Super-fast vegan dinner ideas - UK edition
November 16, 2017 1:30 AM   Subscribe

What kid-friendly vegan meals take less than 20 minutes to cook?

A couple of nights a week my daughter has activities and doesn’t get home with my husband until right at dinner time. Until then, I’m wrangling a baby and cooking is near impossible. Usually we meal plan and cook from scratch most nights, but on activity nights, that’s been taking us dangerously close to bedtime/6-year-old meltdown time. What vegan meals can we make that’ll be on the table in 20 minutes, chopping and cooking included?


- Daughter has a peanut and tree nut allergy. We do have a peanut butter alternative in the house, though.

- She’s also VERRRRY fussy about spicy food, though we seem to have got her up to “tolerating korma” level.

- The baby mostly eats what we’re having, so we need to keep the salt content low (which seems to rule out a lot of jarred sauces etc). When cooking from scratch, I've been cooking without salt and then adding it where necessary after dishing her food up.

- We’re in the UK, so alas, we don’t have easy/affordable access to tempeh, corn tortillas, fancy squashes or my beloved Trader Joe’s.

- Our house, and thus our fridge and freezer, are all tiny, so there’s little space (or indeed time) for bulk prepping.

- I tried a playpen for the baby once to try and get cooking done. All I learned was that it’s hard to cook with a sobbing, hiccuping, hysterical baby.

- The baby also still wakes up about six to seven times a night, god help me, so straightforward meals that reduce the risk of me chopping my fingers off would be great.

Save us from the horror of endless houmous salad wraps!
posted by cardinalandcrow to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Baked beans on toast.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:46 AM on November 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

Do you have a slow cooker? Would it be feasible to throw a bunch of stuff in the slow cooker in the morning, or whenever kidlet is down for a nap, and just let it hang out there until you're ready to eat? I've made this very basic chilli before, and you could knock down spice levels to suit your family's tastes. Obviously just skip the sour cream to keep it vegan.
posted by nerdfish at 1:50 AM on November 16, 2017

Corn fritters. You can throw whatever vegetables you have in there, zucchini, carrot, sweet potato, whatever, just grate them up. So easy. As long as I call them pancakes and don't tell them what's actually in it, my kids demolish them.
posted by Jubey at 2:08 AM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Pasta salad. Cook pasta, add misc, eat warm or cold. (Butternut and rocket is good, so is tomato and cucumber.) Couscous also makes a good base.
posted by katrielalex at 2:10 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Vegan hotdogs or chick'n nuggets. Microwave either for under 5 minutes. Put out condiments. Done. If you want a vegetable, consider breaking up a head of lettuce (no chopping, save fingers) and get some vegan ranch or something.

I realize not the healthiest, but really not the worst, and it's one "special" night a week.
posted by Toddles at 2:42 AM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just to add: no slow cooker, no microwave, but we could consider getting one (not both, no space) if it would be a game-changer.
posted by cardinalandcrow at 3:09 AM on November 16, 2017

- seasoned steamed veggies (broccoli/fennel/carrots...) & rice/amaranth/quinoa with toasted seeds
- refried beans in tortillas
- tacosalad w/ground beef substitute (quorn / soy..)
- israeli salad/tabouleh: diced tomatoes, cucumber, parsley & cous cous (can throw in mint and other seasoning too)
- fried rice (out of leftover rice)
posted by speakeasy at 3:25 AM on November 16, 2017

My mother's occasional treat food, which it took being a parent for me to recognize as a desperation fallback: boil shell pasta until just past al dente, mostly drain, mix through slightly more tomato paste than looks right and a generous schlurk of olive oil; those who like it can add a little black pepper and/or bagged pre-shredded tasty cheese. Serve with a bit of ripped-up iceberg lettuce.

Throw another glog of olive oil into the unfinished jar of tomato paste, screw the lid back on, and shake it up so that the oil coats every exposed surface inside the jar. This stops the tomato paste going mouldy in the fridge. Don't worry about the fact that some of that oil will pool and solidify; it melts straight into whatever the tomato paste goes in next.
posted by flabdablet at 3:27 AM on November 16, 2017

