What's the best meal to make for someone in a rough time?
September 13, 2018 6:01 AM   Subscribe

I signed up to make a meal for a coworker going through a rough time, but I'm not a very confident cook and now I'm not sure what to do. What's a good go-to recipe that I can make the night before and bring to work with me before stopping at their house?

There are a few stumbling blocks that have me stymied. Likely not because they're THAT major, but just because I am nervous about doing this right:

~No allergies or aversions, and the field was pretty open. The only suggestion was "healthy." (So my go-to mac & cheese is right out.) Others have brought peanut chicken & rice, grilled chicken salad, spaghetti, and so on.
~My coworker is a very good chef and baker. They are also a lovely human being so they won't judge me if my attempts are fairly amateur, but I still want to make something that can please them.
~I will have to make the meal the night beforehand and bring it to work with me. I have access to full-size refrigerators to store it, but that's about it. I won't have time to prep or warm anything up before I head over after work, though I'm sure I could reheat at my coworker's house. But maybe something that could be served cold is best?
~I'm a vegetarian, but my coworker is not. I don't have any problem making something with meat for them, but I'd like to stay and give them some company during dinner. It's their meal, so making something that fits my dietary restrictions feels weird. Not eating while they do or bringing my own separate veggie meal also feels like it'd be weird. One-pot dishes or casseroles would usually seem like a great option for this situation, but having meat in the sauce/casserole will make it hard for me to eat with them. I am willing to suck it up for a night and just eat it if that's the best option, though.

In terms of actual technical expertise, I will have help making the food the night before so the execution of the plan is going to be fine. But I need to come up with the plan first, and I'm lost on what to make. Pinterest and google searches have overwhelmed me a bit. What's your best healthy, satisfying, meal you make for others going through a rough time? And how can I make sure it still tastes good 24 hours later?
posted by lilac girl to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Vegetarian chilli is pretty straightforward to make. Quorn mince or similar makes it pretty indistinguishable from the meaty version.
posted by crocomancer at 6:05 AM on September 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

It doesn't have to have meat just cause she eats it.

I make these quite a lot here I throw in a handful of cilantro. I use red salsa if I don't have green. Its easy. You could throw the filling into a crockpot to keep warm, and just bring some wraps to serve with. Or Nachos. I love the filling, but often make it without wraps
posted by Ftsqg at 6:09 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I always wind up making chicken pot pies for sick friends. They can be made in a million different ways, but it's basically (for me) poaching some chicken, making a sauce with the poaching liquid, then making crust (you can also use puff pastry from the freezer section) and popping it on top of either one large casserole dish or a lot of smaller oven-safe ramekins to be heated up whenever.
posted by xingcat at 6:09 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pasta salad.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:10 AM on September 13, 2018

Quiche! Easy to make, easy to be vegetarian, delicious even after 24 hours. I use the frozen pie shells and frozen veggies.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:12 AM on September 13, 2018 [15 favorites]

This delightful Turkish soup (from this AskMe!) is called ezogelin and is just about vegan (you could replace the butter with olive oil), filling, cheap, flavorsome, warming, easy to throw together, reheats beautifully, and goes well with a crusty bread you pop into the oven while the soup's heating on the stovetop and a salad you picked up on the way over. I've brought this to sick folks before and they raved. In case the link dies in the future, here is the recipe from the site linked:

Yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup red lentils
3 tbsp tomato paste
8 cups Vegetable broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp dried mint
Optional- dash of crushed red pepper or cayenne

Sauté butter, onions, garlic in a soup pot for about 10 minutes over medium heat, until golden and a little soft.

Add lentils, bulgur wheat, tomato paste and stir to mix (add a dash of cayenne or red pepper here, if using).

Add broth and bring to a boil.

After it boils, lower to simmer with lid on, add mint and lemon juice, and let cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To serve, sprinkle some dried mint and a splash of lemon juice, and eat with crusty bread on the side!

posted by mdonley at 6:15 AM on September 13, 2018 [12 favorites]

My go-to meal (both to receive and to give) in times like you're describing is a vegetarian lasagna (Martha Stewart has a good version), but the cheese may run afoul of the "healthy" guideline.

