Pulled-together, fancy-ish vegetarian menu...from the freezer + pantry?
January 27, 2016 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm dreaming of the following: a friend or date comes over and I effortlessly whip up something delicious, simple, yet impressive, from scratch. The kind of meal that makes me looks casually on top of my life. Maybe something with a starter, main, and dessert. Challenge level: I'm a vegetarian and I travel a lot, so what I'm really looking for is a vegetarian menu that I can make just out of things from the pantry and the freezer (aka it doesn't involve anything that will languish and die in the fridge if I don't use it before I leave town for a few weeks). Is this even possible?

The real inspiration for this is watching "It's Complicated" on the plane last night and seeing Meryl Streep's character whip up a croque monsieur with a salad and lavender honey ice cream. Elegant as hell, and not too overwhelming.

Ideas for menus and ideas for individual dishes are both welcome.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, and ideas for actual dishes (like plating suggestions) are also welcome! Happy to throw some $$ at this as long as the things I buy don't go bad fast.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 8:36 AM on January 27, 2016


This may not be fancy enough, but you can buy butternut squash ravioli frozen (either from a regular grocery, or handmade at an Italian grocer, if you have one nearby), keep some sage leaves frozen, and then just make some brown butter sauce and sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese. Better with a salad/some fresh vegetables, but can stand alone if needed.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:42 AM on January 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


Risotto popped into my head. It's simple enough, but does take stirring time. I keep stock in the freezer/you can do tetra packs in the pantry, add frozen squash puree/canned pumpkin and frozen spinach. Parmesan cheese which keeps a long time in the fridge.
posted by sarajane at 8:45 AM on January 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Medames is a breakfast dish, but I'd eat it anytime. You can get canned tomatoes, frozen flat bread, and onion and eggs can keep for weeks.
posted by monologish at 8:47 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are a million quick pastas that qualify, including frozen ravioli as mentioned above. (Tomato based sauces can be made quickly with canned tomatoes; cream is available shelf stable.) Risotto is another possibility, using frozen peas. Keep a hunk of good parmesan in the freezer, as well as diced frozen onions, and peeled garlic cloves, and plenty of butter. Keep decent cooking wine in the house as well as stuff like sherry for finishing, and you're most of the way there.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:48 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Spanakopita? Uses spinach and phyllo, and herbs which can be bought frozen or frozen without harm easily, and feta (which I wouldn't freeze to be eaten raw, but which might be fine frozen and then baked). Ooh, could be nice with stuffed grape leaves which I think could be mostly pantry-based (the grape leaves themselves are available in a jar). Or a couscous with dried fruit and pine nuts.

Dulce de leche can be made by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:49 AM on January 27, 2016


The pantry-friendliest vegetarian dish of all time is Chana Masala. The only fresh items you need are onion, garlic and ginger. One recipe is here, I haven't made that one specifically but the ingredients/proportions look right to me.
posted by kate blank at 8:53 AM on January 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


You could make fancy omelettes with eggs, cheese, and frozen vegetables (asparagus or small green peas would be nice, or pre-cooked frozen mushrooms or roasted vegetables).
posted by belladonna at 8:54 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you keep powdered buttermilk in the fridge & butter in the freezer, you can whip out buttermilk biscuits in no time at all. (I make them as drop biscuits rather than rolling them out & cutting into circles.) They're a nice side dish with omelettes or soup.
posted by belladonna at 8:56 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Frozen Homemade Soup + Belladonna's drop biscuits or pie crust on top = pot pie
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:02 AM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Trader Joes has lots of neat frozen veggies, which are awesome in Quiches, omelettes, or stir fries. You can buy frozen pie crust, a quick whip and booyah! Dinner.

Fondue is totes elegant, cheese keeps really well in the freezer, and apples, bread and parboiled, hearty veggies like broccoli/cauliflower are all delicious in it. Serve with a salad.

