Vegetarian, quintessentially American fare in a very rudimentary kitchen?
July 29, 2010 10:14 PM   Subscribe

I need ideas for vegetarian, quintessentially American fare that can be prepped in a very rudimentary kitchen.

I have a hotel-room kitchen with two electric burners, a microwave, basic pots and pans, and a full fridge. No oven. I'd like to prepare something typically American for my Italian & Romanian friends, with the constraint that it be vegetarian. Simple is better than elaborate. We're in NM, so cuisines other than Southwestern would be preferable.

Help me brainstorm ideas!
posted by Westringia F. to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Mac & cheese meets those criteria.
posted by ripley_ at 10:17 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stovetop mac and cheese! Make the pasta on one burner, and the Mornay sauce on the other. Mornay is very easy -- it's just bechamel with cheese. For a pound (a box) of elbow or bowtie macaroni, I suggest melting three tablespoons of butter and whisking in four tablespoons of flour; let cook over med heat for about thirty seconds, just to take the raw flavor of the flour out of the mixture. Then add 2-1/2 cups of milk (I usually use 2% or skim -- whole milk is too much dairy fat for me). Whisk it in to make sure there are no lumps, then let the milk come up to temperature and start to simmer. Add a pound of shredded cheese. Cheddar and monterey jack is a good combination, but all cheddar works really well too. (If you can, avoid buying pre-shredded cheese; it has anti-caking stuff added to it that dulls the flavor, and makes the sauce do weird things.) Stir until the cheese is melted and the mixture is simmering again. I then like to mix the whole shebang in the macaroni pot and leave it on the heat for another couple of minutes, so the macaroni takes on more cheese flavor. Voila!

If you are a vegetable person, this recipe is excellent with broccoli (just cut it into bite-sized pieces and drop them into the boiling water for two or three minutes, then take it out and let it rest while everything else is cooking), and/or frozen peas added at the very end. Don't defrost them -- just drop them in when you mix the mac with the cheese and stir, and pull the pot off the burner once the peas have defrosted and heated through.
posted by shamash at 10:22 PM on July 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

If breakfast-for-dinner isn't too gross for you (or if real breakfast is an option), you could easily do eggs of any sort, pancakes, or french toast in those conditions.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:25 PM on July 29, 2010

Mashed potatoes, grilled cheese, PB&J, veggie burgers, salad, steamed/sauteed veggies, pasta marinara or primavera, cheese ravioli, stir-fried veggies/tofu, fried rice, tofu pups (vegetarian hot dogs), soup (any kind... vegetable, minestrone, tomato which would be delish with grilled cheese, etc), baked beans (well, simmered beans, in your case), corn on the cob...

Quintessentially American food generally involves meat, so that's why I suggested a few faux meats. Not sure how you feel about that. :)

Mac & cheese is a great suggestion too!!

Have fun!
posted by hansbrough at 10:25 PM on July 29, 2010

Here's a really tasty recipe for chicken-like tofu (not sure if it qualifies as simple, but it's good). You could do a southern meal with that, greens (I'd suggest just steaming some greens and adding some chopped smoke almonds for a bacon-y, yummy flavor), mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, perhaps cornbread cooked in the microwave or purchased cornbread/biscuits...
posted by hansbrough at 10:30 PM on July 29, 2010

S'mores, marshmallows toasted over the stove burners. Tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, only instead of broiling the sandwiches to melted perfection you fry 'em in butter. Pudding pops - make pudding, freeze it in glasses with wooden sticks down the middle, remove 18 hours later and rejoice that you're alive. Popcorn. Popcorn with cheese. Popcorn with paprika and cayenne pepper. Popcorn with anything you can darned well think of, this is the USA, are you trying to restrict our popcorn-y freedom, commie? Eat said popcorn to Roy Rogers films and mid-century monster flicks. Jello. Jello salad. If you have any elderly great-aunts with religious tendencies, ask them for their potluck recipes involving jell-o - I guarantee this will be far more fascinating and disturbing than anything you could find on the interwebs, and probably will involve more canned fruit and corn syrup than you were aware existed in a single dish. Pancakes. Instant coffee with non-dairy creamer. Strawberry-rhubarb cream soup, served chilled. A tray of miniature vegetables lined up for execution around a lake of ranch dressing.

