Improving texture in a vegetarian diet
May 13, 2009 12:07 PM   Subscribe

My vegetarian cooking tastes good, but the lack of different textures bores me. Help me incorporate dishes that have some chew or crunch!

I cook vegetarian 99% of the time at home. This means I make alot of soup and stew type things, rice, pasta and legumes. Often I miss the crusty exterior and melty insides of seared meat, or the crunch of baked or fried things. I'm learning to bake my own bread and pizza, but that's pretty labor intensive. What other vegetarian dishes can I try at home when I want satisfying texture and I'm bored to death of soft vegetables? I especially love something like nachos that has multiple textures going on in one dish.
posted by slow graffiti to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
For starters, stop overcooking your vegetables. If they're soft, you're doing it wrong.

And try roasting them for that delicious, crusty-caramelized exterior. Toss almost any non-leafy vegetable with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a 400-degree (F) oven and you'll get the "crusty exterior and melty insides" effect you miss from meat. This works with any root vegetable as well as asparagus, broccoli, squash (cubed), and even some of the sturdier leafy greens like kale and rapini.
posted by dersins at 12:14 PM on May 13, 2009 [6 favorites]

Nuts are crunchy.
posted by JJ86 at 12:16 PM on May 13, 2009

Don't overcook your veggies!

By that, I mean broccoli should still have crunch, and be bright green, not brownish at all....same with asparagus, brussel sprouts, etc. Carrots shouldn't be mushy, either...just a little softer. Also, you can still fry veggies to get the outside crunchy (and then usually the inside is mushy, but when fried that's ok)
posted by Grither at 12:17 PM on May 13, 2009

Are you well-versed in the preparation of meat substitutes like tofu, seitan, TVP, etc.? Tofu can be very chewy when prepped certain ways, and can be crusted with ground nuts and cornmeal/spices and then baked or pan fried to add some crunch. Here's one of my favorite vegetarian recipes. Good luck!
posted by emilyd22222 at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2009

- Steam vegetables for a short time to make great tasting, textured meals
- Learn how to roast vegetables (like a pan full of zucchini, sweet peppers, and eggplant, tossed in olive oil and herbs and roasted, yum)
- Fried/pan fried items that are great include falafels, samosas, pot stickers, ravioli. Also, learn how to fry tofu so it has a sauce-absorbent golden crust.
- Try rice pilafs or fried rice recipes that have not only rice but peas, golden raisins, and nuts in the mix.
- bread and pizza get easier with time; also make (and par bake) several pizza crusts on a weekend and freeze the extras - makes the others a quick meal if you defrost it while you're at work.
posted by aught at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2009

Best answer: You could use puff pastry (found in the frozen food section at your grocery store) and make a roasted vegetable strudel. We also eat alot of sandwiches on toasted bread: smoked cheese, lettuce and tomato comes pretty close to a BLT and a good veggie sandwich with lettuce, tomato, green pepper, onion, with mayo, mustard, red wine vinegar and some tasty cheese if you're not a vegan makes a good crunchy meal. Also, panini sandwiches are great for the crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside you describe.
posted by in the methow at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2009

I'm a huge fan of roasted caramelized veggies like dersins suggests.

For an easy mix of textures, toast pita until crisp, stuff with hot roasted/seared veggies (I like mushrooms or artichoke hearts but anything will work), cold crunchy leafy things (I like baby spinach), and a condiment like cheese, tzaziki, hummus or whatever floats your boat. Tacos also offer an opportunity to play with new texture, temperature and flavor combinations. For me, the key is to include at least one raw veggie like spinach, onion or tomato.
posted by ladypants at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2009

Overcooking veggies lecture much?

For crunch try adding crushed or slivered nuts into your veggie dishes. Slivered almonds go great with green bean dishes and have the added bonus of some extra protein and minerals. You might want to try a pistachio-stuffing stuffed acorn squash or a similar dish as well.

You can also make battered and fried dishes like veggie tempura pretty easily at home even if you lack equipment--no need to deep fry, just get a pan hot with some oil (make sure not to burn whatever oil you use) and toss em in. Oatmeal works great for this because it's got some body.
posted by shownomercy at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2009

