Simple high-protein calorie-dense vegetarian food!
October 7, 2017 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to eat a lot less meat, for various reasons. (I'm still fine with dairy and eggs.) I'm a runner and weightlifter with a "high motor" sort of metabolism; previous attempts at eating less meat failed because I didn't plan properly and wasn't getting enough calories or protein. I'm also not much of a cook. I'd love your simple, go-to recipes for high-protein, calorie-dense veggie meals (suitable for Sunday meal prep a plus!).

I'm particularly interested in anything that works well as a habit meal for you -- I have no problem eating the same things every day for long periods -- that I could put in place of eating so much chicken. I eat a lot of the basic staples as snacks (nuts, kefir, cottage cheese etc) but I'd love to make more full meals.

I have all the usual kitchen supplies plus an Instant Pot.

Thanks for your help -- I know there's a million recipe examples and suggestions out there but I'm not sure where to begin.
posted by Stevia Agave to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
take 2-3 packages of frozen spinach. thaw and drain (drain it well!) Mix it up with 8-10 beaten eggs, some salt and pepper, nutmeg, thyme and plenty of cheese (crumbled feta is good, and you can add plenty of grated parmesan.) You want plenty of fat as well as protein so go nuts! You can throw cottage cheese in there... heck add as much and whatever kind of cheese you want - cubed gouda or something would probably be delicious.

Bake in a 8x8 or 9x9 pan.

Eat cubes of it as meals and snacks. Keeps well in fridge.

(This is also a nice gluten-free option to have in your back pocket.)

edit: can also do this with finely chopped frozen broccoli.
edit: this is better if you start with some browned onions.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:24 PM on October 7, 2017 [16 favorites]

Chili con veggie, a vegetarian chili with beans and lentils. One or two chipotles in adobo sauce make it even better.
posted by neushoorn at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2017

oh I forgot to say: line the pan with well greased foil or this will stick horribly. with well greased foil it peels right off.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2017

Quinoa and soy are the two plant based complete proteins (they have all the essential amino acids).
My summer staple (but could easily be made year round) is a cold quinoa salad. I usually toast the quinoa in a dry pot before adding the water so it doesn't get soggy once cooked. You can add any veggies or extras you want, but I usually add sautéed asparagus wig onions and garlic, a jar of chopped roasted red bell peppers, a can of chickpeas,grated Parmesan, lemon zest, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and s+p. I also make a southwestern one with sweet potatoes,peppers, black beans, cilantro and lime juice. Add salad greens and you have lunch for a week.
I'm also fond of making frittatas and bringing them with me for lunch or dinner. It's basically the only way to make an omlette ahead of time, and they're incredibly filling. I personally like a green vegetable (leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini) a diced Yukon gold potato and a bit of cheese on top.
Stir fried veggies and tofu (with minced ginger, garlic, sesame oil and tamari or soy sauce) with brown rice or quinoa is always satisfying.
I also make sheppards pies with tempeh (fermented soy with a more crumbly texture perfect for substituting meat). I'll look up a regular sheppards pie recipe, and either dice or crumble the tempeh in a food processor, and proceed with the recipe from there (though adding Worcestershire sauce helps with flavor quite a bit). Veggie chili is a go to in fall, and you can serve it up for breakfast with corn tortillas, fried eggs and avocado as huevos rancheros.
If it's breakfast you're after, I sometimes use precooked quiona or quinoa flakes instead of oats. I'll also add a bit of protein powder in to hot cereal to boost the protein as well.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 1:37 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I actually skipped this cookbook because the recipes were too simple for me, but No Meat Athlete just came out with a new cookbook that looks like what you're looking for. (That link goes to some sample recipes to see if you're interested.)