A good ratatouille would, I think, go over well and be enjoyed equally by you and your coworker. Just remember to salt the eggplant so it doesn't taste slimy.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:15 AM on September 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Corn fritters and a big salad. I just made corn fritters from Smitten Kitchen, delicious, easy, and they re-heat well. You can make a spinach salad - spinach, hard boiled eggs, quartered, canned, drained mandarin oranges, sliced or slivered almonds, Newman's Sesame dressing.
posted by theora55 at 6:23 AM on September 13, 2018

I think you should make your go-to mac and cheese (which is probably amaaaaazing) and also bring along a great salad - arugula, spring mix, a simple dressing, an avocado, etc. Just assemble the salad when you get there, easy peasy. Even people who eat "healthy" (a word which is so loaded and open-ended as to not be any help at all without specifics, let's face it) enjoy an indulgence once in a while. Maybe it isn't even an indulgence and her idea of healthy is a lot of cheese and pasta ;P
posted by the webmistress at 6:24 AM on September 13, 2018 [15 favorites]

Seconding quiche - it will be easy to transport too. My other go-to meal train recipes are: roast chicken and veggies with a rice pilaf and enchiladas.
posted by jennypower at 6:41 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a meat-eater, if a vegetarian were bringing me food I would never expect it to have meat in it -- my basic expectation of vegetarians is that anyone who won't eat meat, won't cook meat. I wouldn't worry at all about bringing a vegetarian dish.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:14 AM on September 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Soups and stews generally improve their flavor after sitting overnight in a fridge, so I'd start there. Maybe a corn chowder with some rolls, or this amazing West African Peanut Stew (which is just as good without chicken).
posted by saladin at 7:17 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding vegetarian chili! I'm not vegetarian, but this is my usual you had a baby/you're grieving/you're recovering from surgery food contribution. I put lots of vegetables and beans in it. It's nutritious and because it's vegan, the person can share it with almost anyone else who shows up for support.

My ex who was vegetarian had to cook for meat-eaters a lot and would make delicious shredded chicken with enchilada sauce in the crock pot and bring tortillas, vegetables, and other things to add in.

And finally, breakfast food!! People doing meal trains often forget the person needs breakfast too, so I always include that. Mini quiches, frozen breakfast burritos, frittatas are all portable and yummy.
posted by centrifugal at 8:03 AM on September 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding ratatouille. Here's an easier recipe for it, where you roast everything together in the oven instead of using the stovetop.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on September 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another advantage of chili is it freezes really well.
posted by grouse at 9:20 AM on September 13, 2018

Eating meat all the time isn't healthy, and most types of meat aren't healthy either, so I don't see any reason why you can't make a vegetarian meal - it fits with the request.

Honestly, I'd probably do an option that is nice cold so she can eat it later without expending any effort if she's not super hungry when it's delivered. Hummus, olives, tomato/cucumber/feta salad, maybe some baba ganoush, pita slices, falafel, tahini, cooked cauliflower...
posted by vegartanipla at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2018

To touch on your "they're a good chef and baker" point: I'm a fantastic home cook and baker. That means I make a lot of food for people. Nothing tastes better to me than something, anything, that someone makes for me.
posted by donnagirl at 10:35 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could healthify your mac and cheese and make veggie mac. A lot of people like broccoli but I like to add diced tomatoes/green chiles (pour off the juice or it's too spicy), diced onions microwaved with a drop of balsamic vinegar and cut up spinach. I also add a dash of garlic and pepper. It's still comfort food but a little healthier.
posted by stray thoughts at 12:00 PM on September 13, 2018

You're in the US so it's harvest time for you and that means a lot of vegetables are currently at their peak. I think a great way to do this would be to go shopping at a market with a great produce department and aim for a fancy salad and a soup.

When I say fancy salad, I mean a base of some kind of greens, some other basic veggies and one more involved topping like a roasted veg or marinated grain salad, like you might do at a salad bar only homemade. Keep the components separate and bring them together at serving. So like, spring mix and grated carrots but also make some marinated greenbean and navy bean salad and pop that on top with some extra vinaigrette. Or if the peppers look good, roasted peppers with romaine and cherry tomatoes. Whatever looks nice, cook it in a way that's good to serve cold, and pair it with some kind of green and an additional cut up raw vegetable. Tabbouleh if the herbs look fresh, par boiled broccoli and cauliflower with garlic if those look nice, big hunks of heirloom tomatoes with a citrus vinaigrette, the possibilities depend on what looks the most delicious. Assemble at the table.

You could also, if the store you're at has a really good premade deli section, buy something like tabbouleh or roasted summer veg or marinated beans and mix it with purchased greens.

Then for a soup do a vegetarian soup you love that you have confidence making. Soup is great to bring to people who are dealing with rough stuff because it can be so variable in size and accommodate fluctuating appetites. It's also really easy to reheat. For what's good right now I think a corn tortilla soup with a tomato and pepper base would be wonderful. Maybe a hearty lentil soup with curry flavors, or a tomato basil with a little cream? Don't worry about matching the soup to the salad so much. If you have no reason to suspect this person to be a bread hater, bring a loaf of quality bread (the kind with a nice crust that isn't presliced) to dip in the soup.
posted by Mizu at 12:19 PM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by bendy at 8:42 PM on September 13, 2018

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