Feed me, MeFi, but hold the cheese!
March 8, 2010 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I need recommendations for non-cheese, quick meals and snacks.

This weekend, I used the last of a bag of shredded cheddar cheese and made the decision that I'm not going to buy another bag to replace it (or a block of cheese to shred, etc.). I'm just not going to purchase cheese - any cheese - to have at home at all.

Why? Because I realized that *every* meal I eat is based upon or involves cheese in some way. Cheese on my burgers, on my sandwiches, in my soup; cheese on quesadillas; with apples; over my pasta. Oh my. I love cheese and there's nothing really wrong with my diet except that I eat so much cheese in the course of a day. Actually, I have a decent diet: I rarely eat highly processed foods such as twinkies, massed produced cakes and cookies, etc.; usually, the foods I eat are whole-grain, lots of fruits and veggies and beans, etc., all served with a side of cheese! I would like to break this habit.

I tend not to plan meals very well and end up starving before I realize I need to start cooking. This leads to quick meals and snacks flavored by and held together by cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, brie, feta, gouda... it's all good!).

Help me, please, by giving me ideas for non-cheese real foods that are fast to put together and tasty.

Some other info:

- I'm a decent cook and have all sorts of cooking supplies such as a cast iron pan, a slow cooker, a George Forman grill, etc.
- I'm not afraid of different foods (although tongue and organ meats are off my table) and I'm pretty much an omnivore.
- I'm looking for healthy food options here, not "Grab a bag of Doritos!"
- I'd like to see suggestions that will take less than twenty minutes in the kitchen to put together.

posted by LOLAttorney2009 to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Just leave it out of things. It's that simple. Don't put it on your sandwich. Or in your eggs, or on your pasta, or in your soup. Eat your apples with peanut butter instead. There are very few meals you mentioned that actually necessitate cheese.
posted by amro at 6:47 PM on March 8, 2010

Cheeseless snacks:

- Boiled eggs (portable protein).
- Hummus with veggie sticks- try something different then your typical celery and carrots, why not thinly sliced raw sweet potato and daikon radish, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, sweet peas, zucchini.
- Guacamole and corn chips
posted by gillianr at 6:50 PM on March 8, 2010

When I decided to (mostly) kick cheese last summer, I replaced it with hummus. So instead of a cheese and whatever meat sandwich for lunch, I do a couple tablespoons of hummus on a tortilla with a couple of meatless soy "chicken nuggets". For an afternoon snack I'll do a handful nuts and a couple of crackers and hummus.

Trader Joe's sells a pretty decent hummus. And a pretty decent soy chicken nugget.
posted by notyou at 6:56 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok, this is my latest go-to meal (and sometimes I DO put cheese on it because I too love me some cheese but it's not necessary at all): Beans and Greens.

I have a few variations on the theme but it's basically this:

1. Sautee some garlic and a little onion or red bell pepper if you have it.
2. Dump in some fresh kale, spinach, or other cookable leafy green. I often don't have fresh on hand (cuz I'm lazy) and use thawed frozen spinach instead. It works great.
3. Dump in a can of your bean of choice. Sometimes I drain/rinse, sometimes I don't.
4. Add whatever spices you like. Lately I've been doing black beans with spinach and have added some red pepper flakes, cumin and cinnamon - plus salt and pepper, of course.
5. Add a little water if need be. Sometimes I also add some of whatever else I have on hand, e.g., Trader Joe's has some frozen roasted corn that goes great. Or canned is fine too.

Cook it till it seems good to go (10-15 min). Eat.

Sometimes I make rice (or I've made rice the day before and heat it up and serve over that.) Sometimes I put a little salsa on top, and, as I said previously, sometimes I grate a little cheese and put that on top as well. I think the difference here is that the cheese serves as a condiment and not the main thing.

Oh, sometimes I'll also slice up a sausage (sometimes actual meat and sometimes veg) and sautee that first, then add everything else. That's super delish.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:56 PM on March 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

I empathise with you - I love cheese and I probably eat too much of it.

I don't have any great answers so I'm looking forward to seeing some here but at least as far as sandwiches go ...

I think Hummus is great (Hummus is very easy to make if you use tinned chick peas and you have access to a blender).

I love peanut butter and shredded carrot sandwiches.