Fancy vanilla ice cream can be topped with liqueurs like Tuaca, limoncello or Kaluha with little biscuits for dessert.

I buy fresh herbs and then chop them up and freeze them. They are dynamite as a pop of color for plating, and taste great in recipes.

Frozen fancy mushrooms, UHT whipped cream, a shot of sherry and Crepe Mix, talk about elegant. (Ikea sells crepe mix.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:05 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Making and freezing sauces is the way to go. This peanut sauce freezes well, then toss it with noodles & veggies & cilantro & top w/sesame seeds & crushed peanuts:

1/2c peanut butter
1/4c each water, soy sauce & rice vinegar (plus an extra splash of vinegar because mmmm)
1T each sesame oil & ginger bits/shreds
3 cloves minced garlic (then more garlic because mmmm)
2T brown sugar

Yum.

Shakshuka is an easy one to whip up with canned tomatoes and fresh eggs. There are a million recipes out there & it's very forgivable. I like to throw greens in there but I throw greens into everything.

Keep flatbread and pesto in the freezer and you can make an instant "pizza" with whatever veggies you have on hand. Top with feta and invite me over.
posted by headnsouth at 9:08 AM on January 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you're willing to spend a day doing prep, you can have "from fresh" components or entire dishes ready in the freezer.

A recipe like this Tomato, Broccoli, and Pasta casserole can be ready to thaw and reheat (tip: line your casserole dish with parchment before baking, use the parchment to remove the cooled casserole whole, wrap the whole thing in plastic and then foil to freeze, and then when the time comes unwrap the frozen casserole and put it back in the same dish; also most regular casserole recipes like this will split pretty well into two loaf pans or 8" square cake pans). Lasagna is famous for freezer casserole (in both pre-baked or frozen unbaked forms), as is enchilada casserole. You can also prep soups like this, along with your own frozen garlic bread.

For some dishes, like tortilla soup or lasagna, you might plan to ask a visiting friend to pick up an avocado or bag of salad on the way over. Most of the basic ingredients for homemade dressing are shelf-stable, or fridge-stable for a long time if you don't want to make two-minute mayo (see also two-minute toum, a powerful fresh garlic sauce).

Also make and portion pasta sauces for the freezer, alongside frozen filled pasta. Butternut squash, (labor-intensive) mushroom "bolognese" or a quicker vegan bolognese.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:14 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seconding a really good omelet, served with salad and some warmed crusty bread. The bread can be kept in the freezer. Goat cheese makes a good, unusual filling; maybe some roasted red pepper. I think a nice balsamic salad with fresh greens makes it, so if you're going to grab one thing fresh, that would be a good choice. But broccoli keeps a long time, and makes a great side when roasted with garlic and olive oil and then sprinkled with a squirt of fresh lemon juice and some crushed red pepper. Cheese to start, served with some almonds and dried apricots.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Spinach lasagna, if you don't mind the long cooking time, is really impressive for relatively little prep work and doesn't suffer for being made with frozen spinach. The Vegetarian Epicure recipe is my mom's go-to; it includes eggs, but I've made it with Egg Beaters which can be frozen.
posted by babelfish at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2016


You are vegetarian - do you consume eggs and dairy? If so, I have dessert sorted for you - go with one of these three options, which are all three sort of cousins to pudding. They all do benefit from chilling-in-the-fridge-before-eating time, but they're easy enough to whip up that you can do them first and sling them in the fridge, whip up the rest of the meal, and then eat it, and then they'll be cold enough to serve.

1. Panna cotta. This is just a mix of milk and cream, flavored and sweetened and thickened with gelatine, and poured into a serving dish. You can use agar agar instead of the gelatine. It takes five minutes to mix up, then you pour it into dishes and let it chill in the fridge. When you're ready to serve, pull the dishes out, plop on a spoonful of jam to gild the lily and you're set.