I get bags of premade pizza dough from trader joes. Makes it easy to throw together a great pizza in 30 mins. Also, marinated tofu or tempeh + your broiler can yield some delicious texture results.
posted by gnutron at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're looking for crunch, you should learn how to cook rice persian style. You can see a picture on this wikipedia page of the Tahdeeg, a crunchy, partly caramelized crust that's inexplicably good. Just cook your (basmati) rice in an excess of water until its close to, but not yet, done. Drain the rice. Coat the bottom of a pot with a few tablespoons of oil, and dump the rice in, cover and cook. You'll have to experiment with timing (it takes a bit longer than I usually think it should). But it's so good for some reason. The only downside is that the crunch and awesomeness won't survive for leftovers. Apparantly you can do this with pasta to the same effect.
posted by squarehead at 12:31 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

off the top of my head:
- you can stir fry your veggies of choice for a few minutes on a high flame and dress with a condiment of choice,
- you can mix boiled greens with cream cheese (or ricotta) and eggs and make pie fillings with a crunchy crust,
- you can just eat crunchy raw vegetables such as carrots, celery stalks, fresh onions, fennel, artichokes by dipping them in a small cup with extravirgin olive oil and salt or into the dip of your choice,
- you can dress bell peppers, aubergines, onions, potatoes with a dressing made with oil, garlic, black olives persil and breadcrumbs and bake in the oven,
- you can dip aubergines, sliced zucchini, onion rings, artichoke hearts and so on in an egg-flour-milk batter and then deep fry them (pro trip: for extra crunchiness add half a glass of lager in your batter)
- you can prepare omelettes with almost any vegetable at hand
- you can bake a parmigiana with aubergines, but it's delicious with lots of other veggies, too
- you can simply saute or blanch veggies for a few minutes, cover with a bechamel sauce and bake till golden brown...
- you can prepare a pizza crust and top with onions or sliced bell pepper (raw, with oil and oregano), or potato slices (sauteed in a little oil, with rosemary and garlic), or aubergine slices (again, sauteed and dressed with a little garlic and oregano)...

...and so on. In general: cook them less. Texture and flavor will be greatly improved. Have fun! Another suggestion: get a couple good books of chinese and indian cooking.
posted by _dario at 12:33 PM on May 13, 2009

One of our favorite things to eat is a big old sandwich with fake coldcuts (or baked tofu), tomato, and lots and lots of lettuce. That's a texture delight! I particularly like the rosemary sourdough bread they sell at our local Whole Foods stores. This is probably pretty healthy, too.

A nice crunchy pickle goes well with this. We're having sandwiches for dinner again tonight.
posted by amtho at 12:34 PM on May 13, 2009

Brown rice, seitan, homemade wholewheat pasta - either anchellini, orecchietti, or pizzocherri shapes, barley soups, American long-grain black rice, dried fruits, pomegranate pips, dry cereals, and quit overcooking your vegetables!
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2009

Nuts are crunchy.

True. And, more specifically, pine nuts and walnuts (broken up into reasonable sizes) are both extremely versatile. I have a hard time thinking of any vegetarian entree that wouldn't benefit from one of these. Briefly toast them in a dry skillet, then add them to the rest of the food near the end of the cooking process.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2009

When I say "lots of lettuce" I mean 3, 4, or 5 leaves of green leaf lettuce. Two slices of fresh, locally-grown, very red tomatoes, also.

I always ask for extra extra lettuce when I order veggie burgers out at restaurants, and I always ask for extra extra broccoli on my occasional California Pizza Kitchen Japanese eggplant pizza.
posted by amtho at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2009

Best answer: For chewy texture, squeeze as much water as you can out of pieces of tofu, freeze it, defrost it, squeeze out any remaining water and go forward from there (especially effective if you marinate it in something tasty for a bit before cooking).
posted by at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

-Kale chips
-Baked tofu: 1, 2 (or just rub it with a spice mix)
-We eat a lot of Asian noodle dishes with a little broth (dashi) and a mixture of cooked and raw veggies (amazing variety of textures and flavors, and super quick).
-Toasted nuts can be added to anything.
posted by imposster at 12:49 PM on May 13, 2009

Oh, and stuck pot rice (with a brown, crunchy bottom).
posted by imposster at 12:50 PM on May 13, 2009

I have made vegetarian super-nachos that were quite good. I layer a baking dish with tortilla chips, then cover it with a can of drained and rinsed black beans, diced tomatoes, peppers, onions, corn, and shredded cheese (usually Colby-Jack and Cheddar). Bake in the oven (about 400F) until the cheese is melty and everything is hot. The chips and onions are crunchy, the tomatoes juicy, the beans...well, beany... and the cheese melted and gooey. (if you want to really spice it up, sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper or chili poweder)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 12:51 PM on May 13, 2009

Nthing the roasted veggies thing. I roast up a pan of squashes, taters, onions, garlic and carrots about twice a week. The virtues of this method of preparation have already been sung on this post, so I will just add another "YUM!" to the chorus.

