Vegetarian Dinner
July 12, 2005 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I want to make dinner for my new girlfriend. She is a vegetarian.

I wen out with a vegetarian a few years ago, and since then my skills in the kitchen have greatly improved. However, I have rarely made any vegetarian entrees and have no ideas of even where to start. Does anyone have some great vegetarian meals to share with me? I am mostly interested in the entree, but great side-dishes are welcome as well.
posted by helvetica to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
lasagne is always good.
posted by luneray at 12:51 PM on July 12, 2005

Lasagne is the vegeterian fallback. The Moosewood cookbooks are awesome. Your local library probably has copies of various versions. Does she like any particular ethnic food? You could build a whole theme around that.

Don't think in terms of substituting meat is the best advice I can give - just find simple, tasty dishes that don't include meat as an ingredient. has a huge selection, but not as huge as
posted by annathea at 12:55 PM on July 12, 2005

Vegetables and tofu stir-fried in vegetable oil and seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. Snow peas especially excellent for this.

There's also all kinds of real tasty vegetarian lasagne and pasta sauces.

And stuffed peppers.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:58 PM on July 12, 2005

posted by bondcliff at 12:59 PM on July 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Tempeh. Marinate it in anything you like & sauté. Much easier to handle than tofu.
posted by omnidrew at 1:03 PM on July 12, 2005

There's all sorts of things you can do with pasta. One of my favorites is a red pepper sauce that's served over pasta and sauteed artichokes.

Also, if you're good with rice, consider risotto. It's just as flexible as pasta and isn't as commonplace as pasta.

Is your GF vegan or vegetarian?
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:04 PM on July 12, 2005

Pasta is good and easy. But too obvious?

What about Indian? I'm partial to Channa Masala.

Or falafel would be awesome. You can find it pre-made at Middle Eastern or veg/organic groceries. Just need to roll it into a ball and fry it up.
posted by rafter at 1:05 PM on July 12, 2005

Another one I really like is dolmas. Cook some rice, sautee it with fresh mint, onions, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil then wrap it tightly by the spoonful in grape leaves so it looks like fat little cat turds. Then boil them all in water with more lemon juice and olive oil till they're soft. Oh man. So tasty.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:06 PM on July 12, 2005

If you're interested in investing in a cookbook, I would thoroughly recommend Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters. She's got a oven-roasted onion and broccoli raab pizza that is one of my favorite things ever.
posted by occhiblu at 1:07 PM on July 12, 2005

Response by poster: Also, its been really hot here in Toronto, so I would like to avoid heavy things like pasta. Thanks for those suggestions though. Maybe something really awesome I can do on the BBQ to avoid staying inside the kitchen. We will probably be eating outside as well.
posted by helvetica at 1:07 PM on July 12, 2005

Response by poster: ursus_comiter; She's vegetarian. She eats dairy, but definately no fish/seafood.
posted by helvetica at 1:09 PM on July 12, 2005

If you've never worked with it before, avoid Tofu recipes. It's really hard to cook "just right", even when you're used to it.

Second Moosewood.
posted by alana at 1:09 PM on July 12, 2005

We have a "produce night" once a week, where we make and share a dinner with the vegetables we get from a farm-to-city program.

Of late, we've been having a dinner of banh trang (rice paper), chopped raw vegetables and slices of tempeh cooked in sesame oil.

Raw stuff include sliced cabbage, broccoli and lettuce, mint, cilantro, basil, carrot and cucumber slices, ground coconut, chopped ginger, crushed peanuts, etc.

Lots of varieties of tempeh, which when cooked takes on a very nutty flavour.

We also have some tempura, soy, hoisin and thai peanut (peanut + chile oil) sauces to add to flavour.

We sometimes add cooked cellophane (rice) noodles for texture. The noodles really soak up sauces and add a lot of "fullness" to the wrap.

To serve: We place a bowl of water in the middle of the table. Each person grabs a sheet of rice paper and soaks it fully for 2-3 seconds, just enough to wet it.

