cheap, high protein, vegetarian recipes
August 24, 2010 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Help me with some cheap, high protein, vegetarian recipes that can be eaten cold while I'm cramming for exams and don't have time to go home for dinner...

I have a pretty hectic period of my life coming up, and for around 6-7 weeks I'll be holed up in the library from about 8:30am until 7:30pm in the evening, and then I have work until 9:30pm at night...last year when this happened I lived off sugary cereals, energy drinks and overpriced sandwiches and cookies from the cafes on campus, then for dinner I would grab a helping of the overpriced bland mall indian that is on campus - I put on heaps of weight then though, and it was an expensive way to eat.
This year I have less money and more work to do, and I'd like recommendations for food I should take in my bag to get me through the day - I want more protein in my diet and less sugar, saturated fat and carbs.
I have time to do cooking for the week on sundays so if the recipes involve much cooking keep in mind that they'll need to keep in the fridge for a couple of days and be tasty cold.
People have suggested I make salads with a simple dressing that consist mainly of chickpeas, beans, or quinoa - this sounds good as it is affordable, can be eaten cold and will be filling so a couple of decent helpings should get me through the day (along with snacks of nuts and fruit)...
Any recipes featuring these ingredients would be appreciated, and any other ideas would be welcomed - I'm not a picky eater apart from hating meat.
Fellow vegetarians, what would you eat in my situation?
posted by sartre08 to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 167 users marked this as a favorite
How about PBJs on whole wheat bread? It's not full of bad carbs, and the protein in the nuts will do you well. Plus, the fiber in the bread will help you stay full, and they'll make you thirsty, so you'll drink a lot of water which is good.

Also, they are vegetarian and you can make one or two in a hurry.
posted by elder18 at 3:08 PM on August 24, 2010

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa from epicurious is an easy recipe that can be made ahead of time in big batches and eaten over a week or 5 days or so. I always warmed it up, but it seems like the sort of thing that can be eaten cold.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 3:11 PM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Make a protein shake with oats, skim milk, and whey powder. It's filling, portable, and easy to make. The oats are good complex carbs and the milk and whey powder has lots of protein. You can add fruit and peanut butter if you like.

Cottage cheese or greek yogurt are also good options.
posted by JohnMarston at 3:14 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding nut butters and fruit on whole grain bread . . . I'd also add:
- hummus (you can add roasted peppers, herbs and other flavorings to keep it interesting) with veggies on bread or pita
- pasta salads made with cubed tofu, cheese or beans
- yogurt with fruit and granola (freeze the fruit and the yogurt will stay cool)
- homemade granola bars (this recipe is yummy)
- salads made of veggies that don't wilt (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, olives, etc).
posted by annaramma at 3:17 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was vegetarian and biking about a lot, I used to make myself batches of Singin' Hinnies (I didn't use lard in mine - I used vegetable shortening). I would replace about half of the flour called for with protein powder of one sort or another (I liked to use soy protein powder with spirulina, 'cause it turned them green), and try out different dried fruits (apricot was my favorite). These are small, high-protein snacks that you can chuck in a sack and pull out again when needs be - easy to make, easy to carry, good at taking the edge off. Not a full meal, no, but a good stop-gap.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:18 PM on August 24, 2010

Smash up some of those chickpeas and make hummus - easy to carry with you, tons of mixins you could add. I suggest here as a starting place.

Also, hard boiled eggs are a good snack for in between meals. Cook them all at once and you'll have enough for the entire week!
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 3:19 PM on August 24, 2010

Oh, you can also have readymade burritos or wraps in the fridge or freezer. Any combination of eggs, cheese, tofu, rice, beans, veggies (shredded carrots, spinach, squash, etc) and salsa would be good for a meal or snack.
posted by annaramma at 3:20 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bean salads are indeed awesome. Here is one idea: chickpeas or black beans, edamame, diced tomatoes, corn bits, diced bell pepper, and cilantro. Roughly equal amounts of everything except for the cilantro. Add squirts of lime (or lemon) juice, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, plus salt, until it tastes good. Plenty of protein from the beans and edamame, not too much work to prepare, and you can make a big batch and eat it for days. It's also very customizable to your vegetable preferences.
posted by mandanza at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