A good frittata recipe like fingersandtoes listed above will take you a long way. Last week every day for lunch I had a baked sweet potato with half a can of black beans, salsa, kale fried with garlic and cotija cheese on top. Week before was salad for lunch, greens, carrots, chickpeas loaded with quinoa tabbouleh (quinoa, lemon juice, lots and lots of parsley and oil). Veggie chili is really easy to make with quorn crumbles or whatever fake meat crumbles you can find in your store frozen section.
posted by theweasel at 1:42 PM on October 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Peanut noodles for days. This is a simple recipe, but lots of embellishments are possible. Here's one with a longer ingredient list as an example.
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:54 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Quiche made with heavy cream is sublime and definitely meets the 'calorie dense' requirement.

Sunday meal prep friendly: hummus freezes surprisingly well. The "breakfast burrito" idea is not to be overlooked -- I like a sort of 'breakfast taco' (usually eaten as a chopped up mess in a bowl) with a corn tortilla, lots of beans, scrambled egg, chunks of baked potato, marinated zucchini, cheese, sour cream, jalapeños...

Quinoa granola.

For better or worse our kayaking staples here have been the boring easy-to-grab things one can eat on the water (we ate tabouli with sticks once when I forgot to pack cutlery and "easy" got pretty important...): boiled eggs, pieces of cheese, loads of hummus.

(Do not overlook iron -- I went to a dietitian once expecting to hear about too little protein; heard about too little iron. Also, while b12 deficiency issues are more of a vegan's problem, I, lifelong vegetarian, was less than thrilled to find vegetarians have elevated risk levels. Two years after diagnosis I am still in recovery mode and some damage may be permanent, no fun at all. I thought I had a balanced diet {& did wrt b12; my body just crapped out on processing it}.

I eat a lot of cold grain/bean/legume/rice/etc salads; they're easy to make and portable and tasty, and the combos one comes up with usually mean a pretty complete meal in one dish.
posted by kmennie at 2:18 PM on October 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I usually have this Mediterranean Chickpea Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette twice a week for lunch (I make one two-person serving on Sunday and split it into containers for Monday and Tuesday lunch). I would be happy eating it for every weekday lunch. No cooking required. I generally leave out the raw garlic and use half the raw onion, since I'm eating it at work and have a lot of in-person client contact.
posted by lazuli at 2:56 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

1) Roasted red pepper and lentil soup.
I top it with little chunks of asiago cheese.

2) Homemade granola.
I make mine with chia seeds, ground flax seeds, wheat germ, hemp hearts, cashews, or whatever else I can find with lots of fiber. It becomes carb-heavy, but a small serving keeps me full for hours.

3) I meal prep tofu bowls. Press tofu, slice, and pan fry. Add to a grain and some steamed veggies. Top with sauce (peanut sauce: peanut butter mixed with sugar and Thai red curry paste; reduced soy sauce + mirin + sugar; homemade hummus).

4) Vegetarian ghallaba, over yellow rice with some homemade hummus dolloped on the side. Heavenly.

5) Any of the world's kidney bean recipes, whether that's vegan chili (add some ground chipotles in adobo sauce and/or cocoa powder), rajma, or veg red beans and rice. Rajma is also traditionally served with long-grain rice and yogurt.. again, heavenly.

6) Frozen burritos. I have a dozen of these in my freezer. Basically, cook some black beans. Sautee onions, garlic, and typical Mexican-inspired ingredients. Add quinoa, beans, and stock. When cooked, add diced avocados, cilantro, and lime zest and juice. Add a scoop plus cheddar cheese to a tortilla, and wrap. Freeze. They thaw beautifully. Great to grab and go, esp when traveling.

Overall, meal prep is easiest when it's just basic components. Cook up a grain/rice/quinoa. Cook/steam veggies (a few big heads of broccoli work well). Add a protein (tofu, seitan). Beans can work double duty as carb and protein.

I've run my meals through MFP. They don't have a ton of iron, but they do have enough protein. I hope these meals give you the protein content you're looking for!!
posted by aquamvidam at 3:23 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Full-fat Fage Greek yogurt has changed my life: always delicious, tasty, thick, fat & protein rich.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:58 PM on October 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

The simplest way to make calorie-dense vegetarian food is to cook whatever vegetables you feel like and then fry an egg or two in butter and put them on top.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:57 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

My nutritionist says that beans are one of the most nutritionally dense. I usually get "chili beans," which are kidney beans canned in a thin, slightly spicy tomato sauce. Sometimes you can also get them made with black beans. I'll microwave a bowl for a couple minutes then eat (maybe with a spoonful of sour cream) for a small meal.