Place the paper on your plate and add fillings from above. Mix and match to your taste! This is the fun part of the meal, since there's always a buzz from the participants about what goes good together.

Wrap the paper over in half, like a half-circle. Fold the left and right edges over the top, then roll the "wrap" down to seal it all together. Enjoy and repeat!

You'll probably go through six to eight wraps each before getting full. This will give you a lot of opportunities to chat with your new gf about the ingredients.

Tip: Make sure to wash the veggies well, first. Also, you can steam sliced red cabbage for a minute or so beforehand, to soften it up a bit.
posted by Rothko at 1:13 PM on July 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Hot days call for chilled soups. Gaspatcho is excellent this time of year. Very easy to make if you have a hand-blender. Complete with a simple, filling three-bean salad. Serve with white wine.

Alternately, corn-on-the cob, zucchini and eggplant on the bbq, coupled with a salad of sliced beefstake tomato, sliced mozzarella (the best you can get, buffalo milk if possible), drizzled with a good olive oil and fresh crushed basil. Serve with a good strong red wine, like a syrah.

Finish either with a berry coulis (berries blended with a bit of superfine sugar) on ice cream.
posted by bonehead at 1:15 PM on July 12, 2005 [2 favorites]

I've made this tortilla soup for both vegetarian and vegan friends. It's from the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, and is excellent. If you need to harm an animal to improve your dining experience, you can do what I do and cook chicken separately and add it in to your bowl. The recipe calls for chicken stock, but you can just substitute an equal amount of vegetable broth or "No Chicken Stock."

posted by sanko at 1:16 PM on July 12, 2005

Response by poster: rafter; Falafel might be a good choice. We both like Middle Eastern/Mediterranean foods. Is it a tricky thing to make from scratch? Any recommended recipes?

Rothko; Also a very good idea.
posted by helvetica at 1:18 PM on July 12, 2005

Recently I've been adding a nice store-bought Thai peanut sauce to my tofu-vegetable dishes. It's rich and flavorful yet feels light. I heat up the sauce (which can also be used as a salad dressing) but it's fine cold too.
posted by PY at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2005

I'm thinking of making butternut squash soup tonight. chop up a few squash, boil em with a little water, maybe some celery or leeks - mostly for color - till the squash falls apart (maybe with some mooshing) and you have a thick stew that tastes cooked. spices are some salt and pepper and a little curry powder, a dash of cheyenne even. maybe I'll make some rice with it, maybe not.
posted by 31d1 at 1:28 PM on July 12, 2005

Here are a bunch of vegetarian recipes, from Einstürzende Neueküchen, which is "a virtual cookbook of recipes contributed by the worldwide society of supporters and fans of Einstürzende Neubauten".

If she doesn't like what you make, just explain that the recipe is experimental and ahead of its time..[via]
posted by rajbot at 1:29 PM on July 12, 2005

A trick to tofu that's worth mentioning is to to freeze and thaw it (most of the way) before cooking. It makes it mad chewy.
posted by 31d1 at 1:31 PM on July 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you've never worked with it before, avoid Tofu recipes. It's really hard to cook "just right", even when you're used to it.

I completely disagree with this statement. Cubed and added at the beginning of any stir fry or saute, you don't even have to think about it. It's a fermented food and it doesn't really even need to be cooked, all you are really doing by throwing it in a dish is giving it flavor.

Anyway, here is a very simple, very good vegetable dish that can work with any pasta or other main course.

Take one head of cauliflower and cut off all the individual florets and chop into manageable size.

Preheat oven to 450.

Put florets in a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil.

Sprinkle florets VERY liberally with cumin, and then add a little paprika, a little salt, and a little ground pepper.