People have suggested I make salads with a simple dressing that consist mainly of chickpeas, beans, or quinoa - this sounds good as it is affordable, can be eaten cold and will be filling so a couple of decent helpings should get me through the day

That is almost exactly what I've been eating while on deadline for the past couple of weeks. It's tasty and can be eaten as breakfast, lunch or dinner without getting sick of it, and it lasts in the fridge for a few days (not longer, because I hoover the stuff up.)
[YourNameHere] Chow, serves one indefinitely

Ingredients and portions are approximate and can be adjusted as you like:

Nearly fill the largest bowl you have with sliced or shredded veggies you actually like to eat (nothing you force yourself to eat). My choices are usually:

- shredded carrots (a food processor makes this ridiculously easy, but a grater, vegetable peeler or mandolin will do)
- sliced green onion
- a large portion of baby spinach, sliced
- thinly sliced sweet pepper
- flavour nuggets: chopped fresh tomatoes; tiny broccoli florets (the stems can be shredded and mixed with the carrots)
- fresh herbs! I love cilantro or parsley in this

(Got some garlic? Sure, go for it. It doesn't sound as if you'll be socializing much.)

Really, add anything you like: eggplant, zucchini, cooked green peas, whatever.

2. Add 2 cups of cooked beans and 2 cups of cooked grains. Black beans and quinoa are my favourites.

NOTE: This may not be as high in protein as you like, so you might reduce the veggies to about half the bowl and use 3 cups beans and 3 cups of grains.

If you like tofu a lot, throw in some tofu. If you are ambivalent, avoid it.

3. To taste, add several tablespoons of good oil, like extra virgin olive oil.

4. Squeeze in some lime or lemon juice, fresh or bottled.

5. Add salt, pepper and herbs or spices to taste. I've used cumin and a little hot paprika.
For a little more protein and as alternative to the chow, I hard boil a couple of eggs, add maybe a tablespoon of real mayo, cube and/or mash up, and add chopped tomatoes, green onion and lots more spinach.
posted by maudlin at 3:23 PM on August 24, 2010 [94 favorites]

If you want something really fast, I love baked beans, hot or cold, and there are some tasty canned vegetarian options. LCart along some whole wheat flatbread or tortillas and you are good to go. I'd also pack a tossed salad just to have something green too.

Also, cheese sandwiches on whole wheat or other high fiber bread made with lots of crunchy veggies stuffed inside are great, filling, and fast.

Do you, like some of us think cold pizza is a tasty thing? That, with a salad, is another great and portable option.
posted by bearwife at 3:43 PM on August 24, 2010

Can't link atm, but I believe it's orangette's blog that has a much-lauded very easy and flavorful chickpea salad.

Also lentils and veggies, cooked, tossed with goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette.
posted by purenitrous at 3:49 PM on August 24, 2010

I actually had a nightmare last night about what will I eat all day once school starts, so thanks for asking this.

My go-to for years has been a thinly sliced apple and soy nut butter on whole grain bread.
posted by dzaz at 4:05 PM on August 24, 2010

I made this brown rice salad recently, using fresh cut up green beans (blanched for one minute in boiling water, then chilled in ice water) in place of the snow peas. I also threw in some diced cucumber. No peanut oil, but I used rice vinegar, a splash of sesame oil, and some soy sauce for the dressing. Think I put some chopped garlic and the green onion in the dressing, maybe a pinch of sugar.

It lasted a long time in the fridge. You could also stuff it into a pita pocket. One day for breakfast, I stir fried some of it and added a scrambled egg.

Save some chopped veggies, like the red bell pepper, for dipping into hummus.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:16 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well this not exactly carb-less, but I swear by an edamame and soba noodle salad. Add whatever veggies you like - I like cucumbers, radish, red peppers, broccoli etc. (anything crunchy really), season with cilantro, sesame oil, a little vinegar, salt and pepper. Mixes up fast the night before and holds up well even if not refridgerated.
posted by elendil71 at 4:19 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess this is sort of a bean salad, but I use it like salsa (but with Fritos instead of tortilla chips most of the time). It can also be eaten by itself, and it's actually better after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days. Plus, you just do the proportions to your taste, so the recipe can use whatever is cheap or whatever you have on hand.