Like hansbrough said, quintessentially American food frequently involves meat; even gelatin isn't vegetarian. And a lot of the vegetarian Americana is baked (at least, if you want to go back past the '80s) or deep fried. So if mid-century and earlier is your thing, you may wish to get a few dishes to go from local restaurants or grocers. Cheese pizza?
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 11:00 PM on July 29, 2010

You should know that although VelveteenBabbitt's suggestions are super American, neither Jell-O nor marshmallows are vegetarian. Please don't serve them to your vegetarian guests. And don't go for the Kosher versions -- those are no more vegetarian than the non-Kosher versions. You can order (delicious) vegan/vegetarian versions from places like Pangea The Vegan Store, but that gets pricey even before you factor in shipping.
posted by shamash at 11:21 PM on July 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Can you find greens of some sort?
Last time I was in NM, I really missed roughage. Sautee them with onion/shallot, in some oil. Not a main, obviously, but you could probably figure out a protein.
Spinach works ok for this, but if you wanted to get Southern, you could go for collards, mustard greens, chard, or even beet greens (which are yummy, btw). Or pan roast turnips, glaze them a little bit (butter, balsamic or brown sugar) and serve those atop their own greens. It's not exactly turnip season, but you might still be able to find them.
posted by Gilbert at 11:30 PM on July 29, 2010

This mock tuna salad recipe is quite good, you could do "tuna" melts on the stovetop.
posted by smalls at 12:12 AM on July 30, 2010

Do American-style blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Bacon is not an option, of course, but perhaps you could do sliced seared portobello mushrooms for the intense salt hit? This blew my mind when I first went to the US. Until then, for me pancakes=crepes.

Also, speaking as a non-American used to interesting flavours and textures, I find mac & cheese disgusting. Your guests may disagree but I always had to be super-polite when offered it as a Great American Food. Give me pancakes any day.
posted by tavegyl at 3:13 AM on July 30, 2010

How about serving an American style picnic?

corn on the cob - boiled on the stove or steamed in the microwave. Veggie burgers (like boca brand) and/or veggie dogs - with all the side fixings. Various side dishes like baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad, coleslaw etc. Serve a veggie plate for an appetizer.

Dessert: apple pie, the previously mentioned jello, fruit salad.

Beverages: iced tea and lemonade.

If there's a park nearby with picnic facilities & grills, you could cook the burgers, dogs and corn there and have a true cook out. Be sure to bring some marshmallows to toast on said grill.
posted by jaimystery at 3:48 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a vegetarian who loves blueberry pancakes and portabello mushrooms, serving them together makes no sense to me. Mushrooms are just mushrooms; they're not a substitute for bacon. In fact, don't worry about trying to find a bacon substitute for vegetarians. If I wanted to eat bacon, I wouldn't be a vegetarian. I don't see what the big deal is about it.

I really like fake vegetarian hot dogs, as lame as that might sound. Of course, provide ketchup, mustard, and relish. Sadly, VelveteenBabbitt is right -- "quintessentially American" mainly means meat. The concept isn't that compatible with excellent vegetarian dining, so you might as well go for the cheap, all-American cliche.

Of all the suggestions, I like jaimystery's picnic idea the best, aside from the Jello.

Let's not let Yahoo Answers beat us with their Jello knowledge!
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:52 AM on July 30, 2010

mac n cheese is perfect. I make it with the cheese soup from campbells, any kind of cheese and 1 can full of milk. You can then add anything you want to the mix like any veggies you want. You want to make it thicker? add heavy cream.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:25 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Possibly this is veering too Southwestern, but it's so good.

1. Make a pot of mac and cheese.
2. Make a pot of vegetarian chili.
3. (Here's where it gets good) Mix.

I like to serve the two separately, so guests can determine what proportion of chili to mac works for them. Serve with a simple green salad for a thoroughly satisfying meal.
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:02 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fakin' bacon is good. I say this as an omnivore who lives with a vegetarian who loves it. We nuke ours, but my vegetarian brother-in-law fries his in a little olive oil. Both are vegetarians of 20 years or so. I think breakfast for dinner is an excellent idea. Other cultures do what Americans consider nonbreakfast foods for breakfast, and nearly every classic American diner I've been to does a "breakfast all day!" thing, so it strikes me as a particularly American thing.
posted by rtha at 6:22 AM on July 30, 2010

What about the sides that go with Thanksgiving: sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie. You don't need to do a "tofurkey" or anything like that - my vegetarian daughter loves a plate of food like this without any meat substitute.

