Farewell, meat and fish, hello vegetables!
July 8, 2010 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Going to be vegetarian by necessity soon. Teach me cheap and amazing recipes!

I've read the archives (lots of useful info!) so hopefully you don't mind a possible retread on familiar territory; I'm moving in three months and will be on a very, very, very shoestring budget. I'm used to living with someone who loathes most vegetables and loves meat-- I'll be on my own this time and I know I'll be limiting meat to the occasional treat or to use in very small amounts for flavoring. I'm using this opportunity as an excuse to improve my diet and get healthier too, so obviously packaged ramen or mac and cheese diets are not what I'm looking for at this stage in my life.

The good news- I like most all vegetables (although avocados aren't really my thing, and I'm still getting the hang of squash and some root vegetables-- haven't tried beets or turnips yet, for example)-- but I'm open to trying anything really. I have a rice cooker and a crockpot, and I'm going to buy a pressure cooker so I can cook beans better, as I suspect beans and rice may be a big staple. But apart from my recent education about the wonders of roasted veggies (oh my god so good!) I'm still a novice at vegetarian cooking. But I'm dying to know what kind of inexpensive and healthy meals I can learn to make the most of this change in diet. Are there specific processes or seasonings that totally change the way you think about X? Definitely interested in ethnic cooking (I especially love Indian and Asian cooking, but open to anything so long as it's mayonnaise free) and peasant cuisine from around the world/aka, simple and delicious foods. Meat isn't totally off the table, but if you know of any kind of recipe that uses it as a flavoring agent, that's more of what I'm interested in.

posted by actionpact to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
I highly recommend the VegWeb website. Great search engine, great user reviews point you to the better recipes and comments teach you how to tweak it a bit.
Best of luck!
posted by willmize at 11:57 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Picky Cook. One of my favorite cooking websites, period.
posted by bibliogrrl at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2010

Nice soup, and real simple

Sweet potatoes -- 45%
Carrots -- 45%
Beets -- 10%

Cut the vegetables up (I leave the skins on, don't want to lose those nutrients, but the restaurant I ate the soup in does peel the vegetables) and cook them till they're soft, put them in a blender and turn it on, put water in to whatever consistency you like. It's good without seasoning -- sortof sweet even, but subtle -- but I like to put some pepper in it. I'd guess you could add about anything you want to it; myself, I've just put in some corn, not every time but sometimes.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2010

I'd strongly recommend getting a copy of Mark Bittman's "How to cook everything vegetarian". It's great because the recipes are simple. His beans-and-greens recipe in particular is a staple for me (and cheap, cheap, cheap to make).

It also has a lot of great info on how to cook dry beans, which is pretty key.
posted by bitterpants at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not specifically about cheap recipes, but don't miss this thread.

Buying a cookbook might not seem frugal, but if you get Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for $25 on Amazon, it will quickly pay for itself if it keeps you from going to restaurants just a few times. A lot of her recipes are very simple, and you'll have a better hits-to-misses ratio than if you just use the internet.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:09 PM on July 8, 2010

Seconding the Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian love. It's my cooking bible. A few of my favorites are the beer-glazed black beans, the veggie burger recipe, and baked eggs. It's also a great resource for figuring out how to prepare just about any fruit or veggie, and for instructions on basics that you may not have done before, like cooking dried beans.
posted by soleiluna at 12:09 PM on July 8, 2010

Almost every vegetable tastes good after being oiled, salted, and roasted.

I like to throw a bunch on top of couscous (cheap in bulk if you look in the right places) and throw some sort of flavorful liquid or yogurt on top. Gets better after sitting, too.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 12:11 PM on July 8, 2010

One of my all-time fav go-to comfort meals is this rice and beans recipe - sublime, healthy, satisfying, and inexpensive. I add some olive oil to it, because fat makes things taste betterer. I also eliminate the liquid smoke because......liquid smoke.
posted by iconomy at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2010

More on cookbooks: I spent more than a year cooking a lot of vegetarian meals out of Deborah Madison, and later turned to Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, and Bittman is a lot lot lot better. The recipes are more reliable, simpler, and healthier, and much more likely to be a source of further inspiration.
posted by willbaude at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

BEST BOOK EVER: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison.

I have been a veghead for 10 years (holy crap, just realized how long it'd been), and that's the greatest book I've ever come across. My mother-in-law (who has been veggie for about 13 years) recommended it to me. It has everything from recipes to instructions on how to cook/prepare certain veggies.

