Vegetarian recipes that don't use meat substitutes.
October 9, 2017 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I hate "fake meat" products. Give me your ideas for great meals that don't rely on those products.

My teenage son has decided he wants to eat less meat, which is great. I do most of the cooking around the house, and I'm up for the challenge, but the one thing I don't want to do is cook my regular fare with so-called fake meat. For example, I make a killer Bolognese, but it just doesn't work with "veggie crumbles" for me. So I would like to expand my repertoire by learning about vegetarian dishes that don't try to replicate a well know meat dish, but still are nutritious, tasty, AND fun to cook.

(I guess he's technically a pescatarian, because he'll still eat fish, eggs, and cheese, as well as tofu, saitan and the like. No nuts though.)
posted by monospace to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
My favourite vegetarian dishes are channa masala, and these chili garlic tofu bowls. Oh, and peanut noodles with tofu, too.
posted by quaking fajita at 10:49 AM on October 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Kenji don't do fake meat and he has tons of great recipes.
posted by ftm at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

Quiche is always a good choice. It has lots of protein in the form of eggs and cheese, and is endlessly variable depending on what veggies and cheeses you have available. Jenn Segal's spinach and gruyere quiche recipe is a good starting point. You can make it crustless if you like, as long as you butter the pan well. If you want a lower fat version, I often make the filling out of 1.25 cups eggs (or eggbeaters) and evaporated skim milk. Bake it at 425 for about 18 minutes, then turn the oven down to 300 for the remaining 35 minutes.

Here's another favorite:

Cheese Spinach Pie

1 pkg (10-oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed pretty dry
1 ctn (16-oz) small curd cottage cheese (low-fat is okay, but I'd avoid fat-free)
3 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded
3 T flour
2 T dried minced onion
1/2 t garlic powder

Mix all ingredients together, turn into a buttered 8x8 pan, and bake 1.25 hours at 325. (The leftovers are especially good, reheated or cold.)
posted by DrGail at 10:59 AM on October 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I eat a ton of vegetarian Indian food, which is heavy on lentils and chickpeas.

Get these cookbooks:

Mango & Mint
The Vegetarian Epicure

and just try stuff out - these are all really solid and not into the faux meats.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:01 AM on October 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

quaking fajita linked to the Budget Bytes blog - she has a lot of great stir fries and her recipes tend to be pretty simple and straight-forward. And even if they have meat, you can easily sub in shrimp or tofu. Stir fries in general are great for vegetarian eating because they don't need meat.

If you're used to making bolognese, what about pasta with a tomato sauce that is full of veggies? I like to sautee diced onions, peppers, and zucchini or mushrooms (or both!), add tomato sauce (or canned diced tomatoes if you like it chunkier) and minced garlic, along with any good herbs or leafy greens you have lying around, and serve that over pasta. If you are missing the satiety aspect of the beef, you could add some of those little fresh mozzarella balls or use cheese ravioli or tortellini.

Do you guys like eggs? Omelets were a dinner staple in my house when I was a kid, and they definitely don't need meat.

Indian cuisine is great in general. So many dishes where meat never even enters into it.
posted by lunasol at 11:02 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a pretty boss bolognese too but I also love when I just sub in a bunch of mushrooms instead of ground beef. If you do sausage and such it might not be enough oomph.

The Korean groceries near me sell little tins of Thai curry pastes that we use with coconut milk to make easy curries. You can do tofu or just all veggies. I like to throw in potatoes, tomato, canned stir fry veggies, water chestnut, green beans, carrots, and onions (or any combination of the above, though we generally do chicken too).

Chili is another go to that has great flavor without having to rely on meat. You can go super fancy and rehydrate and purée dried peppers with lots of beans and veggies, or you can stick with beans plus spice blends.
posted by brilliantine at 11:07 AM on October 9, 2017

Vegetarian chili with lentils and beans is super satisfying and doesn't need meat substitues. I also recommend checking out the blogs Cookie and Kate and Joanne Eats Well with Others for lots of easy vegetarian recipes.
posted by neushoorn at 11:08 AM on October 9, 2017

Previously, many without fake meat, although there are mentions of it.
Previously. Lots of vegetarian recipes in this one, although the ask was not specifically vegetarian.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:09 AM on October 9, 2017

Speaking of Cookie and Kate, I really love her soups! Curried butternut squash and curried cauliflower soup are both hits with my family, and I am not a huge fan of cauliflower normally.
posted by Viola at 11:14 AM on October 9, 2017