We regularly have tofu scram as a lazy filler meal. Grate a block of tofu and a carrot (and if they're handy, some red capsicum and mushrooms; dice them for variety in texture) into a bowl, add flavour to a level your daughter will tolerate (cumin, smoked paprika, nooch), toss, then fry. No oil necessary. Add spinach leaves, olives and/or sultanas. Serve with toast or brown rice. Avocado or steamed greens on the side, if you have the time.
posted by nagemi at 3:41 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Last time I was in the UK I picked up Macsween Vegetarian Haggis (proclaimed to be "Enjoyed by vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike") at Sainsbury's out of perverse curiosity and discovered that I actually did like it quite a bit, much better than the couple of occasions when I've had real haggis. Check the ingredients list, but I don't think any of those are tree nuts. I simply pan-fried it.
posted by XMLicious at 3:57 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

An Instant Pot (combined pressure and slow cooker) was a real time saving game changer for our house. Pressure cooker risotto (this recipe is vegan, fast and simple) is a REVELATION and one of our go-to fast dinner moves.
posted by nerdfish at 4:00 AM on November 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yes, if you go for a new appliance, make it an Instant Pot, pressure cooking is really helpful with young children.

Quick and easy recipes: green or black lentil stew. Finely chop onion, carrot, maybe celery. Soften in hot oil. Add two spoonfuls of tomato puré, a can of lentils, a bay leaf and the same amount of water or veggie boullion. Add extra oil and some lemon or vinegar to taste before serving. (Making this from scratch is also quite fast, but not down to 20 minutes).

Make a pastasauce with finely chopped onion, carrot, aubergine and crushed tomatoes. Seasoning to taste. Instead of dry pasta, use fresh lasagna you cut into bite-sized squares. It only needs 3 mins in boiling water before you mix the pasta into the sauce with a cup of the pasta-water and let it finish there.
posted by mumimor at 4:38 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree that the Instant Pot is a game changer. However, if space is an issue, check the size. I think they make a smaller one now, but when I got mine, I was shocked by how big it was.

Can you get premade pita? If so, it makes a nice pizza crust. I put jarred sauce and mushrooms on it and just skip the cheese. My mother used to use English muffins as a quick pizza crust, but I like pita better. I couldn't tell from your question whether you can't get a low-salt jarred sauce or there just isn't a lot of variety.

I love kidney beans on salad - that makes it really hearty. Sometimes I'll have a salad and avocado toast for dinner. For avocado toast, I just mash up avocado with a little salt. Very quick and tasty. (Sorry - I have no idea if avocados are hard to get or pricey in the UK.)
posted by FencingGal at 5:05 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Isa's chick pea scramble is awesome, super fast and the recipe is easy to remember once you've done it a couple of times. Much nicer than tofu scramble. Good for breakfast or a quick supper.

If you are able or willing, can you tell us which part of the UK you're in? Tempeh and similar whole foods are available in most towns, you just have to know where to look. Plus larger supermarkets (Sainsbury's, for example) stock some interesting vegan options in the Free From section these days.
posted by doornoise at 5:27 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I came back from Sainsbury's the other day delighted because (genuine, not wheat with a bit of corn) corn tortillas are back on the shelves, so that's one bit of good news. Avocados are also a really nice fallback (although only Tesco seems to stock actually ready to eat ones, if you're shopping on the same day), and are really handy for being savoury without salt.

My fallback quick prepare dinner is to put rice in the rice cooker and top it up with savoury stuff (capers, pickled peppers, sundried tomatoes, seaweed, dried mushrooms) and protein/fat stuff (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, smoked tofu, chopped up hot dogs). So I'd be team InstantPot if I'd pulled the trigger on that purchase. I haven't yet. Also, their 240V cookers don't seem as good as their 110V ones.

There's also frozen foods which might be worth it sometimes as a fallback - Amy's Enchiladas are nut free, and I'm sure vegan Quorn will come in handy.
posted by ambrosen at 5:31 AM on November 16, 2017

Baked plain or sweet potatoes with black beans
Baked plain or sweet potatoes with anything
Pasta salad with alternative nut butter dressing
Quesadillas or you can make a batch of burritos
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:41 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bean salad is a nice quick meal when it's not too cold - can of beans, whatever veggies you have in the fridge, plus olive oil and an appropriate citrus juice or vinegar + spices (lime + cumin + garlic for black beans, lemon + sumac + oregano for chickpeas, balsamic + basil + garlic + olives for white beans). Serve on its own or with avocado or fake cheese (if you have a nice one available) on toast. Freezing lentil soup for later is my analogous idea for the winter, but it sounds like you don't have the space or inclination for that, so maybe a canned or boxed soup instead?

Seconding tofu scramble as a quick and easy idea. The tofu scramble in Richa Hingle's first book is really delicious and well-spiced without being spicy-hot if you leave out the cayenne.