Good luck, and glad to have you on our team!
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite simple recipes when I was vegetarian was tons of garlic sauteed in olive oil til it just turns brown, tossed with cooked spaghetti. Sometimes I also added black pepper and/or parmesan cheese. Unbelievably cheap and filling, and you can pair it with just about any vegetable dish for a complete meal.
posted by vorfeed at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2010

Welcome to (mostly) vegetarianism! Some of my favorite thrifty meat-free meals:

- Breakfast burritos: I eat them anytime, and like to fill them with sauteed onions and garlic, spreadable cheese, and scrambled or over-easy eggs
- Veggie chili: Hella cheap to make if everything is canned, and it lasts for days and days. This is my go-to recipe.
- Zucchini/summer squash sandwiches: This is probably my favorite summer meal. I'll take a zucchini or yellow squash and cut it into thin, wide strips lengthwise and cook the strips. I like them on the grill, but they'd be just as delicious roasted. Then you pile them on a sandwich and snarf. Go excellent with hobo packets (sliced potatos and onions and garlic, topped with a tbsp of butter, plenty of salt and pepper, and sealed up into an envelope of foil and put on the grill while the rest of the food cooks)
posted by scarykarrey at 12:33 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stir-fry is my staple. It consists for 3 parts: A protein, veggies, and a base to serve it on. You'll also want to flavor the stir fry and the base, ideas about that near the end.

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Vegetarian meat substitutes
  • TVP (textured vegetable protein) or other high protein substance
You can marinate or not. I usually don't plan ahead far enough for this. Generally I heat a frying pan at around 80% power with some olive oil. Fry it up until it's browning a bit then add the vegetables.

Vegetables: Usually I use frozen stir fry veggies. You can also use fresh vegetables, or combine the two. Frozen vegetables + some fresh onion or tomato is nice.

  • Brown rice
  • White/basmati rice
  • Pasta
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa or other cooked grain.
You generally want to flavor the protein/veggies and base in complimentary ways. One example is lots of hot sauce/spices on the stir-fry, and then some peanut butter/milk/ginger in the base to make a mild creamy sauce that balances the heat of the stir-fry. A bit of seasoned rice vinegar on the base is also good.
posted by Vulpyne at 12:56 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are absolutely right about non-Western/'peasant' foods. The thing that got me cooking vegetarian at home 99% of the time was the tiny booklet of Indian recipes that came with my pressure cooker (Hawkins brand).

Making channa pindi from that book changed my whole attitude toward lentils, legumes, et al because the technique was somewhat strange and not what I thought of when I thought of curries, and the result was something new and tasty. Now I can make channa masala, dal mahkni, and aloo gobi that aren't quite as perfect as the best Indian restaurant in town, but still pretty good. Keep your spice drawer stocked with cumin, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, chilis, clove, bay leaves, and garam masala, and you can churn out most dishes in 30 minutes with the pressure cooker. Try to find a specialty/Asian grocer to buy the spices, because if you buy them at a major chain grocery you will pay too much for poor quality spices.

I also like vahchef's Youtube channel for watching the techniques.

Thai food is not as classically vegetarian as Indian food, but mastering that may also open a repertoire of techniques and base ingredients to you that can easily be veganized (because they do have quite a few veg Buddhists in Thailand and you can almost always swap the chicken in something out for tofu). The key is to pick a cuisine you find interesting with a rich heritage from a non-Western country, get the spices and basic techniques down, and you can churn out cheap interesting veg food without too much difficulty.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chop then sautee an onion. Add it to a blender/food processor. Add to it a can of broth, salt/pepper, a pinch of cardamom (this is key) and half a cup of rolled oats. Then add a bag of defrosted frozen peas.
Blend until creamy.

Heat this now-lukewarm soup over stove top until hot.

Best. Pea soup. Ever. And super cheap-- I think that other than the cardamom, you can get everything from the 99 cent store.
posted by np312 at 1:40 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

My favourite vegetarian shepherd's pie... total comfort food! It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it's actually an easy, "throw it all in a pot" kind of recipe

3 good sized potatoes + butter, milk, salt, pepper... however you like 'em mashed
1/2 cup dried lentils
1/4 cup pearl barley
2 medium sized carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 carton (900 ml) vegetable broth (sometimes I need a bit more)
1/4 - 1/2 cup white wine
1/2 - 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables (I use those pea, corn, carrot, green bean mixes)
~1 tsp dried sage
1 tbsp cornstarch + a bit of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and carrots for a couple of minutes. Add the wine, let it cook for another minute, then toss in the lentils, barley, broth, nutritional yeast, garlic, sage, salt and pepper. Cover that baby and let 'er cook while you check out what's happening on MeFi, but stir it occasionally. When it's mostly cooked (the lentils will take 45 minutes to an hour), add the frozen vegetables. Once they've heated through, add the cornstarch mixture. Again, add as much as you want to get your preferred texture. Turn the burner to low until the potatoes are ready.

Cook the potatoes, mash them according to your preference. Put the lentil mixture in a 9x9" pan, top it with the potatoes and some cheese if you like, and put it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown. Voila!
posted by torisaur at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might try the meat lite section of Serious Eats. I especially like this lentil sausage ragout.
posted by ephemerista at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2010

FWIW depending on where you'll be living, you may not find vegetables to be massively cheaper than meat. The stuff that's lightest on your budget tends to be rice/pasta/carbs which is not a great way to eat, as you recognise.