Throw in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the tops of the cauliflower start to brown and you can smell the cumin in the kitchen.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle some lemon juice over the florets and then shave some parmesan cheese on them.

posted by spicynuts at 1:34 PM on July 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Risotto, risotto,risotto--easy, though it takes time, wonderful texture and always seems a bit special--find a generic recipe and add vegetables of your preference and for color--recommend roasted red peppers, asparagus, green peas, etc--you must follow the directions as the method of stirring and adding liquid is important--all you need is Arborio Rice, olive oil, scallions or garlic or both, canned chicken stock, white wine, parmesan cheese and vegetables of choice--remember, you do not cook your vegetables in the rice, you add them at the end--serve with good crusty bread and be admired
posted by rmhsinc at 1:34 PM on July 12, 2005

I like bean gaspatchos for hot days... pasta can also be surprisingly light if you treat it correctly. Half the women I've dated have been vegetarian...
posted by SpecialK at 1:36 PM on July 12, 2005

canned chicken stock

posted by rajbot at 1:39 PM on July 12, 2005

rmhsinc: just a reminder, we're looking for vegetarian recipes here (so canned chicken stock won't work). But you can obviously substitute a vegetable stock and get good results. You're right--risotto's a great way to go!

on preview--you beat me to it!
posted by handful of rain at 1:40 PM on July 12, 2005

Vegetarian Paella is always good and you can cook it on the BBQ. There are plenty of vegetarian paella recipies online.

The great thing about paella is that it will probably be a nice surprise. Stay away from pasta, it is the universal default vegetarian dishes.
posted by necessitas at 1:43 PM on July 12, 2005

If you want to use a barbecue, you could cook up some portabello mushrooms and serve them like hamburgers. Simple, but tasty. Matched up with some of bonehead's fixin's above, I'm jonesin for some 'bello burgers myself now.

Guacamole could be a great appetizer and is pretty easy to make, as long as you buy your avocados a few days ahead of time so they can ripen.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:44 PM on July 12, 2005

Good Vegan recipes here.

Doubly impress the new girl by not serving pasta. I'm a total omnivore, but I have several vegetarian friends, and they all complain that the "vegetarian option" at a restaurant is the pasta dish. Don't be the guy who relies on the fall-back. Be the guy who actually understands vegetarian food.

Rothko's idea is a good one. I'm a fan of the dish as well (and it's extremely versatile), and it's got the bonus of being "social", in that you put it together as you eat it, which makes the meal extra fun.
posted by mkultra at 1:54 PM on July 12, 2005

One of my favorite summer meals is quiche with an amazing salad (or even just a salad as a meal - though I understand that if you are trying to impress, you may want something more!).

You can never go wrong with a salad that incorporates
1) a green (I like spinach and/or field greens),
2) a fruit (apples, pears, mandarin oranges, or dried cranberries are my faves),
3) a nut (toasted pine nuts are by far the best in my book, followed by sugared pecans, sliced almonds, or even just sunflower seeds),
4) fresh cheese (fresh mozzarella or goat cheese - mmm!), and
5) a healthy dose of vegetables (I love beets, hearts of palm, chilled grilled/marinated onions, and grilled portabella mushrooms).

Here's a great and easy quiche recipe:


½ stick margarine
1 c. chopped onion
4 c. thinly sliced zucchini
¼ tsp. basil
¼ tsp. Oregano
¼ tsp. Garlic powder
¼ tsp. Salt
¼ tsp. Pepper
2 eggs, well beaten 2 cups grated mozzarella 1 (8 oz.) pkg. refrigerated crescent rolls 2 tsp. Grey Poupon Dijon-style mustard

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease 10-inch deep dish pie pan with cooking spray.

Sauté onion and zucchini in margarine for about 10 minutes. Add all seasonings. Mix cheese with eggs. Blend well. Add vegetable mixture. Press crescent dough into prepared pie plate. Brush with mustard. Add Zucchini mixture.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

I also second the recommendation to allrecipes.

Another cuisine (Italian is always easy) that lends itself nicely to vegetarian entrees is Mexican ... I love onion/spinach/mushroom enchiladas or veggie fajitas, and rice and beans are great vegetarian sides with lots of possible variations.