Pizza - if you buy pre-made dough or make your own and stick it in the fridge or freezer for later, it takes about 5 minutes to whiz up some tofu ricotta in the blender, top it with summer squash or kale tossed with salt, olive oil and nutritional yeast, then bake for 15-ish minutes. Not sure you'll quite squeak that one out in 20 minutes, but definitely less than 30.
posted by snaw at 7:19 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding baked plain and sweet potatoes. They can be done a few days in advance and just stored in the fridge.

My favorite quickie meals are always pasta with a blended sauce. While the pasta is cooking, throw raw ingredients into a food processor and then pour over the warm pasta.

Avocado pesto pasta
Spinach pesto pasta
Roasted red pepper pasta - this sauce freezes well
Nut-free fettuccine alfredo - not as quick as the others since there is some cooking involved.

If you want to make it more substantial, top with beans or frozen veggie balls.

Soba and rice noodles both cook even faster than wheat pasta:
Ideas for things to top soba with
Sauced soba
Soba buddha bowl
Soba lo mein

Other random ideas:
Black bean quesadillas -- heat, season and mash the black beans
Roasted cauliflower
Roasted chickpeas are great for topping anything to make it more substantial. They keep a few days.
Fried rice

In general I would recommend the website Miniialist Baker. It's a vegan website that specializes in trying to use very few ingredients are doing things speedily.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:31 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was interrupted before, and now came back to see my other suggestions have arrived since then. The pita-bread pizzas are really genius — they can be delicious, and little picky eaters seem to love them. My youngest was very picky when small, and learnt to eat aubergines and squash this way. (I cut up the pita, so there are two very thin pizzas) spread oil on the pita bread, cut the vegs into very thin slices, using a peeler or mandolin, sprinkle a little more oil and salt on top, and bake till the vegetables are soft and a little golden brown on the edges. Same with potatoes. She also loved when she could just have a bowl of rice and some steamed broccoli, and then I'd make one more choice for the rest of us, like a simple curry made with precut vegs from the supermarket — since she wasn't having it anyway, it could be nice and hot. Over time she became curious about that other dish and began to eat everything.
Oh, and I forgot saag paneer This recipe takes more than 20 minutes, but there's not a lot of prepping time, specially if you use frozen cauliflower and spinach and no extra greens.

Generally, when I was in that stage of life, I used a lot of those pre-cut vegetables you can buy either frozen (cheap) or fresh (not cheap). Because our family only ate half a bag pr. meal, I'd use them for some "Asian" one day and something "Mediterranean" the next, this way a curry, a minestrone or a stew for couscous becomes fast and easy. Another tip I just learnt from my half-blind mum yesterday: if you can get them, banana shallots are easier to cut than normal shallots or onions.

While you are cooking, sit both kids at the kitchen table and give them some snacks. I guess baby is a little too small for frozen peas right now, but they are genius for slightly older children. Little toasts with vegetable paste are good, or sticks of cucumber. And a cup of milk (sippy cup for junior). That way, they can have a conversation of sorts and the adults can have their hands free for a while. Yes, it takes a bit of their appetite, that's why it needs to be healthy stuff.
posted by mumimor at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2017

We’re in Sheffield, which has great independent stores for vegan foods, but for convenience almost all our groceries come from Tesco’s online delivery (we have an annual delivery pass).
posted by cardinalandcrow at 9:15 AM on November 16, 2017

Couscous veggie fry. I stir fry a bunch of veg (whatever's on hand, carrots, courgette, aubergine, onion) with a bit of garlic and tomatoes (fresh chopped or tinned) and dump on top of couscous. Add raisins, dried apricots, pomegranate seeds for extra color. Add parsley or mint for extra flavor. Linda McCartney veg burgers and sausages are also nice in a pinch, can have a burger bar with buns, veg, etc.
posted by stillmoving at 9:18 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Assorted frozen veg, starch of your choice, protein (tinned beans, tofu or whatever you can get that’s shelf stable) spices/sauce of your choice - no need to chop anything.

Also, you’re only trying to cover two meals a week, right? Why not make those leftovers? Just cook more for two other meals and you’re all set.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:17 PM on November 16, 2017

p.s.: Add chickpeas for a bit of protein, and can add some paprika for a bit of spark.
posted by stillmoving at 12:57 PM on November 16, 2017

Thanks, everyone! And now I’m even contemplating an Instant Pot for Xmas, which is not where I expected this post to go...
posted by cardinalandcrow at 1:48 PM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

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