2. Creme brulee. The basic custard part of this is just cream, sugar, and an egg yolk or two. Mix that up, pour into a dish, let it get cold for a couple hours, sprinkle the sugar on top and run it under the broiler (or use the happy blowtorch thing if you have one) and serve. You can flavor the custard by mixing in a spoonful of instant coffee, or just drop a spoonful of jam or fruit into the dish before you pour the custard in. This could get you brownie points because everyone thinks it's fancy and complicated as hell, but I have been on a creme brulee kick after a trip to Paris and I SWEAR TO GOD it is so easy.

3. Fruit fools. This is probably easiest of all - all you need is whipped cream, jam or fresh berries, sugar, and maybe yogurt or sour cream. For the easiest version, just whip the cream, and puree the berries if you're using them, and then just carefully fold the cream together with the berry puree or jam (whatever you're using) and dump into serving dishes. Let chill to firm up a bit. You can also layer the fruit and cream separately in a parfait glass, or fold a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream into the whipped cream for a depth of flavor (and a bit more structural stability). There's a traditional Scottish dessert called "cranachan" where you lace the whipped cream with a bit of whiskey and do the parfait approach, layering a little bit of toasted oatmeal in each layer as well. Or you can add chopped nuts. Whatever you want.

If all else fails, a scoop of ice cream with a shot of espresso poured on top is also a very elegant dessert, as is just fruit and cheese.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Came in to say risotto, so nthing that. You can put pretty much anything you have in risotto - vegetables, herbs, omg cheese, all the cheese. What you'll need in your store cupboard:

- Arborio rice
- Good stock cubes or homemade stock in the freezer
- Frozen or dried herbs (sage and parsley are particularly good)
- Cheese, this one won't keep like the above, but frankly if you don't always have cheese in your fridge then have a long hard think about your life priorities. Parmesan is best but almost any cheese will work
- Onion and garlic, these keep fairly well but again are pretty much staples.
- SECRET MAGICAL INGREDIENT: Marmite or similar - a teaspoon full of this will elevate the savoury umami flavours

Then you just need the fresh bits.

Citation: I made this for a lovely gentleman on our second date and have subsequently put a ring on it (the man not the risotto)
posted by greenish at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Tofu tikka masala is easy to make with garlic, onion, tofu and plain yogurt or cream as the only fresh ingredients, and canned tomato sauce, rice and spices from the pantry. You can also make the sauce ahead of time and freeze it. Or cheat and buy tikka masala sauce in a jar at the store (but it's way cheaper to DIY, honestly).
posted by BlueJae at 9:20 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


You can make quiche from frozen spinach. You could make small quiches for starters or a big one for a main dish. You can use frozen dough (I've used filo pastry, puff pastry, croissant dough, quiche dough) as a base. For the filling, mix an egg (I use 1 egg for two small one-person quiches or 2 for a big quiche) with the defrosted frozen spinach and cheese. For cheese, you can use gouda, feta, goat's cheese, whatever. Fill the quiches and put them in an overn. You can also add toppings. I recently made spinach + gouda + chopped cherry tomatoes. Spinach + goat's cheese + chopped walnuts or pecans is also very good.

It's also very easy to make a fast flatbread from scratch. You can make a dough from plain flour, baking powder, salt and water (or yoghurt, if you like) and cook it in a griddle pan. I've also used this dough for pizza's, though I have to admit that pizza dough made with yeast is tastier.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 9:23 AM on January 27, 2016


Gnocchi with cashew nut cheese
All ingredients are shelf stable and can be made under 10minutes
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:23 AM on January 27, 2016


Starter or side for anything remotely Italian: Buy a bag of chickpea flour, and make it into this flatbread with onion and rosemary. (Or any other version of socca/farinata...that's just the one I've found to be easiest / gives me the best results.) Way fancier and more delicious than it has any right to be.
posted by gueneverey at 9:47 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


We've started doing an olive/pickle/cheese plate at our house before dinner -- in that time between coming home from work and getting food on the table -- and it'd definitely work well as a fancy, pantry-ready starter.