One last one - a small amount of anchovy with some lettuce/tomato/cucumber in a sandwich is great.
posted by southof40 at 6:57 PM on March 8, 2010

Hmm, well, if you want to replace it, it might help to think about what it provides: to me, cheese is tangy and salty, and it tends to fill things out that would otherwise be kind of one-note.

You could try putting ajvar on burgers, sandwiches, grilled meats, and pasta; it's also tangy and salty. (I buy Trader Joe's version, but you can buy it at Whole Foods or whatever. You can make your own, but it's time-consuming up-front.)

Or baba ghanouj or hummus, for similar reasons. The tahini gives them some creaminess, too, which would help to replace the cheese.

Or nut butter, if it's an apple. That would also have the filling-things-out effect that cheese does. But not the tang.
posted by palliser at 7:15 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a male bachelor who can't cook for their life. Everything I make and eat is EASY and FAST!

Peanut Butter & Jelly
Japanese Ramen
Asian Dumplings (the frozen ones you just cook)
Waffles w/Syrup
Subways Sandwiches

You can thank me later.
posted by Wanderer7 at 7:19 PM on March 8, 2010

speaking as a foodie, and a good cook, (but one who doesn't cook much when she is by herself bc her husband is out of town)...I just cooked two eggs, sliced up half an avocado and topped it all on a bed of greens (balsamiced and olive oiled).


n'thing hummus though
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 7:32 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

last night I made the following soup -- it was quick and yum:

-- one onion or two small shallots diced
-- two carrots chopped into small pieces
-- a small piece of pumpkin chopped into small pieces
-- one brocolli chopped up into small pieces
-- half to three-quarters of a cup of uncooked rice
-- two chicken stock cubes (mine are massel -- vegetarian chicken-style)
-- a little olive oil for frying your onions/shallots

In a pot, fry the onions/shallots in oil, then add all the other veges and give them a quick stir. Cover the veges with water, add the stock cubes and the rice. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 25 mins or so (or until the rice is soft).

The pumpkin is the key to this recipe -- it goes softer faster than the other ingredients so it kind of melts into the soup and makes it rich and tasty.

Even quicker alternatives (my really lazy meal): boiled green veges such as brocolli, brocollini or green beans, plus boiled eggs or sliced meat (turkey or some sort of pressed beef) and a couple slices of toast.
posted by prettypretty at 7:40 PM on March 8, 2010

I like Ten Dollar Dinners. She has a great palate. Fast, simple ingredients and everything has just the right amount of silkiness which is what cheese gives you. Try the tuna bread salad or the weekend cassoulet and see what you think.
posted by kgn2507 at 7:42 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Olive Tapenade
posted by at the crossroads at 7:57 PM on March 8, 2010

One of my favorite quick meals is:

Sprouted grain or brown rice tortilla
Romaine, leaves ripped off of stems (stems eaten greedily while rest of thing is prepped)
Sliced or mashed avocado
Sunflower seeds

all rolled up together and chowed down! If I have roasted garlic sitting around, I'll add that, and it's great. The whole thing takes 5 minutes to assemble and is very filling, thanks to the avocado fat. Depending on the size of the tortillas, I'll use one or two.


Baby spinach, chickpeas, pine nuts, olives, drizzled with olive oil & balsamic if you'd like.


1 butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large yellow onion, cut in large dice
1 can chickpeas

Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil in a large roasting pan, then toss to coat with:

1 tbsp curry powder (look for one that isn't bright yellow; those are mostly turmeric)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

roast at 425f for 40 minutes! Not superfast, but very little ACTIVE time. Add in 1 small cup greek yogurt to cut the spice and make all mushy yummy.


Fruit! Or nuts! Or fruit and nuts!

Celery and PB is always a good snack. Add raisins for nostalgia.
posted by kitarra at 8:08 PM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I love guacamole on burgers and tacos.

Be generous with lemon, salt and garlic in savory recipes.

Caramelized onions are awesome in sandwiches, casseroles and pasta. Make sure they're very soft.

I make a vegan risotto by replacing each half-cup of parmesan with a teaspoon of mild miso, stirred in with the Earth Balance margarine at the end.

Cheese is umami. If you have enough non-cheese umami to nosh on, you won't miss it.
posted by zinfandel at 8:38 PM on March 8, 2010

Nthing hummus on sandwiches to replace cheese. Guacamole can be a great addition to Mexican food and replace the cheese.

