Fancy vegan meal ideas?
January 13, 2010 10:38 PM   Subscribe

Fancy vegan meal ideas?

I'd like to make a dinner to impress my vegan girlfriend. I cook for her pretty frequently but want to make something with a little more wow factor that my typical dishes. Problem is, all the dishes I know that are fancy are non vegan, and attempting to make them conform to vegan standards would probably end poorly.
posted by jellywerker to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Vegan stuffed shells. You're welcome!

- I have personally tried this recipe and it was lovely. Add the shredded vegan mozzarella to the top a little over halfway through the baking process - this should help the "cheese" melt instead of crisping in place.
posted by amtho at 11:00 PM on January 13, 2010

I don't deliberately cook vegan meals except by accident, but here are a few suggestions that might help.

- Risotto. Buy or make a good vegetable stock. Add whatever vegetables appeal to you. Kick it up a level with some fresh herbs, lemon and/or saffron - a little goes a long way and it does add wow factor. If you can afford it, ditch the saffron and replace with black truffles (fresh or just the oil). Serve with a fancy salad on the side - perhaps some frisee, pine nuts, beets and orange segments and a balsamic dressing? Totally stellar food, easy to make and impressive.

- Biryani. A proper Biryani is a meal in itself. There are a million recipes out there, but have a good look through and see if you can find a recipe you like. I make plain rice and saffron rice and layer the two, fry onions and other vegetables and sprinkle through the rice, garnish with almonds and pomegranate seeds and a sprinkling of herbs. Serve with some Indian side dishes - perhaps a potato curry and some spiced green beans? What about making some flat-bread to go with it? A non-stick pan and some oil and you can turn out something that's leagues ahead of store-bought stuff.

- Sushi and tempura. You can buy rice seasoning at most good stores these days - either in a bottle or a little packet of white powder. Make vegetable rolls, ongiri (stuffed rice balls) or nigiri (which is the standard sushi thing, a wad of rice with something draped on top). Check out some bento blogs for garnish ideas. Make a thin tempura batter and fry strips of vegetables: try eggplant, zucchini (courgette), green onions, sweet potato, bell pepper etc etc. Serve with a soy-based dipping sauce.

- Curry. One of the most fabulous curries I've ever had was a vegan one. It was a Thai style green curry (if you buy curry paste, you might have to search for a vegan one that doesn't have shrimp or fish sauce in it) and featured fried tofu puffs (delicious little sponges), lotus root (available sliced and frozen from Asian grocers) and plenty of other vegetables in a delicious sauce that was made really rich and thick with coconut cream. The rice served with it was just steamed jasmine rice, but it was a feast! Search for Thai and Malaysian curry recipes and have fun with them. If you want to go the whole hog, make your curry paste from scratch. It's a bit fiddly but it'll blow your socks off, and not just from the chili.

And if in doubt, GARNISH!!

Hope this helps!
posted by ninazer0 at 11:13 PM on January 13, 2010

Ethiopian is very, very hard to screw up and has a wide variety of vegan-compatible dishes.

Substitute (equivalently seasoned) olive oil for the niter kebbeh (spice butter).
posted by rr at 11:13 PM on January 13, 2010

@Amtho: Appreciated, but now that I think about it, it's probably a good idea to stay away from dishes with vegan cheese components, as I can't get my hands on any daiya right now.

@ninazer0: Taking this in an Indian direction sounds good, but looking up risotto, that looks appealing too, however it looks rather... sloppy, how would one make this look fancy?

@rr: Any more details on Ehtiopian dishes?
posted by jellywerker at 11:40 PM on January 13, 2010

Indian is good - most south indian dishes can be made vegan. My absolute favourite for "fancy looking" is Masala Dosa. Basically you have a rice pancake stuffed with potato curry with some hot sauce over the top - i like fresh grated carrots added to to give them some nice crispness, and coconut chutney goes really well (made with vegan yoghurt, obv). I'm afraid I can't tell you the recipe I use as I'm away from home at the moment, but this looks like a good recipe: Masala Dosa with Tomato Chutney. For the actual dosa batter you're supposed to use half rice flour and half urad flour, but I've never been able to find urad flour and have always bodged it with gram (chick pea) flour and it's worked fine. Leaving the batter to soak is an absolute must - making it the night before is good. Actually you can make the masala the night before and the sauce (chutney or sambhar) leaving the work of the actual day being just chutneys and pancakes and warming things through.

It also depends what you mean by "fancy". When I was vegan I used to LOVE cooking stuff that people would expect to find meat in; so I had dinner parties with...

Mexican style - home made guacamole, a decent 5 bean chilli, soy yoghurt, vegan tortillas (many are, just check), green salad, salsa.

Roast dinner - a decent nut roast (cashew and carrot is a winner), roast potatoes, stuffing (rolled into little balls), roast parsnips, four or five other veggies (hey I like veggies, that's why I was vegan in the first place) and a decent gravy. Fruit crumble with vegan custard for pudding.

