Vegetarian Asian Recipes to Impress
February 17, 2016 4:01 PM   Subscribe

What's your favorite flavorful, interesting Asian vegetarian main course?

I have a very cute date coming over to make dinner with me tomorrow! He's vegetarian; I love vegetarian food but have little experience cooking it. I'd like to make something unusual and/or with a lot of flavor and a decent amount of protein, that won't take more than 45 minutes or so of prep. Spicy is good -- recipes or ingredients with an interesting social or geographic history are even better.

I have access to an excellent Asian market, a very large spice cabinet, standard cooking equipment (including a nice wok), and intermediate cooking skills. Side dishes also welcome!

Thanks for a great date in advance, Mefites!
posted by WidgetAlley to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Vegetarian bibimbap! It looks amazing, has a ton of flavors and textures, and is generally pretty easy to prepare. It can include as many proteins and spicy bits as you want.
posted by erst at 4:03 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

You could try cold soba or udon noodles with a topping of grated daikon. Use a kobu-based dipping sauce with finely-sliced green onions.
posted by My Dad at 4:05 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd go Szechuan. I didn't make them, but today for lunch I had dan dan noodles, spicy cucumbers, and scallion pancakes that I, and avowed carnivore, split with a vegan coworker.
posted by supercres at 4:24 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Baked tofu is one of my favorite things to eat. I follow the recipe from Minimalist Baker. It takes a while, but it's very tolerant in terms of timing. Baking it makes it magical.

Instead of chili garlic sauce, we add in sriracha because that's what we have, and we put in extra to make it spicy.

You can stir fry it with any vegetable. Sometimes we shred some cabbage and make it into a slop (with the leftover sauce for the tofu), although that's not the most attractive.

We serve it with rice and a fried egg on top.
posted by ethidda at 4:25 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have not made this but I trust it: Serious Eats' vegan ramen. It seems to be a lot of work, though.

Maybe not quite what you want, but vegetarian sushi is delightful.

I can't find the exact recipe online but Veganomicon has a good Asian-inspired baked tofu which is delicious. It's not traditional, though.

I've also had this page of Korean vegetarian recipes bookmarked forever.

Lots of Asian markets have good meat substitutes (either frozen or dried) so don't limit yourself to strictly vegetarian recipes. If you find a recipe that includes meat the two of you want, there's probably a good meat sub you can use instead.
posted by darksong at 4:33 PM on February 17, 2016

Best answer: Heidi Swanson's deconstructed sushi bowl tastes great and looks lovely, and you'll find many variations on that theme elsewhere.
posted by holgate at 4:34 PM on February 17, 2016

Serious vegetarian ramen is way more than 45 minutes work. It's hours.

Jack Bishop's Ricotta herb gnocchi is great.

Madhur Jaffrey's vegetarian tagine takes more than 45 minutes to cook, but the work load is low, lots less than 45 minutes.

Anna Jones
gentle brown rice pilaf is super easy, adaptable, and yummy.

Good luck!
posted by smoke at 4:53 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We've been vegetarian for 20+ years, and my best recommendation for a date is to make hand-made ramen (hand-made noodles in addition to hand-made broth and toppings) and then watch Tampopo. Making the ramen isn't quick and easy, but it's a really fun project and the results can be pretty spectacular. And who doesn't love ramen?

Here's the thing about making ramen: it won't taste right unless you alkalinize the noodles. Use this recipe. You can make the broth with kombu, daikon, leeks, mushrooms, soy sauce, all kinds of traditional stuff, plus I like to throw in a yeast-extract bullion like "Not Chick'n". Toppings: fried tofu, scallions, various Japanese mushrooms, omelette strips, sprouts, sesame seeds...

Sides: edamame in the shell with big salt flakes, seaweed snacks... mochi ice cream for dessert? Mmmmmm.
posted by Cygnet at 5:12 PM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another option in the Szechuan vein is this "Bear Paw Tofu" from Andrea Nguyen. Comes together quickly and is quite delicious. Obviously sub veggie broth for chicken, and I also like to add some stir fried cabbage and/or mushrooms.

I would maybe un-recommend the scallion pancakes mentioned upthread...I've tried to make them twice now and ended up with an awful doughy mass both times.
posted by gueneverey at 5:18 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This recipe for Hot and Sour Ramen from Cook's Illustrated is a repeat player in our house. It is fast, spicy, and absolutely delicious, even if you use dried ramen from a package. It's even better if you can get your hands on frozen Sun Ramen noodles to use instead. I know it sounds "semi-homemade" or some such, but it is really tasty and basically foolproof, making it ideal for a date with limited time to cook.