You can buy bottled olives and higher-end pickles. They'll last virtually forever in your cupboard and a decently long time in the fridge. Buy a wedge or two of nicer cheese -- these also last virtually forever, especially harder cheeses -- and some crackers. Voila! Hors d'oeuvres whenever you want.
posted by linettasky at 9:56 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fancy Freezer/Fridge Starter:

Goat cheese and Asparasus Galette

Take a sheet of puff pastry and leave it on your counter to defrost for half an hour or so. Preheat your oven to 425F. When defrosted, unfold the sheet and place on a baking tray. take a sharp knife and score a thin line about 3/4 of an inch in on all four sides, so there's a rectangular center. In the rectangle you've just drawn, lay out a few rows of thin frozen asparagus spears. Crumble a generous amount of goat cheese over the spears. Sprinkle with salt, fresh cracked pepper and a dash of olive oil. Take an egg yolk and beat with a tsp of water, brush over the borders of the sheet. In the oven for 15-20 minutes until the edges are golden brown.

This puff pastry galette can be made with pretty much any veg/cheese combo you have on hand, so long as the veg is thinly sliced. (Big chunks of tomato will make it soggy, and frozen broccoli spears or something won't cook through.) can also do dessert version with thinly sliced pear, plum, peach or apple, dotted with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. Marscapone also good with fruit versions, or can serve streaked with creme frais or sour cream.
posted by Diablevert at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Artichoke dip as a starter with bread is so good - much better than you could ever anticipate by looking at the recipe - it tastes as if you've lavished many complicated hours on it.
Just needs tinned artichokes, a jar of mayonnaise, and some Parmesan (which keeps for ages in the fridge). This recipe omits it, but it needs garlic too. You could keep some fancy sliced bread in the freezer and serve it with toast.
posted by penguin pie at 10:19 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


The secret to this is stocking your store cupboard and learning to make a few sauces and dressings.

For me, the things that really make a difference are nuts and seeds - a good range too, including pine nuts and what I call easy deli which means jars of olives, capers, good quality pickles, maybe something a bit more unusual (kimchi, pickled celeriac), sun dried toms, peppers, etc. That and a good set of oils and vinegars is half way there. Any selection of veg, tossed with a good oil, vinegar and toasted nuts = fancy side, salad or accompaniment. Basic tomato sauce + olives, pesto on bread + sun dried toms, toms and feta tossed in warm pasta, etc, are all a step up from the basic.

Likewise, sauces. Brown butter couldn't be easier, but that with a bit of balsamic whipped in + steamed veg = amazing. this vegan special sauce requires nutritional yeast in the cupboard, but it is delicious, and slightly enigmatic (people will ask what's in it) and will gussy up a salad, veg side, drizzle over a stew, all sorts. Or, even easier: yoghurt & curry powder of your choice = amazing mystery slightly spicy drizzle sauce over omlettes, boiled eggs.
Work up a signature Dukkah and Zatar recipe (those you can make in batches and store in jars for a fair time; the spices/herbs will go off eventually, but not for months). Hollandaise isn't that hard.

Even an omlette, with a toasted nut salad, steamed veg and brown butter, and a hollandaise sauce, is a fancy meal. It's all about the fixtures and fittings.
posted by AFII at 10:23 AM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Homemade salsas, hummus, chutneys, guac, pesto, etc. are ridiculously easy but people tend to be impressed that you didn't go out and buy a jar. Avocados and basil don't keep well, it's true, but chickpeas and lemons last a while.

Something baked fresh out of the oven always looks pretty fancy. Lasagnas are not that simple, though. When I'm short of time, I do enchiladas, or roasted potatoes, or fresh kale chips.

Oh, and vegetarian sushi is not too hard to make either.
posted by redlines at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2016


OK, here's my idea: Frozen but fresh-topped crusty cassoulet, homemade cranberry sauce, and fresh-from-the oven American-style biscuits (or oven-warmed French bread)


Get some of these heirloom beans. Get some vegetarian sausage. Make cassoulet without the breadcrumb/parmesan topping.