I also do a lentil salad that's texture festival: cooked lentils (soft), diced carrots, celery, bell peppers (crunchy), cukes (snappy), green onions & parsley (in between), & either a sprinkle of sunflower seeds (more crunch), or crumbled bacon (not veg, but, well, bacon!). Mix with your favorite vinaigrette and you're in texture heaven.
posted by bluejayway at 12:51 PM on May 13, 2009

These golden-crusted brussel sprouts recipe is a favorite around our place. Also, do you do stir fry? Fried marinated tofu chunks have a crisp outside and melty interior. Noodles and any crunchy vegetable work well -- try blanching asparagus, cooking green beans until hot but still crunchy, or even working some cold salads into your meal plan.
posted by mikeh at 1:02 PM on May 13, 2009

posted by goethean at 1:04 PM on May 13, 2009

Homemade seitan is a good springboard for a lot of dishes. It takes some experimentation to keep from achieving the rubber-band effect, but once you finally get in the groove, you could use it for a lot of things that would satisfy your cravings.

One favorite of mine: Chicken fried seitan. Take some seitan patties, dredge in seasoned flour (salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, thyme), and pan-fry until the flour is crispy. Serve with mushroom gravy. (Make mushroom stock by simmering 1# mushrooms in a pot of water. Prepare gravy as you would any other kind of gravy.)
posted by mudpuppie at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2009

Response by poster: For the record, I keep my veggies crisp when called for, as in stir-fry.

Sadly, I have an electric oven with no broiler, so that avenue of delicious is closed to me. I will definitely try seitan.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:24 PM on May 13, 2009

Also, though we're not veg currently (but both have been in the past), boyfriend and I are salivating over this cookbook I recently purchased -- the chickpea patties look TASTY and crunchy and probably also chewy because they've got wheat gluten in them...
posted by at 1:43 PM on May 13, 2009

I found this recipe today, and it certainly seems to offer some baked crunch and spice. I've got Bhides' book on hold at the library, and I've bookmarked the blog for recipes like these.

Caramelized tofu
Golden crusted brussels sprouts
Golden crispy gnocchi
posted by maudlin at 1:44 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sprinkle toasted nuts on things. Slivered almonds, or crushed pecans, walnuts, peanuts, and cashews are all great. Put the nuts in a food processor for a few pulses. Or in a bag and hit them with a rolling pin. Then toast them gently in a dry, warm pan on a med. burner, just til you can smell the scent rising from them. Watch 'em so they don't burn. Toasted nuts make any veggie dish better.

Toast the seeds from butternut squash, too- rinse in a colander, sprinkle on a little salt, and bake them til they're very slightly brown. Those are great sprinkled on cooked veggies or pasta.

Thinly slice a clove of garlic and pan-fry in a little oil til crispy, like this- the harsh garlic flavour will be mellowed, and they're delicious and crunchy.

A little melted cheese will add some gooey/chewy mouthfeel, too. A quick grate of medium cheddar over, say, lightly steamed broccoli or kale, or fried or scrambled eggs, is fantastic.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:54 PM on May 13, 2009

Water Chestnuts are crunchy and go well with stews, stir-fries, and a range of other dishes. I used the canned variety.
posted by lucien at 2:14 PM on May 13, 2009

Seconding the idea of buying pizza dough or premade pizza crusts - cornmeal crusts have a nice crunch, or you can use sliced polenta and make mini-pizzas. Deep fried soft tofu has a very crisp exterior and melty interior. Pan-fried tofu - firm or soft - is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Vegetarian nachos are easy - just leave off the meat. You can add a soy-crumble (fake meat) type product if you want, but I don't think it's very necessary.

Is there any dish in particular that you miss? Between tofu, seitan, and the variety of veggie burgers and fake meat products out there, you can make a reasonable facsimile of almost any meat dish. Or, if there's a dish you like with a smallish amount of meat - like nachos - consider just leaving the meat out, and see how you like it.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:24 PM on May 13, 2009

Fried or grilled savoury mochi (photo) is an interesting alternative to tofu, and probably the chewiest thing you'll ever eat. If you buy the solid, soap-like blocks, break them up, then fry them, they puff up into crispy, gooey-centred fried things. I think they are traditionally added to soup and stews. Try to avoid choking to death on them.
posted by BinaryApe at 2:35 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I see only one mention of tempeh, so I would like to give it another shout. It is one of my favorite textures in the world. The flax seed tempeh you can get at most stores? Mwah! (That was me kissing my thumb and fingertips.) Fuhgeddaboutit! (Though the price has recently gone up, I think.)
posted by nosila at 4:05 PM on May 13, 2009

The New Vegetarian feature in the Guardian is a good source for mouthwatering vegetarian recipes.
posted by Sara Anne at 4:28 PM on May 13, 2009

You should be able to broil in an electric oven if the element is at the top of the main compartment, no?