Ooooh! This! Butternut Squash Chipotle Chili. I made it last week and it was amazing. I just went to the store to get a few things to make it again. It's SO good!
posted by the webmistress at 11:20 AM on October 9, 2017

Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero is my favorite cookbook, and most of its recipes fit the bill for you.
posted by Gymnopedist at 11:21 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Winter Lentil Soup is still my all-time favorite soup ever. I'm salivating just thinking about it, it is so tasty.
posted by jillithd at 11:23 AM on October 9, 2017

For anything that has loose ground meat like meat sauce or even quickie curries, I just dice (ish) some sturdier vegetables that won't disintegrate - mushrooms, sweet pepper, onion, broccoli stems, green beans, lentils. I also use brussels sprouts a lot in simmered stuff, because they can handle it and eventually take on almost a meatball firmness. I use green beans and portobello mushroom slices (also sometimes zucchini sticks, and if I've been grilling I often grill extra eggplant) to replace chicken in casserole-y or saucy-chicken-type dishes.

For things that just feel like they'll seem too underwhelming minus the meat, I have steamer bags of frozen vegetables - cauliflower, my workhorse green beans again - to just be there and take up more space.

I forget about tofu all the time, but it's super quick to pan fry in just a little oil, in slices to get some good browning, and slide into the sauce at the end.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:23 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All great suggestions. One thing I'll mention as a vegetarian and parent of three vegetarians is to encourage your teenager to do some cooking himself. There's something especially satisfying about trying new ways of eating when you're the one doing the cooking. My adult son loved working on his veggie chili recipe and it's a big point of pride he's mastered this.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:27 AM on October 9, 2017 [9 favorites]

Coming in to disrec Thug Kitchen; not because of the recipes, but because it's a trash heap of a book by a pair of yuppie White folk talking 'gangsta' to look cool.

I'm on mobile, apologies for the lack of links.

Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry is amazing and by an actual Black person.

Seconding Budget Bytes and Cookie and Kate; Smitten Kitchen also has good vegetarian if you feel like challenging yourself one weekend.

I also like Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, and Madhur Jaffrey's Beginner's Guide to Vegetarian Indian, also her Curry Easy Vegetarian.

I was... less than impressed by Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, but I do like his asparagus pesto - just be sure to add more garlic!

Clotilde Dusoulier writes a really cool food blog, chocolateandzucchini, and both her cookbooks are vegetable-heavy and filled with absolutely delicious recipes.

I might come back and add more if I think of them, but as someone who grew up vegetarian, look at 'ethnic' cuisines - Indian (especially South Indian), Middle Eastern, even South East Asian, they don't depend as much on the protein + carb + veg formula and should give you some ideas.
posted by Tamanna at 11:29 AM on October 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

Oh, and an ingredient suggestion: Butler Soy Curls. They're made from whole soybeans, so they're kind of like another versatile tempeh/tofu ingredient. I usually get them off Amazon because their brick and mortar availability seems to be limited mostly to the Pacific Northwest.
posted by Gymnopedist at 11:30 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

My husband, a Georgia boy, swears by The Grit Cookbook (Amazon link, no affiliate) from the Grit restaurant in Athens, GA. It includes vegetarian and vegan recipes for lots of southern comfort staples and variations thereon. Golden Bowl is one of our favorites: vegetables, tofu, and rice with a nutritional yeast gravy (the recipes for the gravy and the tofu are available in the "Look Inside" feature. Just add roasted veggies and rice.).

We're neither vegetarian nor vegan, but we do enjoy meatless meals on a regular basis, and most of them come from this cookbook. Also, it has the best chocolate cake recipe ever, which is vegan and the only chocolate cake recipe we use.
posted by malthusan at 11:30 AM on October 9, 2017

Make risotto with vegetable stock. When it's ready, stir in a chopped block of tallegio cheese, and serve with steamed asparagus and grated parmesan on top.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:39 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tofu is a great food that is shamed by how badly it is often prepared. It is finicky to make, primarily because it is sold in a water-logged state. [Omitted: hundreds of words about why this leads to bad results and how the methods below solve the problem.]

Let me give you my two tofu hacks. These are the quickest workarounds for the classic tofu pitfalls.

1. Baked tofu.

Take a pound of tofu, gently squeeze out some water (you don't need to eliminate it). Cut in half. Dress lightly with salt, soy sauce, whatever.