Finally, you could do something akin to the vegetable plate that chefs will often prepare upon request at upscale restaurants when there are no vegetarian options on the menu. It's usually a big plate of amazing vegetables -- it might include something like garlic/rosemary mashed potatoes, broiled tomatoes topped with bread crumbs, steamed broccoli, grilled asparagus (brush with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan and salt/pepper), grilled or sauteed mushrooms, tender-crisp sugar snap peas in butter, and/or cooked baby carrots (mmm with parsley, butter, garlic, and a little lemon!).
posted by roundrock at 1:56 PM on July 12, 2005

My humble apologies to those vegetarians out there--yes, you can use vegetable stock--I frequently fix risotto for friends--my vegetarian friends are patient with me and both eat it--try and find good canned/boxed vegetable stock--the dry cubes can be quite pungent and not as tasty--if you have to use dried cubes--use sparingly--I would say no more than 1/2 the liquid--plain water with a little extra wine can be used to meet the liquid requirement--Thanks for the heads up--I am a vegetarian (sort of)-- if the meat is invisible I pretend it is not there
posted by rmhsinc at 2:02 PM on July 12, 2005

Goddamn, this is making me hungry.
Ok. First off, I've been a vegetarian my whole life. There's a lot that you can eat. A LOT. So, what does your girlfriend like?
For me, the three big entreé groups fall into Mexican, Italian and Asian. Mediteranian would be a close fourth.
You don't want pasta? That's cool, though I can make a mean-ass pasta (and pasta salad is fine in the hot times). But here's a great Italian dish, that's like ravioli without the pasta. Serve with a dry white wine.
Or Mexican? Well, you should know how to cook up some pinto beans, right? Rinse, drain, season with cumin, onions, etc.? Then chop up some tomatoes and lettuce, alone with some avacado. Mmm. Fry up a couple of tortillas and you've got tacos, or whatever. You can make some spanish rice too, if you want.
For asian food, I'm a bit of a thai fiend, but there's plenty of sushis, stir-fries or chinese sauces that you can whip up. Fried tofu skin (look for it at asian groceries in the frozen section) is fantastic and takes flavor really well.
If you like Thai food, think about making a curry. You can do those with tofu (and whoever said tofu is hard to use is a liar), and they take about 45 minutes. Paenang curry is my favorite, though Massoman is nice for a little indian/thai fusion.
Speaking of indian food, whip up some Bangan Bhurta. It's pretty good. With all ethnic food, the recipes are kinda a loose guide. I don't really measure spices, and instead go with what I know tastes good. You'll usually want more spices than what the recipe tells you, since most recipes are blanded down for Westerners.
But man, really, this is the best season to be a vegetarian. Go down to the grocery store, look for veggies that look fresh and tasty, and go to town. I'm making Chiles Relleños tonight, stuffed with goat cheese, serranos and figs, which I'll serve with a cold beer and a side of guacamole.
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 PM on July 12, 2005

VegWeb. Enough said.
posted by purephase at 2:15 PM on July 12, 2005

Here's a nice one-two punch that should go well. Maybe a little starch-heavy, but meh.

First up, stuffed tomatoes. Easy to make. Take some bread (fresh or bought, not stale), cut off the crusts, stick in a food processor and make bread crumbs. Mix in some chopped basil, oregano, and parsley. Now, take some tomatoes, preferably on the vine, but whatever - just so long as they're fresh. Cut 'em in half, scoop out the seeds and goo - you just want the shell of the tomato, including the interior walls. Stuff with the bread crumb mixture, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, bake at 300 for about 15 minutes. Pull 'em out, sprinkle freshly grated cheese of some sort (griere is good), put back in for one more minute. Try to serve hot-ish.

Then, fried potatoes. Take potatoes, decide whether you want 'em with or without skin. If you want 'em with, cut out the eyes and scrub them. If you don't want skins, just peel and cut out the eyes. Then, cut into smallish chunks. Sautee in a one part butter/one part oil mixture with spices, until soft and tasty. I'd recommend some cayenne and some rosemary, those combine really well, but potatoes accept any seasoning. You want these to be flavorful and a little spicy, to work well with the richness of the tomatoes. Also serve hot.