Also, try more Asian food. Most Asian cuisine doesn't involve cheese at all. I like to make orange "chicken" (I'm a vegetarian) at home, as well as veggie dumplings with noodles, mushrooms, and snap peas.
posted by too bad you're not me at 10:05 PM on March 8, 2010

My go-to snacks:

Eggy muffins: two eggs sunny side steamed (I love runny yolks but can't stomach slimy whites, so I add a splash of water and cover the pan near the end of cooking so the white is totally cooked and the yolk inside stays soft), with a smear of marmite (for salt and umami) on toasted whole wheat English muffins (I double-toast them so they're quite browned). Finish with a coarse grind of pepper = yum! A slice of tomato or avocado would be good too.

Fishy muffins: one can of sardines in tomato sauce, mashed with a fork onto a double-toasted English muffin, with a shake of Tabasco.

Egg drop soup: Whatever kind of soup I'm eating (ramen, or vegetable soup from a tetra pak) with an egg either poached in it, or a fried egg on top.

Green curry vedge: Mix 1 tablespoon of green curry paste, 1/3 or 1/2 of a can of coconut milk. Add a splash each of lime juice, soy sauce, and maple syrup if you have them handy, no worries if not. Stir til it's mixed, then add whatever protein you like (shrimp? chicken? tofu), and wait til that's cooked. Finally throw in a generous amount of chopped vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower are my favourite) and cover til they're cooked too. Really easy and fast, and so tasty!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:18 PM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a fan of Mark Bittman's minimalist recipes:

Summer recipes
Even Thanksgiving side dishes

The recipes use whatever is in season, but substitutions can be made, and most of them are not cheese-based. They're designed to be prepared in 10 minutes.
posted by lexicakes at 11:25 PM on March 8, 2010

Eat sardines (I prefer brislings, YMMV)! They're very, very good for you, and the act of snarfing them from the tin with your fingers feels delightfully transgressive.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:39 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Microwave a potato and dump a tin of tuna or sardines on it. Mix up the tuna with some lemon juice, worcester sauce and/or mayo if you can be bothered.

Fry up some onions and meat (fresh meat or leftovers from a roast) with some spices and sultanas if you have them. Add cous cous, water and optionally some quick-cooking veg (like green beans). Cook for two or three minutes until the cous cous is done, squeeze over some lemon and eat.

Buy some smoked mackerel. Cook up some pasta. Drain the pasta and mix with a paste of chilli, anchovy and garlic, also fresh parsley if you have some. Flake the mackerel and dump it on top. There should be the right amount of anchovies (maybe two per person) so it tastes of YUM, not of anchovy.

Buy a pack of cheap smoked salmon offcuts and some creme fraiche or similar (low fat dairy goo of some kind if you want). Cook up some pasta (plus or minus peas or green beans), add the salmon, creme fraiche and a lot of lemon juice.
posted by emilyw at 2:17 AM on March 9, 2010

I recently tried Marmite and it also has a salty umami flavor to it. I'm still working out what I can do with it, but Marmite spread thinly on buttered toast is a tasty snack.

Marmite, it is said, is a love-it-or-hate-it food, but if you're a fan of strong cheeses I suspect you're more likely to be on the "love it" side.
posted by lore at 3:19 AM on March 9, 2010

My favorite easy cheese-free dinner is stir fry- chop up whatever veggies you like (I add chicken, though cutting & cooking chicken adds time to the meal prep and clean up). Cook in some sesame & olive oil. For the sauce, I have this Cooking Light recipe that has been my go-to for years: 1/4 cup sherry (or chicken stock), 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. Throw some ginger and garlic into the veggies after they've started to cook a bit, then toss the sauce on towards the end. Soba noodles cook up super fast, so I set a small pot of water to boil when I start my prep, and a few minutes before everything is done throw some noodles in the pot. Then you have noodles to put under the stir fry.

Last night I made BLTs with avacado and served with a big salad, another super easy, fast, cheese-free dinner. I totally hear you, though, a lot of my standby meals involve cheese in some way and sometimes I just need to put the brakes on the constant cheese.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:01 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

As others have suggested, it might be helpful to think of other condiments or garnishes which can replace cheese in your recipes. I agree with hummus (homemade is super cheap and delicious), guacamole. To that list I would add fresh herbs, which add a lot of flavor and will add more complex flavors and a bit of flair to any meal. Explore the world of mustards for your sandwiches.

