Low-effort, bulk vegetarian recipes?
October 29, 2015 10:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for vegetarian recipes, without beans, which scale well relative to the level of effort. By which I mean: when you make potato salad, you can double it, but you're going to spend 2x the time peeling potatoes. That's bad. Chili (unfortunately, has beans) scales well: you don't need to individually wash every single bean, you just chuck in 2x the number of beans. Any recommendations for recipes?

Basically I'm trying to do all the cooking for all meals and peeling 2-3x the number of carrots, or inspecting & cleaning 2-3x the number of brussel sprouts, suck up a lot of my time.
posted by flibbertigibbet to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Why do you need to peel the potatoes for potato salad? Especially with those smaller, redskin potatoes. Delicious.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:07 AM on October 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Because the dominant type of potato grown up here have thick skins, which are unpleasant in the context of a potato salad.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:09 AM on October 29, 2015

Pea risotto with frozen peas?
Miso soup with tofu and rice noodles and some kind of green? I use broccoli or pak choi plus some spring onions - although it does require some prep and you'd have to do more of that, I find it fairly minimal.
Pasta with pesto, cherry tomatoes and spinach.

How are lentils? If you can do lentils then it opens up a whole world of dal. I particularly like sour dals with tamarind. It's not low time but it is generally low effort and they scale up and freeze really well.

If you can buy frozen veg, they are often great for soup. So frozen broccoli with stilton, frozen spinach with lemon and some dairy, frozen carrots with frozen, fresh or pureed coriander, frozen leeks with potato (I actively like skins in that recipe but you may disagree).

Roast butternut squash (don't chop it up, just halve it, remove seeds, smear with butter and roast until golden) then scoop out and add to pan of potatoes boiling in stock. Makes a lot of soup and you can roast several squashes at once. OK, it's more effort than most, but it's delicious.
posted by kadia_a at 10:20 AM on October 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Since it seems your location is somewhat relevant to the options people may suggest for you, can you let us know, roughly speaking, where in the world you are?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:27 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

You'll probably have luck with Indian dishes like saag paneer, which should keep well and scale easily -- the only things it looks like you'd have to chop more of are the garlic and ginger. For a more American perspective, pasta salad is easy to make in bulk and lasts for a while in the fridge. Serious eats has a few good recipes.

Also, you might want to include why you're avoiding beans -- is it because of the taste, texture, or digestive issues? You might get better recommendations if we know to avoid bean products, like tofu, tempeh, etc.
posted by ayerarcturus at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Good, cheap, fast - pick any two. Or one. You are optimizing for fast/low effort, which means you need to sacrifice either "delicious" or "inexpensive".

For expensive with low effort, I'd suggest finding a restaurant you like and having _them_ make something you like. For example, there's a family-friendly Italian restaurant near me, and I'll sometimes have them pack up for me a couple of orders of eggplant parmigiana, but not heat them up; then when it's time for dinner, I can put a portion in the toaster oven (to melt the cheese on top) or the microwave. Alternately, there's an empanada restaurant here that will sell frozen spinach or broccoli empanadas by the dozen; when it's time to eat, I can get a couple of empanadas from the freezer and heat them up. Très expensive, though.

Slightly less expensive, but still expensive, is buying really great ingredients in large quantities and combining them. For example, you can buy fake meat chunks (cubed seitan) -- if it's available to you -- and make a lot of chili out of that. You can also buy a ton of frozen vegetables and some bouillon cubes, put that in a pot with water and some dried pasta, and BOOM soup.

Also - there's a thing called "Quorn roast" in the freezer section of Whole Foods here. I love that thing; I can roast it in the toaster oven, slice it, and then eat from it for a week or more. It's good on sandwiches, or with salad, or with rice, or broccoli - so handy. It's made from mycoprotein, not soy, in case that's an issue (I think it does contain egg).