In an oven at 350-400 (depends on your oven and desired results), bake for 1 hour, turning once.

Et voila!

You should get tofu blocks that are flavorful, crispy outside, and almost custard-like within. You can use 'em for all kinds of stuff. If you get it right, it is fine to serve the blocks as "steaks" and cut right into them at the table. You can also chop up and put in whatever dish.

(I believe I learned this from Bittman, but I can't find a good link for his take. Generally check out his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which is a great reference for probably thousands of veggie dishes.)

2. Freeze and thaw tofu before stir-frying.

In-the-know stir-fry recipes will tell you to press the tofu to get rid of the water it comes with. This gives much better results with most cooking methods. The catch is that it's a big pain to do. Really annoying.

The easy way to achieve much the same result is to first freeze the tofu in its packaging, then thaw it out. Then just give a light squeeze before use and most of water runs right out.

Stir-frying with this tofu is totally unlike using it straight out of the package. It will quickly heat through, and the inside will taste like what you want instead of tofu water.
posted by grobstein at 11:42 AM on October 9, 2017 [11 favorites]

I make a sauce for lasagna with aubergine/eggplant instead of meat and my family actually prefers it to the meat version. Also, Parmigiana, try Daniel Gritzers Italian style .
We often have a lentil stew, made with Puy lentils, everyone likes it. I use whatever is in the pantry.
Gratin of cauliflower is delicious, this recipe is similar to the one I use. Make sure not to overcook it.
Just today we had potato pizza: pizza dough, oil on the dough, very thin slices of potato (use a mandolin), salt, rosemary and mozzarella, baked at as high heat as your oven permits, best on a hot pizza stone or cast iron skillet. You can add anchovies or capers for extra interest, but the plain version is delicious. We had a salad of chopped kale and toasted almonds with a garlicky dressing on the side. But you know, so many vegetarian pizza options.
During summer, a Salade Nicoise. There are tons of recipes out there, you want one with potatoes and string beans as the main fillers. My favorite is one at a restaurant where the tuna is fresh and grilled, and just an accent to the plate of delicious veggies.
Couscous with a vegetarian stew; Moroccan stews are easy to make because they are made with big chunks of whatever you have and everything is put in the pot at the same time. Make a sauce with harissa on the side (a bit of the liquid from the stew and a lot of harissa) so everyone can decide on the level of spiciness for themselves.

For inspiration, look at Plenty and Plenty More by Ottolenghi, and The Vegetarian Option by Simon Hopkinson. We also enjoy Indian food, where there are many vegetarian recipes.
These days, I am re-reading a lot of classic cookbooks, like Elizabeth David's, Richard Olney's, The Silver Spoon from Italy, some out of print old Turkish and Middle Eastern books, and there are so many simple and delicious vegetarian main courses! We've gotten used to meat, starch and a side, but it clearly wasn't always like that. (I'm collecting recipes for budget food for my kids and their friends).
posted by mumimor at 11:43 AM on October 9, 2017

You've got a lot of good advice and resources already above, but i'll just chime in to say that I'm a meat-eater and I've made Kenji's vegan bolognese several times, and it's very good.
posted by General Malaise at 11:44 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of Oh She Glows. There's a website and a cookbook. She doesn't use fake meat.

And another thumbs down for Thug Kitchen. Here's Bryant Terry's essay on the problem with the authors' use of what some have called digital blackface. And also, though I swear all the time, I found the constant swearing in the book make it unreadable. I know it's supposed to be funny, but the joke gets old very, very fast.
posted by FencingGal at 11:52 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Australian Women's Weekly Vegetarian Cookbook been using this for years. No meat substitutes. Best cornbread recipe ever.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2017

Tamanna is correct about Thug Kitchen: those guys are jerks and widely regarded poorly in the vegan community.

I will also second Bryant Terry's Afro-Vegan - lots of really creative and delicious food.

Other recommendations:

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

Lorna Sass's Complete Vegetarian Kitchen
posted by bile and syntax at 12:16 PM on October 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Great suggestions above and I'd like to recommend some approaches that help teach improvisational cooking skills.

First up is Kenji's How to make creamy vegetable soup without a recipe. Rather than give you step by step instructions for making a particular soup, he teaches you a framework for building soup based on ingredients and techniques. It is a great way to use up leftovers and rotate out pantry staples.