1-2 cans drained and rinsed black beans
1-2 cans of corn (I like 2 cans of corn and 1 can of beans, but you might like it with a different proportion)
1 red bell pepper chopped into small pieces
maybe a half an onion or one bunch of green onions chopped
a bunch of cilantro
juice of 1 small lime
seasonings to taste (I put about a teaspoon or teaspoon and a half of cajun seasoning mix on mine to spice it up and add a bit of salt, but you could probably also use chili powder or paprika or whatever you want)

Add bits of spicier peppers if you want it hotter (a fresh serano or jalapeno or whatever), mix it up well, put it in the fridge, and eat as necessary!
posted by BlooPen at 4:26 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Marinated frozen tofu as either a snack or as part of a dish.

Buy firm or extra firm tofu. Throw in the freezer for at least 48h. Thaw. Drain excess water. Make marinade of your choice, insert tofu. That's it! I keep meaning to throw it into a salad or something, but it is soo good it never makes it that far.
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:48 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Crustless spinach quiche. This is the secret to my superpowers, I swear.

Here's the recipe I started with (which is delicious, but a little too delicious):

2 Tbs. butter to swirl in preheated pan
3 eggs
1 cup flour
1/3 cup dry milk powder mixed with ½ cup water
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp of baking powder
dash if cayenne pepper
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese - grated
3 pkgs. chopped spinach – thawed but not drained

Preheat oven to 350º. Place a 9x13 pan to preheat the pan. Just before you are ready to pour the mixture in the pan swirl the pan with the 2 tbs. of butter.

Beat eggs, and then add flour, milk, seasonings and baking powder. Add the grated cheese and thawed spinach with the spinach water. Pour into the hot pan.

Bake at 350º for about 35 – 40 minutes until the whole top is lightly browned and slightly puffed. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes to allow it to set.

I added 3 egg whites to this, halved the cheese, exchanged some of it for feta instead, and upped the spinach. I think I cut down on the flour, as well. It's a hugely flexible recipe. I'll add soy sausage, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, whatever veggies I have languishing in the's pretty forgiving.

To make it even easier to portion out, skip the hot-butter-in-the-pan thing and use a muffin tin. So awesome. Good warm, cold, room-temperature, and it freezes beautifully.

Vegetarian chili would do well, too, and it's hard to get cheaper than beans.
posted by punchtothehead at 4:49 PM on August 24, 2010 [30 favorites]

You want couscous!

Essentially, you'd put a certain amount of couscous in your tupperware, add boiling water and leave it to settle/absorb the water (it expands). Takes a couple of minutes. Whilst it's absorbing the water, you can chop vegetables up to add in.

Pro-tip: chop up a vegetable stock cube and chuck it in before the water, and then give the mix a really good stir once you've added the water. Instant extra flavour.

(I sometimes use chicken stock instead, but I see you asked for vegetarian - thought I'd mention it for posterity/other readers).

You can add salad instead of veg, and chuck in some balsamic vinegar for a bit more flavour.

I also used to chop up cheese and add it.

It's a really healthy dish, so far as I can make out, and I believe it to be pretty high in protein.

Couscous is stupidly quick and easy, and has been my go-to lunch for about six months now.
posted by djgh at 5:17 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I learned this recipe as "Mock Tuna", but it doesn't really taste like tuna...
Mash canned garbanzo beans with mayonnaise, minced onions and celery, and sweet or dill pickle relish. Serve with whole wheat bread or crackers.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cheese-filled tortellini with pesto, olives and parmesan. Add pine nuts for a bit more protein/pennies.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 5:49 PM on August 24, 2010

Just read this in the most recent Trader Joe's fearless flyer-PB and G where G is grapes, which are a substitute for jelly!
posted by cynicalidealist at 6:07 PM on August 24, 2010

This is Smitten Kitchen's recipe for chana masala - it's inexpensive, filling, and tasty when cold. (I realize the initial purchase of Indian spices can be expensive, but once you have them, they last a really long time and the other staples, like chickpeas or lentils or whatever, are extremely cheap.)