I know the question is about avoiding cheese, but sometimes a small grating of real parmesan can add more than a ton of other cheese, so if you're looking to reduce cheese consumption but still get the same effect, that might help.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:35 AM on March 9, 2010

I find that tofu sometimes can squelch my cheese craving. Something about the texture...But maybe that's just me...
posted by elisebeth at 8:26 AM on March 9, 2010

Seconding the minimalist. I just made this last week, and again last night - DELICIOUS.

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and spinach.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:47 AM on March 9, 2010

Ohhh I could've written your exact post. Cheese! It's the best! But cholesterol kills! Arg.

N'thing hummus. While weaning myself, I OD'd on hummus for a while, then began opting for Smart Balance Light with Omega-3 (e.g., on steamed veggies, bagels). As others mentioned upthread: guacamole, salsa, olive tapenade (omgomg). Trader Joe's has lots of options including those things, as well as black bean salsa, artichoke tapenade, baba ghannouj etc.

Favorite fast healthy meals:

1. Couscous with olive oil and/or Smart Balance Light; chicken boullion
Steamed veggies such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower
Microwave the couscous with the chicken boullion, steam the veggies, toss on some Smart Balance, season with garlic salt.

2. Salad idea I shamelessly stole from Cosi
baby spinach and/or mixed greens
red seedless grapes
pear chunks
dried cranberries
Ken's Light Raspberry Walnut Dressing

3. Sandwiches
I replaced cheese with avocado slices, since the slide-y texture is kinda similar. I also started using low-fat vinaigrettes and dressings on sandwiches and putting them under the broiler for a few minutes, a la Quiznos. So get a nice loaf of French bread, some ham or whatever from the deli, some healthy dressing, some avocado. You're welcome.

4. Tortilla wraps
Slather on some hummus or salsa or black bean spread, then load up on lettuce, add some chicken for protein.

5. Chicken tenderloins, or, marinades are your friends!
Yeah, cholesterol. But I make a whole bunch of them at once, marinate them in different things like low fat Italian dressing or lemon or whatever then have a few for lunch/dinner during the week. They can be eaten solo or added to the above couscous, salads, sandwiches, and wraps. The marinade kinda distracts me from the fact there's no cheese involved.

6. Veggie overload meals
Microwave a potato & top with Smart Balance, put some asparagus in the oven (sprinkle with lemon and garlic salt after), fry chopped zucchini/yellow squash/canned diced tomatoes in olive oil & add some chicken boullion & red pepper flakes (can be used solo or on pasta & couscous & rice).

For other ideas, try allrecipes.com and fortheloveofcooking-recipes.blogspot.com (sorry, computer won't let me link for some reason).

1. Philadelphia makes a fat-free cream cheese, which sounds grozz but is actually pretty decent if you're looking to have a whole wheat bagel (or you can use it in place of sour cream on a baked potato). You can make a fast spinach artichoke dip with it that's freakin' awesome.

2. beyond_pink beat me to this: Parmesan in small doses, e.g., lightly sprinkled over steamed veggies, just enough to taste the cheese but not enough to clog the arteries.

OK, now I'm hungry. Signing off to enjoy the salad listed above.
posted by December at 8:59 AM on March 9, 2010

If you like pasta, Smitten Kitchen's Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion is scrumptious, extreeeemely easy to make, and requires no cheese at all to make it taste like falling in love.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:27 AM on March 9, 2010

Oh, and that pasta sauce is also good if you poach an egg in it and then dump the whole thing on... you guessed it.... very toasty whole wheat english muffins
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:33 AM on March 9, 2010

Tons of good suggestions already, so I'll just add that sun-dried tomatoes (I like oil-packed, but dried ones plumped up a bit are good too) will add lots of flavour to sauces and salads in a way that does not at all replicate cheese, but somehow seems to fill the void in that umami kind of way.
posted by nicoleincanada at 10:49 AM on March 9, 2010

And with all the chickpea suggestions already, I should add that pan-frying chickpeas until they're a little golden brown on the outside is SO WORTH the extra few minutes. Makes them eminently more delicious than regular chickpeas, IMHO. Toss them up with some cooked pasta, steamed or sauteed vegetables, chopped, fresh herbs, bit of olive oil and some sundried tomatoes. Mmmm.

I even like cold pan-fried chickpeas, and sometimes keep some in my fridge to throw into salads.
posted by nicoleincanada at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2010

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