One time I did go a little too far by shaping some veggie sausage mix (sosmix, i think) into the shape of a chicken, with a stuffing pouch in the middle, and painting it with marmite so it browned nicely in the oven. It was surprisingly tasty, but the (ordinary veggie) guest at the table was a little freaked out when it first came out of the oven. Not as much as the time I did a hedgehog (sosmix, twiglets, tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce hidden in a reservoir in the middle), but anyway, I digress...
posted by handee at 11:58 PM on January 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh wow, Masala Dosa wins. Thank you so much!

Cashew and carrot roast sounds good for another time though.

Also, but fancy, I meant something that presents well, is out of the ordinary, and takes decent time to prepare. A labor of love so to speak.
posted by jellywerker at 12:06 AM on January 14, 2010

For making the dosa, you want a batter about the consistency of single cream. It really helps if you sieve the flours first, and mix the flours with a bit of salt before adding the water, and use a whisk to make sure there aren't many little lumps of flour. Ideally you want no lumps of flour but hey it's quite a forgiving recipe. Make it, leave it overnight, and the flours will soak up the water lots (and sink to the bottom, but a whisk before cooking fixes that).

When cooking, a non-stick pan with quite a bit (a tablespoon?) of oil really helps, and give the batter a quick stir with a hand whisk or fork before each pancake.
posted by handee at 12:24 AM on January 14, 2010

Well, it's due tomorrow night, so hopefully I can try a few times in the morning. I have my beans soaking now for the dosa batter though. Your advice is much appreciated, thank you.

Planning green dosa's with tomato chutney and potato curry filling, probably some kind of creamy rice as a side dish, maybe just some saffron rice with cumin and basil if I can find some fresh.
posted by jellywerker at 12:30 AM on January 14, 2010

I made this veal Prince Orloff vegetarian once -- I used roasted peppers, sliced baked potato, roasted zucchini, and portobellos in place of the meat. Swap oil for the butter and find a vegan sauce and you could still make a decent dish.
posted by kmennie at 1:08 AM on January 14, 2010

Risotto doesn't have to be sloppy - I tend to prefer it with quite a stiff consistency. What I would do is make it a day in advance and let it cool. Then, form it into large patties, crumb it and pan-fry it in a little oil until the outside is crispy. Let them drain on some paper while you prep the salad. Slide one onto a plate, surround with fancy salad, top with whatever you desire (I like shaved pecorino, but you'll have to find a vegan alternative) and serve with a nice red wine - perhaps a smooth merlot?

I've actually had another idea. What about making a vegetable terrine? The one in the link has goat cheese, but I'm sure you could sub a vegan alternative without too much trouble. A soft tofu or vegan cheese alternative would be perfectly fine. It's a cold dish, so perhaps not a good match if you're currently freezing in the Winter snow. But it sure is pretty!
posted by ninazer0 at 1:52 AM on January 14, 2010

Millenium is a fancy vegan restaurant in SF, and they have released a couple cookbooks - maybe google around for some of their recipes?
posted by gnutron at 1:58 AM on January 14, 2010

Confit biyaldi is the fancy pants version of ratatouille that Thomas Keller came up with for the movie of the same name.
posted by mollymayhem at 2:38 AM on January 14, 2010

I'll just go ahead and assume that a nice fellar like yourself who cooks to impress will have a long relationship with his vegan girl, and add future projects that are harder to find, but fun must-try's toward your future anniversary dinners menu: Sea grapes sushi.
posted by dabitch at 4:13 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pick up a copy of vegetarian times. They usually have a featured vegan recipe that is outstanding. The thanksgiving issue had a pot pie that I spend most of my free time salivating about.
posted by ndicecco at 5:02 AM on January 14, 2010

I've occasionally made Seitan Marsala for special occasions.
posted by hilaritas at 5:36 AM on January 14, 2010

I would also recommend the Moosewood restaurant cookbooks for vegan/vegetarian cooking. I know that does not help for now but good for a future reference.

Maybe, as gnutron suggests you could find recipes from Moosewood also online.
posted by hariya at 5:55 AM on January 14, 2010

Since you say you cook regularly, I'd suggest this cookbook: Vegan Yum Yum: Decadent (But Doable) Animal-Free Recipes for Entertaining and Everyday and/ or the author's blog:
posted by Laura in Canada at 7:03 AM on January 14, 2010

Sounds like you've got it covered, but here are the 25 best vegetarian and vegan meals from 2009 (from the kitchn) for next time.

I made this recipe recently and it was awesome!
posted by orme at 7:57 AM on January 14, 2010

If you haven't perused the Post Punk Kitchen, there's enough delicious there to make the most staunch carnivore at least a little happy :)
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:27 AM on January 14, 2010

posted by rr at 9:28 AM on January 14, 2010

The meals on this site are lovely

...and I'm pretty much the opposite of a vegan.
posted by melissam at 8:06 PM on January 14, 2010 Top 10 recipes of 2008 lists the favorite recipes of 10 cookbook authors. I think the Phyllo Rolls look really nice.
posted by davar at 12:18 AM on January 15, 2010

Oh wow, this is becoming a really great resource, thanks guys.

As for the dinner, the masala dosa itself went over really well. I presented them with a side of sauteed eggplant and veggies and some saffron rice. The fanciness however... was not appreciated heh. No more candles for me, humph!
posted by jellywerker at 12:22 PM on January 15, 2010

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