For not-that-good (or nutritious) with low effort, you can do:

- scrambled tofu (just fork-mash up 1-3 pounds of tofu in a skillet, add some turmeric and salt, cook a while)

- boiled new potatoes with grated cheddar (not nutritious)

- frozen green vegetables

- pasta with sauce

- chili made from TVP, tomatoes, and chili powder
posted by amtho at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

If tofu ok? If so, this butternut squash & tofu stew is great (I leave out the rice). If you can get pre-cut squash (even frozen should be ok) it's barely any work at all. It freezes well, just add the lime and cilantro after defrosting.

These veggie burgers make a huge batch (18 or so burgers) and freeze really well. They don't fall apart and are amenable to all sorts of different spicing choices (they're tasty but pretty basic on their own, so you want either flavor them aggressively or plan on using interesting toppings).
posted by snaw at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

How well do you want things to keep once cooked?

First thoughts:
-Egg-based casseroles (like baking a mix of egg- broccoli - onion - feta) might be something to look at, ditto things like bread puddings.
-You could marinate-then-bake tofu and it'd be good for a couple meals anyway, and doing this with twice as many slabs of tofu isn't much more work.

Also, they make microwave-in-bag frozen veggies which can help if they have them where you are. They're generally pretty good, I find.

Another thing might be to prep batches of ingredients and freeze them, and bring them out to put into different dishes or to just add different prepared/canned flavorings to -- like, chop bags of veggies, and on Monday they go in a stir-fry with soy sauce, and on Tuesday they go in a red curry.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2015

Are eggs OK? I usually make 2 or 3 quiches at a time because it's so easy to just whisk up another half-dozen eggs with some milk and pour them in the crust. You can freeze the ones you don't want to eat right away, either before or after baking them.
posted by belladonna at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2015

mac-n-cheese, lasagne, stuffed pasta, etc. can be made in big trays.
posted by xo at 10:51 AM on October 29, 2015

Basically any vegetable has some prep time, unless you specifically do a short-cut on how you buy that vegetable. I make large-scale versions of favorite recipes all the time, but none of them fit your criteria exactly.
- saag paneer: I chop and cook all the onions and spices for about 12 batches (pounds of greens), and freeze that in pucks. Then I can wash exactly one pound of spinach (or buy prewashed, or buy frozen) and toss it in with a prepped puck. But that's onion-chopping. And washing garden-fresh greens is my least-favorite thing in almost the entire universe, so it's almost never "from scratch".
- brussels spouts, tofu cubes, and gnocci pan-sauteed with sage butter. I thought this is super-easy, because my prep is dumping a bagfull of frozen brussels sprouts in to the pan. But you specifically mention sprouts as being difficult.
- indian cauliflower and potatoes in the crockpot. I usually only do one head of cauliflower and 2-3 potatoes... and yes, chopping 2 heads of cauliflower and 6 potatoes will take twice as long.

As I see it, the time saved with batch cooking isn't in the chopping stage, it's in the cooking (and pot-washing) stages. You get to eat your second helping of potato salad for only the time/effort of peeling extra potatoes, very little extra time spent on boiling water, measuring and mixing dressing ingredients, and washing the pots and pans (which would be double the effort if you did two separate batches).
posted by aimedwander at 10:52 AM on October 29, 2015

What are you using for your main proteins if not beans?
(I assumed you meant no legumes, lentils etc either)

But, bags of frozen vegetables are very low maintenance - bags of frozen spinach, mixed with something from feta/white cheese/sour cream/yoghurt. Same with peas. You can get onions, leek, mushrooms where I am.
I'm not super keen on frozen broccoli, but I found I liked it better when lightly roasted.

Roast vegetables are good. With carrots, just chop the ends off. Boil potatoes then bake them.
posted by Elysum at 10:58 AM on October 29, 2015

Vegetarian chili doesn't have to have beans; you can make it with TVP. (Or is soy out?)

Many of your prep hassles can be sorted with a decent food processor. You can shred up cabbages in no time and easily turn that into soup or cole slaw or bubble and squeak or whatever.