By the way, it's fairly easy to fry your own tortilla chips by - get this - frying tortillas in oil. I've also baked flour tortillas to give them some nice crunch.

You might want to take a cue from the consummate casserole makers and try baking your vegetable stews with a topping of broken pita, tortilla, or potato chips.
posted by plinth at 5:49 PM on May 13, 2009

I am not a vegetarian, but I'll do a lot of beans dishes, served with rice. Celery and lightly cooked collard greens or kale add a lot of fibre and chewiness. I add the celery early, because it wants quite a bit of cooking (and it's not bitter when cooked, like it is raw, but kind of sweet, and with a great texture), but collards or kale late - just sort of steam it in a deep frying pan with my beans and spices and stuff.

Also, you can do a lot of casserole type dishes that aren't cooked for very long - I do what I call "fry ups" - throw a bit of oil, some spices and some chick peas and any veg like celery or onions that would want to be cooked longer in a deep frying pan, brown, and some chopped tomatoes (usually from a can, because they're cheap) and/or milk, cook a bit more, and just 2-3 minutes before it's done, add the short cook vegetables, usually kale or collards for us, but you could use spinach or broccoli or beans - basically just steam them on top of the other stuff. This all takes about 20 minutes.
posted by jb at 6:14 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

a side salad for something abovementioned:
Got this recipe from a friend who works at the NY Times. And, because I didn't have all the ingredients, I improvised - my improv is in italics.

1 bunch Tuscan kale (also known as black or lacinato kale)

1 thin slice country bread (part whole-wheat or rye is nice), or 1/4 cup homemade bread crumbs (coarse) I used breadcrumbs from a canister. Italian-style pre-seasoned

1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped A spoonful, minced from a jar

1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese, more for garnish used parmesan/romano

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for garnish

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon or a healthy splash of bottled lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

1. Trim bottom 2 inches off kale stems and discard. Slice kale, including ribs, into 3/4-inch-wide ribbons. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place kale in a large bowl.

2. If using bread, toast it until golden on both sides. Tear it into small pieces and grind in a food processor until mixture forms coarse crumbs.

3. Using a mortar and pestle, or with the back of a knife, pound garlic into a paste. Transfer garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper flakes and black pepper, and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over kale and toss very well to thoroughly combine (dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat leaves).

4. Let salad sit for 5-8 minutes, then serve topped with bread crumbs, additional cheese and a drizzle of oil.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings. I've been known to eat entire bowls in one sitting, though. The totally killer garlic breath was worth it.
posted by SaharaRose at 8:16 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We've been making all sorts of veggie cakes. Last night we had zucchini cakes. Other than changing the vegetable, the recipe stays the same (well, mostly, I toss other things into it as my mood dictates). They have about the same texture as crab cakes, so if you've liked those, you'll probably like one of these.

I mince some onion very finely. I do the same with a clove or two of garlic (heh, I'm kidding, I probably throw four or five in there, but you don't have to do that, I'm just a garlic fiend). If I have a fresh herb, I mince it and toss it in. Grate about a cup or a cup and a half of cheese (last night we did cheddar and monterey jack and it was awesome). Toss in two cups of panko (or breadcrumbs if panko is not your thing). I always use paprika - maybe 2 teaspoons? Salt and pepper. Other spices as my mood changes. Often a dash or two of cayenne pepper, it doesn't make the cakes hot, but gives them a nice sharpness.

Then I grate or mince the veggie I'm using. With zucchini, I grate a few of them, toss them into a towel, squeeze a good amount of the water out of them). Toss the veggie into the mix. Add two or three eggs for moisture and binding. Mix it all up. I use my hands because I'm going to use my hands to form the cakes anyhow.

Make them into patties, slightly smaller than a hamburger. Heat some oil in a skillet (we are trying to use less and less oil for this part). Fry each side until they are golden and have a slight crust. Put them on a plate with paper towel as you finish each of them.

We tossed some wheat germ into the ones we made last night and it did great things for the texture. I thought the ones we had last night would have been good with some cornmeal and lime tossed in because we put cilantro in the ones we made last night.

These are starting to be our favorite food, especially as the farmers' market gives us more and more veggies over summer.

We make enough for dinner with a salad one night, and then eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. mmmmm.
posted by ugf at 9:14 AM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! I will bookmark this for the next time I have a crunch craving.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2009

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