I also love a chickpea salad with canned chickpeas, cucumber, tomato, red onion, and a tiny bit of crumbled feta cheese, tossed in Newman's Own light vindressing. dressing
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:21 PM on October 7, 2017

Tofu. Get firm tofu. Put it in a pan with oil (optional). Mush it around until it’s hot. Add seasoning, or pasta sauce, or garlic salt, or soy sauce, or hot sauce. Congrats, a tofu scramble.

You can also add shredded cheese or put it with rice.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:43 PM on October 7, 2017

Oh and mix with canned beans and salsa to make huevos rancheros. But honestly I find that beans have too much fiber for me to comfortably eat a ton of calories via beans.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:44 PM on October 7, 2017

Sometimes I make a lentil pilaf-without-rice sort of thing:

-Start with a mix of green and beluga lentils (the beluga lentils are the important part of this recipe because they keep their shape), cooked with frozen spinach in good vegetable stock.
-Then saute that mixture with caramelized onions, garlic, lemon zest, and slices of a cooking apple.
-Serve with a spoonful of hummus stirred in or some crumbled feta to up the calorie count.

(There's no shame in taking an iron supplement, under medical supervision, if you need it. Even if your meals are iron-rich, non-heme iron is harder to absorb, even if you're doing all the right things like pairing it with sources of vitamin C.)
posted by blerghamot at 8:16 PM on October 7, 2017

This might be obvious, but with tofu scramble, I eat about half a pound of tofu if that's my breakfast, even though according to the package that's "three servings." Even with a lot of cabbage and grated carrots added, I need the additional tofu to make it more caloric and have enough protein for me.

Also, (cold) black beluga lentil salad is pretty dense, for while I was making a big batch and eating it every day for breakfast instead of eggs.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:11 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Curried lentils!
posted by miyabo at 8:11 AM on October 8, 2017

You will have to eat some fat to get that many calories, which for vegetarian sources you're looking at oil and mayo, dairy, eggs, avocado, seeds (hemp, chia, sesame), nuts, olives. (Good list of vegan sources here.) You may need to supplement with a vegetarian Omega 3-6-9 product.

One of my favorite clean-the-fridge dishes that doesn't require any specific ingredients except eggs, a little flour, and a shitload of cabbage is a very simplified home version of okonomiyaki (see also their vegan version). (I like the proportions of the Serious Eats version a little better.) Put beans or lentils in for more protein, sneak in an extra egg or two, use up any odds in your vegetable drawer, use up some baked tofu, and if you're eating vegan meat you can use some of that too. Dress with mayo and BBQ sauce or find/order proper Okonomiyaki sauce and Kewpie mayo.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:32 AM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I spent several months this year cooking a couple of times a week for a vegetarian friend with a significantly increased caloric and protein intake, so I have some ideas.

- Tofu is surprisingly good and quite versatile if done right. The trick is to not marinate it but just drain for ca. 20min (sliced, wrapped in a kitchen towel, under a weight), then mix with a little cornstarch and fry on low heat until crispy on the outside. In itself it's neutral tasting but has a nice texture, and can then be served with just about anything, eg. rice, noodles, quinoa, stir-fried veg, and any tasty sauce, my calorie-dense favourite being:

- 5min peanut sauce: whisk together peanut butter and enough water to get a goopy consistency, heat gently in a sauce pan until blended well and creamy (you may need to add water as you go). The basic flavours to add are sweet, sour/tart and salty, and you can use all sorts of ingredients to achieve them (salt/soy sauce, lemon/lime juice/tamarind, sugar/molasses...). I also usually throw in some ground chili, ginger and black pepper, and some people like to add a spoonfull of tomato paste, but these are optional. Enjoy with noodles, rice and e.g. fried tofu / tempeh / TVP / stir-fried vegetables.