Maybe add a salad, if you want a less carb-heavy meal. But this should be quite tasty.
posted by kafziel at 2:27 PM on July 12, 2005

The vegetarian option at my brother's backyard BBQ/wedding a few weeks ago was quite yummy. And I can vouch for it being a nice meal to partake of during sweltering hot Toronto (or Brampton, as the case was) weather.

He chopped up tofu into cubes, marinated in garlic, soy sauce, and olive oil overnight, and then put it on skewers with onion, grape tomatoes, and peppers.

Then just throw it on the BBQ for a few minutes, turn it at least once, and you have a delicious meal.

If you don't have metal skewers you an buy cheap disposable bamboo ones at the grocery store, but you should soak them in water for at least 10 minutes before putting the food on them.
posted by sanitycheck at 3:36 PM on July 12, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, so many great posts. My imagination is running wild now. I know that there are great veggie options out there, just needed to get things started. Thanks so much.
posted by helvetica at 3:42 PM on July 12, 2005

I've never made falafel from scratch, but it doesn't sound too hard. The frying part (if you buy the "mix" ready-to-go) is quite easy.
posted by rafter at 4:38 PM on July 12, 2005

I'm a meat eater, but I have had some incredible portabella mushroom dishes. My favourite was a grilled portabella mushroom basted with olive oil on a bun, with a nice salad on the side.

Another one was portabella mushroom cooked in a puff pastry, with a mushroom gravy over it.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:48 PM on July 12, 2005

Asparagus. It only takes a few minutes to cook in boiling water. Dress with some lemon juice and olive oil. The killer is to top it with toasted breadcrumbs (crumbled up fresh bread mixed with butter, toasted in the oven).
posted by tellurian at 5:49 PM on July 12, 2005

A little late to the party here, but for my money the best vegetarian cookbook author out there is Jeanne Lemlin. The sadly out-of-print Vegetarian Pleasures is the best vegetarian cookbook I've ever seen, and has some truly impressive main dishes (Black Bean & Cream Cheese Enchiladas; Vegetable Korma; Polenta Puttanesca.) Alternately, her Vegetarian Classics is almost as good.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:38 PM on July 12, 2005

Here's the best portobello dish that's out there:

grilled portobello mushroom sandwhich with goat cheese and roasted red pepper

marinate a few portobello mushrooms in a mix of oil, balsamic vinegar, some salt, a bit of sugar, garkic, and pepper

grill/roat a red pepper. when it's done, grill the mushrooms, cap side down, for about 6 or 7 minutes, until they're cooked through.

while the mushrooms are cooking, take the red pepper into the kitchen and seed/peel it. set it aside.

when the mushrooms are done, brush some olive oil onto a some nice sandwhich sized bread - ciabatta is especially good. grill these for a minute or so, until lightly browned.

spread some soft goat cheese on the bread, top with a mushrooms and some of the roasted pepper.
posted by skwm at 7:33 PM on July 12, 2005

Quiche made out of Bisquick, zuchinni, and squash is to die for, though probably more of a snack food.
posted by itchie at 7:53 PM on July 12, 2005

Falafel from scratch is pretty easy, but (as a 14 year vegetarian) I would recommend what I used to call my "cjick dish" in my single days: Spinach Ricotta Pie. The crust is incredible easy to make, and can be used for almost any type of pie. Go ahead and use the optional sour cream on top - not the most diet-friendly (though you can use light versions of the ingredients), but oh so decadent and tasty.
posted by tr33hggr at 7:10 AM on July 13, 2005

"chick dish." Sorry.
posted by tr33hggr at 7:12 AM on July 13, 2005

kafziel, I tried out your stuffed tomatoes and potatoes tonight. The potatoes (with Paul Prudhomme black steak seasoning, thyme, and table salt) were great. The tomatoes a bit bland and dry. Do you normally put an egg or anything in that mixture? Or when you say drizzle do you mean pour? I know it's hard to do eyeball-recipes on the web, but wanted to put the note up for any future readers...
posted by whatzit at 4:46 PM on November 29, 2005

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