Freeze individual servings in attractive oven-proof ceramic dishes; shop around to find some nice ones.

Also make homemade cranberry sauce -- buy fresh cranberries when you can, it's really easy to make on the stove in just a few minutes, and it keeps forever. Don't overcook it so you can still see that it's made from actual berries. Maybe look into some fancy variations (e.g. adding orange peel). Freeze some of that too, but it also keeps for a while in the refrigerator, like jelly.

Keep some really good French bread in the freezer. Freeze it the day it's made.

(Alternatively, learn to make homemade[American-style] biscuits -- they're very quick to bake, make an impressive mess, and are amazing when first out of the oven.)

Then, about 30 minutes before dinner, put your cassoulet dishes in the microwave to thaw them; preheat the oven, run some bread over a grater to make breadcrumbs, mix up the cassoulet topping (look up a recipe), then top and bake your cassoulet dishes until they smell and look amazing.

Thaw the cranberry sauce, warm the bread or make the biscuits, serve with fresh organic butter (it will taste better).
posted by amtho at 11:04 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you use frozen collards (they come out great in this recipe) and freeze tablespoon-sized amounts of grated fresh ginger and minced garlic, this West African Peanut Soup is all from the pantry/freezer and never fails to impress. It's so simple but greater than the sum of its parts. And easily customizable: add whatever spice, veg, lentil, or grain you like.

Since it is rich, nutty, spicy and creamy: assorted picked veg or a cucumber salad is a great side. Flatbread. Sorbet for dessert.
posted by kapers at 11:49 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can make crepes from scratch and freeze them. Then it's just a matter of having some really good cheeses in your fridge, some eggs and asparagus and fresh herbs etc. Depending on your level of desired sophistication, even a simple chocolate fondue can take no time at all to prep if you have good chocolate and some cream and liqueur on hand. Not sure if that's fancy enough for you but it's certainly easy and tasty.
posted by bluebelle at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2016


Funny, I just saw this on Food 52, and it nails pretty much everything you're asking for.
posted by slogger at 12:09 PM on January 27, 2016


I think these two recipes would be perfect.

Cavatappi cannellini
http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2007/04/the_dinner_im_a.html

Chocolate pudding
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1012538-mexican-chocolate-tofu-pudding

100% pantry ingredients. Make the pudding first so it has time to set. I use much less of the cinnamon and chile.
posted by frescaanddietcoke at 12:34 PM on January 27, 2016


Wow, you guys are GOOD at this. Thank you!
posted by c'mon sea legs at 12:42 PM on January 27, 2016


Also, honey is just beautiful for no-effort elegant dessert plates: halve some grapes or cut up whatever fresh fruit you have into nice bite sizes, scatter dates or whatever dried fruit you have (dried fruit keeps very well so it's easy to keep around), portion out the best cheese in your fridge, rough-chop any chocolate bars you might have: arrange on plate, drizzle with honey.
posted by kapers at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen the movie, but I'm assuming the idea isn't just to show off that you can make things from scratch, but that you can do it *effortlessly.* You're looking for the kitchen equivalent of "This old thing?"

So you need something fast, easy, and laid back, but with a touch of showiness. I suspect using pre-made frozen dishes looks like you put too much thought and work into it. Minimal mess and fuss because you're making it in front of the person. You need to be maximally efficient so you can get food out quickly without the recipient thinking you're doing this elaborate meal. Working from those assumptions, I've got two menus for you.

