaten to blend
3/4 c. each frozen edamame and peas, thawed
3 T. low sodium soy sauce
2 T. rice vinegar
1 t. sesame oil
1. Heat 1 T. vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season shrimp with salt and cook, turning once, until just opaque in the center (about 3 minutes). Transfer to a plate.
2. Heat remaining 1 T. vegetable oil in same skillet; add scallion whites, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice and stir to coat. Cook until rice is crisp, about 2 minutes. Push rice to one side of skillet; add eggs to other side and cook, stirring and working into rice mixture, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add edamame, peas, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and cooked shrimp. Cook, tossing constantly, until shrimp and vegetables are heated through, about 1 minute. Top with scallion greens.
Tips for cooking a vegan version of the same recipe:
1. After cooking the shrimp and transferring it to a plate, I clean and wipe out the skillet.
2. I can then saute the scallions, garlic, ginger and rice in the same pan. When it’s time to add the egg, I remove a serving of the rice to a small skillet. I then add the eggs to the large skillet and cook through.
3. Finally, I add the veggies and seasonings to both skillets, return the shrimp to the large skillet, and heat through.
4. My daughter gets her rice as a side along with some tofu, while we have our “one-dish” meal.
What are your tips when cooking for a family with certain dietary needs or restrictions?
Read more from Sheri on Donuts, Dresses and Dirt