For the sweet potatoes, do a candied version with a brown sugar/butter sauce in the saucepan, not those mini-marshmallows in a baked version. For the stuffing, read the labels for meat/chicken. I think the Pepperidge Farm brand is vegetarian. Look for a packet of gravy mix that doesn't contain meat - some mushroom gravies are like this.
posted by CathyG at 6:23 AM on July 30, 2010

If you're going to do CathyG's Thanksgiving idea, this thread might help you out.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:29 AM on July 30, 2010

Root Beer floats.
posted by geekchic at 6:46 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Southern greens and black-eyed peas!
There are lots of places around the world where beans and rice are staples, but black-eyed peas are very much southeast USA. Rumor has it that human consumption of "field peas" stems from Civil War times. That site also has a nice recipe. Although Hoppin' John is traditional New Year's food, it's a year-round staple.

Similarly, there are many ways to make vegetarian collards in a roughly Southern style.
posted by aimedwander at 6:50 AM on July 30, 2010

posted by kalanchoe at 6:56 AM on July 30, 2010

I want to share a recipe with you that you may or may not consider to be genuinely vegetarian. There are degrees of vegetarianism. Some people apply the rule of not eating anything that has a face. This allows for clams, which have no faces although they are not, strictly speaking, vegetables. You can make a delicious clam chowder very easily, as follows: sautee onions (it won't be delicious without the sauteed onions, although that step is the most labor intensive) then add a can of baby clams, a can of split pea soup, and a can of cream of corn. This can also be done with a can of salmon instead of baby clams although that strays even farther from vegetarianism. If you prefer Manhattan style chowder to New England style, you can use a can of concentrated vegetable soup instead of split peas.
posted by grizzled at 7:02 AM on July 30, 2010

Thinking of the term "American" as "North American," I recommend that you make calabacitas. They're light, seasonal, and you can cook them all up in one pan. What could be more American than squash, corn, and beans?
posted by pickypicky at 7:39 AM on July 30, 2010

Anything with peanut butter. In my experience, most people from Europe have never had it, so it would be a very new experience. PB&J sandwiches would totally be a treat. A grilled PB&Banana would be, as well.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:26 AM on July 30, 2010

Also, since you're in New Mexico, how about doing some lentil or TVP tacos?
posted by deadmessenger at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010

Seconding pickypicky.

Calabacitas con crema is a one-skillet dish that's very American, though not so much Classic US-ian. (Though actually, if you're in New Mexico it might be.)

Anyways, it's easy (especially if you just saute the poblano instead of roasting it over a burner), it's luxurious in a vegetarian way, and it has never ever made it to leftover status in my house. I like Bayless' recipe, in the link.
posted by Andrew Galarneau at 9:22 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hash browns and eggs.

Hash browns. Shredders are cheap, and can be found in grocery stores and thrift stores alike. Canola oil can be bought in the bulk section if you go to an eco-store, or cheaply if you go to a dollar store.

Best American Hash Browns Ever:

Shred potatoes. Squeeze out excess water. Heat pan. Add more canola oil than you think you need. Add shredded potatoes. Shape into a patty. Cover with lid. If no lid is available, another pot, pan, or plate will do. Wait longer than you think you need to wait. Remove lid, flip patty (underside should be golden-brown, and potatoes should be stuck together). Add shredded cheese if you like. Do this now, so it melts properly. Cover with lid again. Let the hash browns finish cooking.

If you're not me, you'll want to also cook up some eggs with onions, greens, peppers, etc. to go with the hash browns. Most folks also enjoy salt, pepper, ketchup and/or a spicy sauce like tobasco.
posted by aniola at 12:17 PM on July 30, 2010

Alternately, you can buy frozen hash browns from the frozen section and just fry those, but it's not actually that much longer to do it the old-fangled way (from real potatoes), and then they don't taste like they're missing something.
posted by aniola at 12:19 PM on July 30, 2010

Jane and Michael Stern's Broccoli Casserole! Found via the Splendid Table. Trashy and weirdly fantastic--you take white bread, the more Wonder-crappy the better, and line a baking dish with it, then take a mixture of sugar, salt, eggs, broccoli, cheese, and milk and pour it over and bake. The sugariness of the white bread you use melds with the sweet egg mixture and forms a sort of sweet eggy custard base the broccoli is suspended in, and the bottom of the bread gets crispy to boot. It sounds like something a '50s diner mother would make (retro sugar toast and those baked triangles of toast and egg come to mind) and surprised me greatly when I made it.
posted by ifjuly at 11:16 AM on August 3, 2010

« Older How does a US senior citizen deal with insurance...   |   What's a job that I can work for a month? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.