Sort Of French
- Start by making this almond cake for dessert and stick it in the oven while you make everything else. Super easy because you use a food processor, but everyone is impressed by cake made from scratch in front of them. I've made it twice in the last month and gotten three requests for the recipe. It's amazing.
- Then make a starter. A simple mixed green salad with mustard vinaigrette would be perfect, but if you can't risk fresh greens, then you can use frozen French-cut green beans with the same vinaigrette -- just blanch them really quickly instead of fully cooking according to the instructions on the package (no limp and mushy beans!)
- Last, the omelet suggestions by others are perfect. Make sure you can reliably make one without it falling apart (the key is low heat and butter on a non-stick pan).

Sort Of Middle Eastern
- Starter first: Hummus in the food processor, with pita chips. You and your guest nosh on them while you continue to make the main meal (again, making that relaxed, intimate atmosphere)
- Main: Pasta with yogurt, chilli and peas. Fancy because no one thinks of mixing yogurt and peas into a sauce, but it whips up quickly. Yogurt, feta, and pine nuts should keep for a couple weeks if you have to leave town, and the peas can be frozen.
- Spiced hot chocolate or affogato. If you don't have an espresso maker for affogato, make concentrated coffee with an Aeropress. Accompany with middle eastern treats you just happen to have on hand, or a pre-made rosewater ice cream. You could even have lavender honey ice cream, as a secret nod to Ms. Streep :)
posted by alligatorpear at 12:51 PM on January 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


My lazy go-to that always seems to impress people is some variation of noodles with peanut sauce. It's pretty forgiving and easy to adapt based on what you have available. I like to add some cashew milk or coconut milk for creaminess.
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:37 PM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


The Food52 link above is really good - it is all about stocking your pantry and developing methods. Many of the classic Italian pasta dishes are extremely simple: spagetti with oil, garlic and chili, served with grated parmesan cheese. Or penne with a hot sauce consisting of olive oil, onions, tomatoes, chilies and garlic (peppers optional). Risotto has been mentioned above as good pantry-storage food.

What I've learnt from Italian food is that very plain tastes from good quality products and simple procedures are often superior to complex recipes with less excellent products. I love me some rich all day recipes, but for quick and elegant food, I prefer the Italian way. Your inspiration seems to be similar.

Three good things is an inspirational blog(ish) page, but maybe too dependent on very fresh produce for your needs?

Also, think about presentation. My ex was a mediocre cook, but he was a master of plating. It made all his food seem more delicious than it actually was. He would think of how the colors worked together, and he would use coffee cups as little molds for rice and pasta. For appetizers, he would make tiny food-sculptures of totally random stuff he found in our refrigerator. They didn't always taste very well, but they set a tone of exuberance and fun. This is where fresh herbs can add a lot.

I love eggs. But I don't eat them if they are more than a week old. Maybe that is just me.
Some vegetables freeze better than others - IMO the best frozen vegs are kale, spinach, string beans and peas. Sweet corn are good frozen, too, but I've tired of them. There are hundreds of good dishes made with just those 4/5 vegs, so always keep a supply of them in your freezer.
You always need cans of tomatoes, best possible quality. And onions, shallots, garlic.
Frozen choppen parsley is OK too, though if you can keep herbs alive in the windowsill or garden, its better.
Other good freezer staples are stock and pastry dough (also mentioned above).
Apart from several types of dry pasta and rice, I keep some big and some small potatoes in my refrigerator at all times, and also the aromatics: celery and carrot.
The very best pasta or rice are still really cheap staples, so don't compromise here.
Plan your leftovers: I try to have either some boiled rice or boiled potato, because there are many good dishes to be made with these, but they do not keep well.
Keep spices, herbs, condiments and seeds and nuts in the refrigerator. They keep better there and are maybe also more visible for inspiration. I love to make my own condiments when I have the time. They impress people far beyond the effort, too.
Soft and hard cheeses keep well and are useful.
You need to have wine for cooking, and vinegar and lemons. They all contribute with acid and lemon keeps well in the refrigerator.
And you need to have seasonal fruit and veg in the refrigerator, but not more than you can eat.
Tins of legumes give so many options: several above have mentioned hummus, canned beans are good for making a lovely minestrone, and of course for a quick chile. Chickpeas go into a sauce for cous-cous, another starch which is quick and fancy. You can make a great sauce out of your onions, garlic, carrots and celery, along with the canned tomato and canned chickpeas. Flavor with lemon, chilies and spices according to taste: it could be cumin and allspice and cinnamon - a teaspoon each. Everything except the canned legumes goes into the pot at the same time in hearty chunks, bring to the boil, and then down to a simmer till the carrot pieces still have a bite but are sweet to taste. Add the chickpeas and simmer on till they are warmed through. Serve with heapings of couscous (follow instructions on package for those). During summer you can add seasonal flavors to this stew. All year round, sweet potato is a good optional element.

