Good Question: Starter for Fussy Guests?

One of the most frequent sort of questions we receive has to do with planning dinner parties and working around fussy guests. Mairi is having a problem along these lines, with a party of hearty men (who eat a lot, she says) as well as some picky eaters. Here's her question:

We are having a dinner party this coming Saturday night. There will be nine of us in total. One of the girls is a vegetarian, and another girl is fussy: she hates aubergine, peppers, cabbage, courgette, chilli, coriander and other herbs - and most green veggies in general. She's fine with tomatoes, though.

Read on for her dilemma.

We originally had planned to do quesadillas to start, but now it seems our starter is scuppered if we have someone who hates all the things we were going to put in the quesadillas (peppers, coriander, etc!). Any thoughts about what to do for a starter? I'm having a brain freeze!!!

Mairi, this seems like an excellent occasion for a quote from Laurie Colwin, who in her essay "Feeding the Fussy" (Home Cooking, 1988) talks about modern dilemmas like these.

Every host and hostess has the same nightmare. A dinner party has been planned for six, of whom two are kosher. A menu has been invented around that fact: cold fish in green sauce, vegetarian lasagna, a salad and pear tart. At the last minute it develops that of the other four guests, one is on a strict wheat-free diet, another cannot eat dairy products and another is allergic to fish.

An easy solution to this problem is to change friends instantly and find some red-blooded chowhounds with few scruples and no interest in health.

I suppose, however, that it's a little late to resort to this solution, given that your party is tomorrow night.

Some thoughts:

• Keep the quesadillas and leave the vegetables and herbs out of some of them. Surely your guest cannot object to cheese and tortillas?
• If you want to keep them more interesting, add the flesh of a roasted, mashed up butternut squash to the cheese filling. This is from a recipe in that Jessica Seinfeld book about tricking your kids into eating vegetables. We haven't looked at it, but a friend made us a quesadillas like these from a recipe in the book and they were unexpectedly amazing.
• Change your starter to a pureed vegetarian soup. Mushroom, perhaps?
• If she is OK with tomatoes, try our recipe for roasted tomato jam. You can serve this on toasts or crackers with soft cheese.

More ideas for Mairi and her fussy guest?

(Image: Flickr member smashz licensed for use under Creative Commons)