If you don't mind unpeeled potatoes in hot dishes -- I just made a very lazy colcannon with the last of the garden's kale. I dumped a lot of potatoes into a stock pot, washed the potatoes and the kale in the same water, cut the potatoes in half, boiled them, threw the kale in halfway through, drained it, put cream/butter/salt/pepper in and poked at it with a masher until I was satisfied. This turned into a tonne of frozen colcannon pucks.

Soups and stews are very, very easy if you have a food processor and/or pre-cut frozen veg.

If you have a sandwich press, you can run cheeses through the grating attachment on a food processor, slice onions in the food processor, etc, etc, and stuff panini buns and wrap and freeze them, then thaw a bit before pressing/heating.

(I object to the idea that the very simple and tasty "boiled new potatoes with grated cheddar" are notably "not nutritious." That only happens with the very delicious 'French fries topped with unholy amounts of mild cheddar.' Boiled with a reasonable amount of cheese is a reasonable meal.)
posted by kmennie at 11:09 AM on October 29, 2015

Polenta with tomato sauce:

In a large stockpot, heat 4 cups of water for every cup of cornmeal. Whisk the cornmeal in when the water boils. Add approximately 1/2 tsp salt for each cup of cornmeal. Cover and cook on the lowest possible setting for about 45 minutes. Add olive oil and nutritional yeast or butter and cheese or a combination thereof. The cheese melts, so you just need to chop it small enough to be meltable.

Make a tomato sauce by sauteing whatever basics you like - easiest is probably onion. I've done this with one onion, with half an onion, etc. When the onion is ready, add a generous dollop of the kind of tomato paste that comes in a tube and saute it until it darkens slightly. I think if you use one big onion for every 2 cups of polenta you'll be fine. Sweat the onion, add a big can of crushed tomatoes, season to taste using oregano/rosemary/anise/ and some wine or maybe some chili paste.

Greek potatoes: Preheat the oven to 425. Wash your potatoes and chop them into wedges. It's true that this requires more chopping for more potatoes, but it's very basic chopping. No need to peel. For every 9 x 13 panful (or raised edge baking sheet) of potatoes, use 1/2 C liquid and 1/4 C olive oil. Liquid should be composed of water or broth plus tomato paste and lemon juice (and wine if you have it). Add about 1/2 tsp salt per panful. Pour over potato wedges, making sure to coat. Bake for 40 minutes, then turn potatoes using spatula. Bake for another 40 minutes. Add additional liquid if they dry out early in the process. The first time you're doing this, keep an eye on the pans - this is a recipe for which you develop a feel.

I used to make greek miscellaneous things with onion wedges, potatoes, firm tofu slices, maybe some parsnips or either canned gigantes or canned butter beans.
posted by Frowner at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, this serious eats "baked" skillet ziti looks like it would probably scale well.
posted by Frowner at 11:22 AM on October 29, 2015

Came here to suggest veggie burgers, patties, etc., which someone has already helpfully mentioned. There are any number of free recipes online for patties, but the classic NYT veggie burger sounds weird (oat based, full of carrots and cilantro) while being dang tasty and great for freezing. Sometimes I just pull a couple of these out of the freezer, heat and serve with condiments when I'm in a rush. The recipe calls for black beans, but you can substitute, by volume, any wet protein (tofu works great, for instance).

In the vegan circles I run in, people pass around this article about "salad that lasts a week," too. This is basically just taking some time on Sunday to roughly chop a bunch of whatever greens and vegetables you have handy, spinning them pretty dry, storing them in the fridge as a salad base, then pulling out servings as needed and sprucing it up with a dressing, maybe some leftover rice from dinner last night, a few additional fresh herbs or greens. It saves loads of time and gets you over the hump of finding motivation to make a hearty salad in that moment you're hungry. I'm much more likely to eat a salad if there's already a big bowl of chopped romaine and mizuna and carrots and bell peppers in the fridge.