You should have some basic starters you can always serve and that you can make without thought: little crostini with mushrooms and/ or tomato and garlic; crudités with a delicious dipping sauce, like a pesto mayo or guacamole; Catalan tomato breads, or store-bought Japanese pickles, or something else you can keep in the pantry.

A few days ago I had an exquisite dinner of cream potatoes, steamed broccoli and a tomato salad.
Cut one large potato pr person in thin slices. Butter an oven-proof dish and put in the potato slices in layers. For each layer, add tiny morsels of butter, salt and pepper. After the last layer, add 100 ml cream pr person. Bake at 200C till the top is golden brown and bubbly.
Meanwhile steam the broccoli gently, in large pieces. Toast some slivers of almond or pine nuts. When they are golden (not brown) and send out nutty aromas, add a good oil to the pan, and turn it off. Add salt, pepper, crushed garlic (optional) and lemon juice to taste and pour it over the hot broccoli in a dish. Can be served warm, rather than hot.
With this, I'd prefer the very ripe tomatoes for the salad chopped into cubes, and a small red onion diced very finely (1mm dice), turned over with a plain oil/vinegar dressing. If I couldn't find ripe tomatoes, I might just make pickled red onions.
A nice dessert at this time of year is very thin slices of orange sprinkled with a mix of cinnamon and sugar.
posted by mumimor at 2:17 PM on January 27, 2016


Some of my staples that don't require super-fresh food:

* Saute up some frozen green beans over medium heat in a generous amount of good quality olive oil. When 1-2 minutes from done, sprinkle on a spoonful or three of cacao nibs. When done, sprinkle on some large grain sea salt. (Cacao nibs and salt are also good over oven-roasted brussel sprouts, but frozen brussel sprouts don't actually roast all that well - I notice the flavor difference from fresh brussel sprouts quite a lot, at least. In that case, or with other hearty green vegis (spinach, swiss chard, etc.), you can prep the cavao nibs separately by heating a small quantity of good quality olive oil over low to medium heat, add the cacao nibs once the oil is warm, and heat for two minutes. You can turn the heat off and let the nibs infuse the oil for ten minutes before pouring over the vegis, or use right away. Really dresses up your vegis though! Adapted from a recipe from the cookbook "Bittersweet".)

* Fry eggs, put dijon mustard on top. Or, for fancier scrambled eggs, mix the eggs up with dry herbs and spices (flavor combo to your preference). You know what fried eggs are also fabulous in? As a substitute for the meat in a reuben sandwich! Reubens, recall, require pumpernickle bread, something like russian dressing, sauerkraut, and a nice sharp swiss cheese, in addition to the fried egg. This is extra good (though messier) when the egg is fried over-easy.

* Drain some tofu and press with tea towel or paper towel to get extra water out. Slice into 1/4-inch thick pieces (slabs, sticks, whatever). Sautee/fry over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes per side (the hard part is just letting it be until it's time to flip over!). Turn heat off, pour some flavoring/sauce/glaze over the top - I like vegetarian Worcestershire sauce because it's tasty and already pre-mixed in the bottle, but anything similar will do. Be sure to get both sides of the tofu coated.