Speaking of using up leftovers, someone above mentioned quiche and Alton Brown specifically refers to his version as refridgerator pie since it lets you use up all the odds and ends you have.

Lastly, the world's simplest pasta sauce is basically tossing cooked pasta with minced garlic, good olive oil and a good quality hard grated cheese. From this base, you can easily start experimenting with spices or vegetables or poached eggs.

Lastly, speaking of vegetables, back to Kenji for how to to roast fall and winter vegetables. Almost every vegetable tastes better when properly roasted.
posted by mmascolino at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2017

Basically any recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, Vegetarian
posted by czytm at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2017

I am a fan of grain bowls. The basic formula is whole grain + veggies or greens + something more protein-ish + dressing + pizazz. For example, farro + grated carrot + crisp roasted chickpeas + mustard vinaigrette + sunflower seeds. Or a riff on my lunch salad for today, some sort of grain + tomato + smokey chickpeas + bleu cheese/avocado/hardboiled egg + buttermilk ranch. Another favorite is quinoa + roasted sweet potato + black beans + lime vinaigrette + pumpkin seeds. This farro bowl is amazing. Just think of a vegetable preparation or combination you like, add some fat, and put it over a grain!
posted by esoterrica at 12:41 PM on October 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Here are a few of my of my favorite sites: For books, I'm quite fond of The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home (thanks to ryanshepard for recommending it to me all those years ago).
posted by mont the drifter at 12:42 PM on October 9, 2017

For my money, Anna Jones is doing the most exciting modern vegetarian cookery right now. Plenty of recipes on her site, or buy the books. They're amazing.
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:13 PM on October 9, 2017

This lentil bolognese owns.

I like Heidi Swanson’s blog 101 Cookbooks and Deborah Madison’s big orange book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
posted by clavicle at 1:17 PM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Haloumi is utterly delicious when pan fried, grilled or baked and can be served in salads, sandwiches and burgers to great effect.

Root vegetables make a great Japanese curry.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:26 PM on October 9, 2017

Seconding halloumi. My husband is pretty resistant to vegetarian food but the one dish he consistently asks for is halloumi with baked potatoes and ratatouille.

My ratatouille is a roast veg one - I dice peppers, courgettes (zucchini), red onions & sometimes aubergine (eggplant), toss in olive oil, season with oregano, roast for 20 minutes. Meanwhile chop and de-seed lots of tomatoes (ideally beef tomatoes), enough to cover the other vegetables. After the 20 minutes add the tomatoes to the veg along with mushrooms, crushed garlic & fresh basil (you could use dried basil at the start if you don't have fresh). Stir it all together and roast for another 20 minutes.

When the ratatouille & potatoes are nearly done slice halloumi (one 200g block per 2 people), coat the slices in flour & shallow fry over a hot heat until golden brown and crispy.

My other regular pescatarian-suitable dish is tuna with veg & rice. I fry onion plus whatever fry-able veg I have handy - peppers, courgette, mushrooms, aubergine. Add a tin of tuna, stir to heat & microwave some golden vegetable rice, add frozen peas/sweetcorn/steamed green beans (whatever I have handy but aiming for at least 3 different vegetables in the pan in total). Stir to heat through and serve. It's very very quick & easy for weeknight dinner and great for using up spare vegetables.
posted by *becca* at 2:48 AM on October 10, 2017

Check out Mark Bittman’s ”How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.” Loads of recipes that are naturally vegetarian, no fake meat needed.

For example, this lentil recipe with smoked paprika from that cookbook immediately became a favorite in my non-vegetarian household and my non-vegetarian office. Like I’d bring it for lunch and five people would ask me what it was because it smelled so good. I brought it to a holiday pot luck and was forced to share the recipe.

Mainly, vegetarian cooking is about refocusing on beans, grains, veggies, and some veggie proteins like tofu and tempeh. Meals tend not to be built around a central protein. I find that this gives vegetarian cooking a lot of fun variety in flavor, color, and texture.

(I’m not vegetarian, but was for years.)
posted by snowmentality at 4:08 AM on October 10, 2017

If you want to hang on to your Bolognese recipe, try substituting red lentils for the mince. They don't need pre-cooking if the sauce is going to simmer for a while. They must be red lentils, though - other kinds won't fool anyone.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 5:36 AM on October 10, 2017

No Meat Athlete Has a tonne of great recipes. Most don't use a near substitute.
posted by vansly at 9:53 PM on October 10, 2017

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