We eat both meat and vegetarian meals but when we're about to run out of money, "roasted chicken" is actually our go-to budget meal. We roast the chicken with mushrooms and onions and eat the breasts for dinner on night #1. Then we put the chicken and veg in a pot and add two carrots and some stock cubes, simmer it, pick it, and blend it. We get soup on night #2, and then we add rice to it for soup on night #3.

That's for two people and that makes a lot of soup - maybe eight large bowls. It freezes so its a really stretchable meal.

If you don't want to eat meat, I think Three-Bean Chilli is nice and also a good multi-meal budget stretcher. For curry, we're fans of chickpea curry.

In the next few months, if you can keep an eye out at thrift stores and with friends for 2nd hand kitchen equipment you may not have - a blender, a crock pot, a rice cooker, a vegetable steamer - your future kitchen and its budget will thank you.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:27 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Post Punk Kitchen is great; it has a ton of good recipes. Check out any of the books published by PPK founder Isa Moskowitz as well.
posted by monkey.pie.baker at 2:38 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, I go through phases with food, like a 3 year-old. Meaning I get on a kick and stay on it for awhile and then I move on. Right now I am on a spinach smoothie kick. I have been eating a spinach smoothie for dinner almost every night for a month. No one ever wants me to make them one, because it does not sound appetizing, but I assure you, it is healthy and fresh and amazing and it might change your life. There is not really one set recipe--I change it up a little every day--but, for instance, this is what it is in the one I am drinking right now:

A few scoops of plain nonfat yogurt
A few heaping hands-full of raw spinach
A handful of frozen mango chunks
A handful of frozen pineapple chunks
A handful of frozen peach slices
A banana
About 1/2 cup 2% milk
5 ice cubes

Then you blend it. I promise that it does not taste like spinach. Yes, it is green (don't put red fruits in unless you want a tan-grey-beige weird-looking smoothie). It tastes sweet and fruity and the spinach just gives it this extra freshness and it's very healthy. Keep it to about 40% spinach and 60% other things and you will be fine.
posted by millipede at 3:05 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I make this kinda Mexican-inspired wrap thingy. You might like it. You might hate it! But it's adaptable if nothing else.

I get a wrap/burrito/tortilla/whatever bendy thing I have in the pantry. I smear it with a layer of cream cheese, top that with a thick layer of refried beans, add garlic or finely chopped red onion or herbs of choice or grated zucchini or capsicum/peppers or... you get the idea. Anything goes, really.

I roll them up, put 2 side-by-side in a loaf tin, slop some salsa over the top, toss some grated cheese over that, whack it in the oven for, oh, I dunno, maybe 20 minutes-ish. It cuts into thick slices beautifully.

I serve it with salad. (And also with most of the contents of a tub of sour cream.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:50 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like Jane Brody's lentil soup recipe.
posted by drmarcj at 4:57 PM on July 8, 2010

Fajitas. Onion, coupla bell peppers, fajita seasoning, sautee all together. Then add tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, sour cream...you won't even miss the meat.
posted by shopefowler at 7:02 PM on July 8, 2010

I looked everywhere for what I personally thought of a good vegetarian burrito/taco/enchilada filling. I found this Black bean and plantain recipe at Vegetarian Times. I substitute the hot sauce and Goya adobo for 2-3 tbsp of the adobo sauce from this pork in adobo recipe. I do add way more cinnamon, allspice and vinegar so it's almost a weird ketchup and tastes more like that chipotle en adobo stuff. The adobo recipe makes a ton, so freeze it for later.

We don't do soy as I'm allergic, but it seems when I see it in the grocery store that the fake meat stuff costs almost as much as real. Ethnic is the way to go.

I like this black bean and rice recipe too.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:15 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drain and rinse a can of black beans & a can of corn. Chop up a few tomatoes. Add lime juice and minced cilantro. You now have a delicious base. You can eat this as a salad as is, pour it on lettuce and add cheese to make a sort of southwestern salad, use as salsa with chips, or heat it up and use it in a burrito with some rice. Possible additions include avocado, red peppers, ground pepper, etc. Experiment!
posted by studioaudience at 10:29 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm glad you like Indian food, as there are some really great vego meals they do, it really adds variety.

Something I've picked up from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is how to cook barley - it's cheap, as nutritious as any other grain, and with a little bit of butter and parsley is a great partner for roasted vegies, eggs, curries, and so on. It just makes a nice change from rice all the time. And it adds bulk to any mixed-vegetable soups you try, like minestrone.
posted by harriet vane at 11:51 PM on July 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for all the suggestions! I'll have to check out both those cookbooks-- I'd heard about them a while back but needed that reminder! I'm looking forward to my forays into cooking vegetarian!
posted by actionpact at 11:33 AM on July 9, 2010

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