Also, our house always has these staple meals waiting in the fridge or freezer: massive batch of cooked potatoes for any purpose (it's really quick to turn them into mashed potatoes, or a gratin bake, or just finger food with ketchup), and a very large lasagna. I'll make a weekend lasagna, serve half of it for dinner, then cut the remaining half into individual portions that get wrapped in parchment, closed with a rubber band, and stacked in the freezer. My youngest kid's preferred thing to eat after school is re-heated freezer lasagna doused in sriracha.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:34 AM on October 29, 2015

Mac and cheese with added low-effort veggies (such as frozen peas, frozen mixed veg, canned artichokes, frozen spinach, etc.) You can purchase pre-grated cheese to reduce the time even further.

Whole grain salads -- your base is quinoa, barley, etc. then make a basic vinaigrette for a dressing, and add in any add-ins that don't require lots of prep. Some ideas for that are: cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta or goat cheese, arugula, nuts, dried fruits, frozen peas or corn (thawed), and roasted veg (you can buy many pre-chopped and then roast in a big batch. You can also do quick-prep veg here like zucchini cut into thick coins, which goes pretty fast).
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:00 PM on October 29, 2015

I do a big veggie roast once or twice a week. Usually a couple different squashes, an eggplant, and a big bunch of asparagus. I just pre-heat the oven, start prepping veggies in the order they take to cook, and time it so they're all done around the same time. It's maybe 5 minutes of effort and a ton of sides that could easily be turned into full meals. Everything but the asparagus keeps well for a couple days.

I also used to make a bunch of quiches at a time and freeze them for later. If you use premade pie crusts and frozen veggies, the only effort is cracking eggs.

I've also read about mason jar salads that people prep for a week. I'm not quite sure why they couldn't use containers or if the salad greens would really last that long, but it seems pretty easy. Especially if you consider buying those pre-cut veggies at the store: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-pack-the-perfect-salad-in-a-jar-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-192174
posted by galvanized unicorn at 12:09 PM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I love adding curry paste to make things a little bit tastier.

- Panang curry with tofu and peas. Stir fry the curry paste in some oil and add coconut milk, then simmer 1" tofu pieces and (defrosted, previously frozen) peas for 5-10 min in the sauce. I also really like sliced red peppers in it, but it's a lot more work to prep them. Snow peas are also a low prep ingredient.
- Butternut squash soup with curry paste.
- Curry fried rice with (defrosted, previously frozen) peas and carrots. Adding a handful of Thai basil leaves makes it much more flavorful.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:52 PM on October 29, 2015

Are lentils ok? Because dhal scales really well.

Homemade pizza. The base at least.

Spinach and fetta filled pastry things would scale well, if you used frozen spinach.

Mason Jar salads work pretty well. They seal better than other containers, which is I think they are used. I've had week old salad out of them, and it still tasted fresh.
posted by kjs4 at 4:38 PM on October 29, 2015

Perhaps some variant on Spanish rice.
Also Mac and cheese.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:24 PM on October 29, 2015

Fried tempeh & Asian greens with rice. Pesto pasta throwing in broccoli mushrooms & olives before draining. Soba noodles sesame oil Fried tofu with steamed pumpkin & spinach. Those are our quick go to meals. My only other thought is to utilize a food processor more, if you get a good set of blades your food processor can chop bulk veg in seconds, it's too easy.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:00 AM on October 30, 2015

Also spinach leaves, 90s microwave pack of brown/wild rice & a can of drained lentils makes a rad snack !
posted by Under the Sea at 6:07 AM on October 30, 2015

Most Indian dishes (dhal, curries, saags) can be scaled and keep very well. A food processor is definitely your friend for cutting down prep time -- my Cuisinart is the most-used appliance in my kitchen. I have a bunch of recipes from various places that I've tweaked to my liking, PM me if you want me to send them to you :)
posted by ananci at 12:31 PM on October 30, 2015

Broccoli or cauliflower gratin in the crockpot (aka cauliflower cheese).
posted by anaelith at 4:58 AM on November 1, 2015

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