- This super easy but tasty tempeh taco recipe. I usually garnish the tacos with some lettuce, avocado and radishes. It's so good even my previously tempeh-hating kids now love it.

- Beans and legumes may take a little time for your gut flora to get used to, so maybe go easy in the beginning. Here's a decent basic lentil dal recipe; I usually enrich it with a good dollop of coconut cream.

- Chickpeas are another good source of vegetarian protein that many people find easier to digest than regular beans. (My own very sporty vegan teenager goes through several bowls of hummus a week.) You can toss chickpeas with oil and any spice blend of your liking, roast them in the oven and fill wraps or tacos with them (garnish with avocados for extra calories).

- If you make your own bean burgers/falafel/other legume patties (lots of recipes around, I don't have a go-to), you can enrich the recipe and make the texture more interesting by adding cashews or sunflower seeds into the blender, which brings me to:

- 100% cashew paste is a neutral tasting ingredient to add into any pureed/mashed/blended recipe to increase the caloric value. I have sometimes even added it in the fruit smoothies for my kids.

- If you bake your own no-knead bread, rolls etc., you can add pure gluten (which simply is wheat protein, and for most people really not unhealthy) into the dough and the result only gets better. Toss in some good scoops of seeds and/or nuts for added calories and nutrients.
posted by sively at 9:13 AM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I never drain or prep tofu for a tofu scramble. IMO it’s not necessary if you’re not much of a cook/foodie. Different people have different feelings about the texture but it’s pretty easy to get a scrambled egg texture.

I do squeeze some water out before I put it in the pan but I do 30 seconds, at most, of squeezing while it’s in the package, kinda like a sponge.

I usually eat 4.5 servings of tofu at one meal, or whatever the generic Whole Foods package size is.

You can buy “super firm” tofu if you think it’s too soggy but don’t want to prep. Sometimes also labeled as “high protein”. It comes vacuum packed instead of in water. There are some flavored versions of it too. Generally these are priced than regular tofu.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:43 AM on October 8, 2017

Spanish-style tortillas have little in common with their Mexican namesakes but fit the bill perfectly.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:24 PM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Delicious Protein Shake, high cal, oats provide fibre, long term carb release.

Frozen Bananas
Spinach (or kale)
25-50g of Protein Powder (I recommend this)
Almond (or sunflower butter)
Cocoa (optional)

in these kind of ratios

Blend in vitamix or blendtec till smooth. Drink!
posted by lalochezia at 9:05 PM on October 8, 2017

As a clarifying question, how many grams of protein do you eat in the average day?

0.8 to 1.0 grams per pound of lean body weight (body weight minus fat weight) is what's held up in research as optimal for recovery if you're working out seriously. (If you're not working out, 0.8g/kg is what they call out.)

Tofu, quinoa, and most other plant sources can get you there, but damn, I'd watch my macronutrient intake pretty closely if I was going that route, or your training is going to fall off a cliff.

Example: a 150lb athlete eating only kidney beans needs about 10 cooked cups a day. If that's tofu, 7.5 cups. Quinoa? 19 cups. The equivalent is a pound of chicken, but yeah, it's kinda gross to plow through that much meat day in, day out.

That said, someone above suggested curried lentils, which freeze super well. If you made them spicy - added some cayenne - you could then top them with unflavored yogurt to cut the heat back and add a bit more depth (and protein) that way.

But looking at this pragmatically? It might be worth adding a decent quality whey protein supplement then eating whatever vegetarian food was most awesome for you, getting both endpoints without having to accomplish relatively high protein with plants, which gets pretty damn limiting if you're setting it up to actually get enough protein.
posted by talldean at 9:14 PM on October 8, 2017

Vegan Fried Seitan. Really good. I could eat it forever. You should be able to get seitan at Whole Foods.
posted by young_simba at 1:26 PM on October 14, 2017

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