For something more involved, you cannot go wrong with the Serious Eats recipes linked above (though I have made several and 45 minutes may be cutting it a bit close, depending on your knifework).
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 5:26 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Vegetarian mapo tofu served over rice.
posted by praiseb at 6:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

And Szechuan Green Beans go great with mapo tofu.
posted by praiseb at 6:24 PM on February 17, 2016

Wood Ear mushrooms are delicious. My mom just doctored this recipe with basil pesto and pine nuts, and it was so bizarrely tasty.
posted by yueliang at 6:57 PM on February 17, 2016

The good news is that a lot of Asian food is easily adaptable into vegetarian versions — at least partly due to the prevalence of Buddhist temple cuisine.

Mangchi is pretty good for Korean stuff, and folks have given some good Szechuan recommendations.

You can also knock out a lot of Thai food pretty quickly — a lot of their best-known dishes are just pan-fried noodles (pad), and a green curry is pretty easy to knock out. With both Korean and Thai food, a fish-sauce substitute should be used, usually a mushroom sauce, so that you get the fermented umami flavors that would otherwise be missing.
posted by klangklangston at 7:47 PM on February 17, 2016

Best answer: Buddha's Delight would serve your requirements well, and right now is relatively close to Chinese New Year so it's not that out of season to serve.

Korean Spicy Braised Tofu might also work. That and Buddha's Delight would make a good meal, although it wouldn't be a purely Chinese or Korean meal.

For Asian recipes, cooking methods, and general cooking advice I go to mmm-yoso. I have met the author in real life. He knows what he's talking about. Specific recommendations:


Chinese-Style Spicy Eggplant - leave out the dried shrimp

Spicy Steamed Eggplant - alternate eggplant method

Dry-Fried String Beans - leave out the dried shrimp, possibly replace with TVP. In Cantonese this is called "Sai Gwai Dou" which means "Four Season Beans"

Sichuan Cold Noodles - no adjustments needed to be vegan. Might be good to add cooked tofu for protein, and tofu would absorb the sauce nicely.


Okonomiyaki - contains egg, leave out the meaty fillings. I've heard the Emperor of Japan likes okonomiyaki, although I have no corroboration to that.
posted by zompus at 8:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm really obsessed with

- yaki onigiri pan-fried in a little sesame oil (ok, a lot) or glazed in miso butter

- the veggie mandoo i buy at my local korean mart - whatever textured vegetable protein gyoza/potsticker/dumpling/mandoo your mart sells is fine - served with this dumpling sauce
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:23 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sesame peanut noodles
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:27 PM on February 17, 2016

It's quite simple, but never underestimate the deliciousness of freshly made pan-fried tofu!

Get a block of extra-firm tofu
Cut into bite size pieces
Sprinkle with salt to help draw out the moisture
Press between two very flat plates and put something heavy on top
Leave for an hour or so, using a paper towel to sop up any extra water
Get a pan nice and hot, add sesame oil
Pan-fry in a layer at a time until golden (about 7-8 minutes) while moving every so often to keep them from sticking, flip and do the other side

Make a simple dipping sauce- I usually do soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, a little bit of chili oil, and scallions

Eat hot and enjoy!
posted by raw sugar at 10:29 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Go here and choose the tofu dessert you'd like best. This one for example seems vegetarian but uses honey, so not vegan. The vegetarian/ vegan/ special diets category is here.
posted by sukeban at 4:02 AM on February 18, 2016

Vegetarian Mulligatawny Soup is good, warm and filling. I had great results with the linked to recipe and it calls for topping it with toasted nuts which help amp up the protein content.
posted by mmascolino at 7:53 AM on February 18, 2016

Make homemade seitan (wheat meat) and do a stir fry. Or tofu is good too. Here's a recipe that tastes kind of like yummy junky american chinese food, if you like that sort of thing... From Isa Does It, an excellent vegan cookbook.
posted by mgogol at 8:00 AM on February 18, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! We went with vegetarian bibimbap and it was awesome! So was the date-- awesome enough, in fact, that I suspect I'll have several more opportunities to try some more of the recipes and suggestions posted here, all of which look totally delicious. Thanks so much!
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:30 AM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

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