Chana Masala
Adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, which was adapted over here because much to my frustration, I own two Madhur Jaffrey books and this is in neither

This is an intensely spiced bright orange chana masala with a sourish bite that reminded of us the best restaurant versions we’ve tasted. I’m thrilled to finally have a good recipe for it at home.

The major changes I made were simplifying the addition of spices, adding more tomatoes and oh, the recipe calls for a tablespoon of amchoor powder, which I did not have. I looked it up and learned that it was dried unripe mango powder (which sounds so delicious to me, I’m buying it next time I go to Kalustyan’s, who also sells it online), which is clearly a sour flavor, so I upped the lemon juice i used instead. The dish had a nice sour snap at the end, so I will presume this is a good swap.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I used a quarter of this because my cayenne is extremely hot)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon amchoor powder (see note)
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, chopped small or 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon (juiced) (see note; I used a whole lemon to swap for the amchoor powder)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, amchoor (if using it), paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spiced for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice.

Eat up or put a lid on it and reheat it when needed. Curries such as this reheat very well, later or or in the days that follow, should it last that long.
posted by leedly at 6:58 PM on August 24, 2010 [10 favorites]

I've been liking lentils lately ... very cheap and good for you! This recipe is pretty similar to how I generally make them, though I would replace a lot of that vinegar with lemon juice, and feel free to add more veggies, tomatoes are especially good. French lentils are tastier I think, and hold up better in a cold salad.

I also concur with elendil71's suggestion of soba and edamame salad, though I like mine with a peanut sauce (peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, tahini if you have it, and some spicy sauce, mixed to taste).
posted by LeeLanded at 8:22 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, lentils. Get some Glico curry paste, a bag of orange or red lentils, an onion, some garlic, and fresh ginger. Fry chopped onion in oil until translucent and then add a half dozen pressed cloves of garlic and a couple tablespoons of pressed ginger. Add 3.5 cups of water (the Glico directions will suggest 2 cups but that is for meat, for 1c red/orange lentils you need 3.5 cups of water). Add 1c red/orange lentils. You can add other vegatables at this point if you want (like potato, broccoli, carrot, etc.) but I prefer to leave it bare and make salad. Cook about 30 min and then serve over rice. Makes enough for at least five meals and freezes well. Red/orange lentils don't need to be soaked and cook fast.
posted by sockpup at 8:49 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by unliteral at 11:59 PM on August 24, 2010

Here are a few of my favorite bean salads (at my blog). I like to add in a grain (bulgur, quinoa, whole wheat couscous) for chew and to make them more filling. For the first two salads below, you can leave the lettuce out and combine it with the other ingredients at the last minute to have it keep better.

Radish, Cucumber, Onion & Chickpea Salad with a Lemon-Parsley Dressing
Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing
Carrot-Beet Salad with a Leek-Lemon Vinaigrette
Asparagus & Edamame Salad with Green Garlic
posted by jocelmeow at 11:32 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

On the curried lentil front, I promise that it's still good (and still relatively cheap) if you're too busy to do anything more than sautee some curry powder in oil and add a can of lentils, rather than use dried ones. Also good hot with rice, rather than as a salad.

On the rice front, I find that if I'm home for at least an hour, it's good to be in the habit of making a pot of brown rice to have on hand. It takes no time to prepare, but a long time to cook, so knowing I have cooked rice in the fridge when I'm dinner-hungry means I'm more inclined to make my own meal rather than cave and go for takeout.
posted by nicoleincanada at 3:27 PM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: thanks everyone! I want to try pretty much everything on this page, so many good ideas...
last night I made a salad with soya beans, black beans (I got lots of these cheap in the frozen section at the asian supermarket). chopped spinach and tomato, corn bits, and quinoa, with lemon juice, olive oil, chopped garlic and cajun seasoning as the dressing and it was great, really filling.
posted by sartre08 at 4:08 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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