* Easy-caramelized onions over rice. Onion csramelization method from Isa Chandra Moslowitz' "The Veganomicon": slice onions into very thin rings. Put in flat-bottomed (eg. 9x12-inch) glass bsking dish, pour enough olive oil over the top to (generously-ish) coat the onions after you've stirred them around (don't soak them - the oil should pretty much all absorb or get stuck to the onions - but don't be too stingy either). Bake at anywhere from 350-400 F for half an hour, stirring twice (use a long-handled woiden spoon for this so you can do it quickly without losing too much heat from the oven). Meanwhile, cook some rice - something healthy, not minute rice or super-processed white rice (3 or 4 parts rice to 1 part lentils is also good, and adds some protein). When both parts are done, serve rice on plate or bowl, put desired quantity of onions on top, season with pepper to taste. If you have fresh sprouts or micro-greens, those also go well on top and make sort of a complete meal.

* Lentils take dressing/sauces really well. Cook some lentils - use puy lentils to be fancier. When they're cooked, mix in the dressing (strong flavors work well here; one of my cookbooks has a recipe where the dressing involves kecap manis, which is a sort of sweetened Indonesian soy sauce, along with balsamic vinegar - a mustard vinaigrette would also work well). Serve on toast or over rice, with a green vegi on the side.
posted by eviemath at 3:07 PM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


But seriously: cacao nibs and sea salt in good quality olive oil over sauteed or roasted green vegis. *So* good!
posted by eviemath at 3:08 PM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Building off of kate blank's chana dal suggestion I could offer you a full indian vegetarian menu. Use a chaat kit for a starter, I'd recommend a bhel or pani puri, something like this. You only need a boiled potato and some coriander or tomatoes for colour. If the potato is too much bother then a can of chickpeas drained and rinsed will suffice. The kit itself is shelf stable and they are excellent. That one comes with 3 chutneys and in the UK is only £1.99.

For the main use chana dal and some frozen ready to cook parathas/lacha/roti. These type of things are amazing and like you have an Asian grandma in your kitchen. Use a nonstick pan and no oil. They are frozen in disks with cellophane keeping them from sticking. I'd made a big batch of chana dal and freeze for the future as reheats wonderfully. These ready made curry pouches are designed more for eastern tastes but also good if you want to have more than one main. Also I've found most of the shelf stable stuff from Indian actually have very little preservatives if none at all, they use the traditional methods to keep food rather than loading it up with E numbers. Add a jar of chutney on the side to complete your sort of 'thali' main.

For dinner some kulfi you pull from the freezer or make quickly. Can sprinkle some crushed pistachios on top for a garnish.

Not only is this menu easy to do, looks impressive in a breezy/humble brag way and is reasonably healthy, it is cheap to boot! A trip to an Indian grocer will get the core stuff which can be stuck in the cupboard. For the coriander, potato and chana dal stuff a corner shop/regular supermarket will suffice which you can do much closer to the time of preparation.
posted by camerasforeyes at 4:00 PM on January 27, 2016


If you have some stale-ish crusty bread around, go with this easy tomato and white bean panade, subbing out vegetable broth for the chicken broth in the recipe. If you don't have bread on hand, subtitute extra beans (or perhaps even some pearl couscous) for a filling soup. This was one of my weeknight standbys when I wasn't eating meat.
posted by Owlcat at 5:12 PM on January 27, 2016


I love noodles, either wheat or rice, with peanut sauce. And curried butternut squash soup. Basically make a roux with flour and fat (olive, oil, butter) and curry spices of your choice, whisk in broth, add cooked squash, puree, serve with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream. You can keep most of that in the freezer. Cream of broccoli soup is similarly easy and tasty.
posted by theora55 at 9:26 AM on January 28, 2016


My go to recipes for a fancy-ish vegetarian meals are - cashew curry or cauliflower koftas (can't seem to find a recipe that's similar to the one I use but there are loads online that look good). Both I've prepared in parts ahead of time so that I can quickly put them together quickly.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:53 PM on January 28, 2016


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