Vegetarian Mains
September 12, 2019 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I've been eating more vegetarian dishes lately and have had fun learning a lot of new dishes, many of which are kind of all-in-one dishes like soups, "power bowls" or whatever you call them (rice, veggies, maybe beans, etc.), veggie stir fry, bean-based dishes, etc. However, I have realized that I miss simple veggie sides. What kind of vegetarian main dishes can I make to serve with some simple veggie sides?

I grew up with an Irish-American "meat, potato, and vegetable" trifecta for dinner and I am having trouble visualizing what that can look like for a vegetarian. It's mostly the vegetables I miss (I can take or leave the potato/starch, and obviously don't want meat), and just the whole concept of three separate flavors on my plate, but I need something to replace the meat. Beyond that it doesn't really need to resemble what I grew up eating.

So far I have come up with:
-Soup (although I don't typically eat a lot of soup so I like this more as a side and it's not typically filling enough for me)
-Maybe tacos with a veggie side? But I would need a simple taco template that is not just...more veggie inside a tortilla.

Any other suggestions? Bonus points for simplicity and providing a recipe! (Also any simple recipes for what I already included - pasta, tacos, etc. - are welcome)

P.S. I have not cooked tofu (...yet) and would be willing to try, but I'd like a lot of other options as well :)
posted by sillysally to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mains that I think are like what you're asking about (I'm assuming you do eggs/cheese but there are vegan versions of some of the below available):

Vegetarian shepherd's pie/pie
Cheese and onion pie
Vegetarian (lentil/mushroom/etc.) loaf
Veggie burgers/dogs/sausage - this includes bean burgers; you don't need buns
Eggplant parmigiana
Stuffed eggplant/peppers/zucchini/squash

But quite honestly when we eat vegan or veg we just have multiple dishes on our plates that are complementary flavours.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:42 AM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

We have rarely been disappointed with anything on Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog. We have one of her books, too (Super Natural Cooking) and it's great.
posted by jquinby at 8:48 AM on September 12, 2019

Best answer: Chickpea Cutlets
Nut Loaf with mushroom gravy
posted by veery at 8:53 AM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love this vegan lentil/walnut loaf. It works as a main dish and is great for sandwiches hot or cold.
posted by FencingGal at 8:53 AM on September 12, 2019

Yep, tofu, seitan, tempeh, those are the traditional vegan proteins that work well in the meat-plus-sides type of meals.

You can pan fry tofu until it makes its own crust, you can bread it and fry it, I've been into baking it recently like so.

Seitan is weirdly expensive to buy at the store, but easy and very inexpensive to make at home. You can search up a zillion recipes but here's my outline, I enjoy winging it so it comes out a little different each time:

Take a cup or so of wheat gluten, add in some onion and garlic powder, possibly a little garbanzo flour, chia, flax, dried herbs, black pepper. A dash of paprika and turmeric can help with color. After all dry ingredients are mixed, cut in some oil (olive and sesame work well, but any kind will do), then add some soy sauce and slowly add hot water. The idea is to use just enough oil to help prevent sticking.

Knead it together adding water if it gets too dry, more gluten if too sticky. I like to knead it heavily to get that meaty mouth feel, making a disc and then acting like you are rolling a frisbee by the rim until you have to poke a hole and turn it inside out. Ideally it comes together in a sort of thick ropey ring. Cut that ring perpendicular to the grain to make ‘steaks’ about 1” thick, 1-2” inches diameter (can squish after cutting to get a more coin shaped slab)

Get your largest pan with lid simmering with about 1/2” water (or stock), add in the seitan leaving some room, loosely cover and braise for about an hour, turning occasionally and adding liquid if necessary.

At the end you should have seitan “chops” in gravy, ready to serve, store in fridge for a week, or freezer for a year. Happy to add more detail if desired, but this generates lots of good seitan for me, and it scales well too.

See this previous ask for more MeFite seitan recipes.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:56 AM on September 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: (yes, eggs/cheese/etc. are fine)
posted by sillysally at 8:59 AM on September 12, 2019

Oh for cheese-as-meat function I like homemade Paneer: you can put it in all-in-one dish or press it and fry it like a cut of meat.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:01 AM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Smitten Kitchen got me into savory tarts!

Some standouts are her Tomato and Corn Pie (I slabbed it, since the leftovers are awesome) and the French Onion Tart recipe. Oh, and her Spanish Tortilla recipe is great!
posted by mollywas at 9:02 AM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I often do a baked potato for a main with a side of veggies (favorites are green salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted peppers, carrot and parsley salad).

Wash potato and rub with olive oil and salt.
Prick potato with fork a few times.
Bake at 350-400 for 60-90 minutes depending on size of potato and your oven (I put it directly on the rack).
Take the hot potato and gently massage it (I do this with the oven mitt).
Slice it open and add favorite toppings (for me: Kosher salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, fried shallots, Greek yogurt, and chives).
(Or turn into twice baked potatoes: when they come out of the oven, halve them and scoop out the potato, mash it with whatever things you desire, fill back the empty potato skins and put back in a 350 oven for 15 minutes).

My other favorite non-meat main is breakfast for dinner—two fried eggs.

Get a really great, big loaf rustic bread and make fancy toast as a main.

For low-carb, I will make “latkes” and use turnips in place of potatoes—shred one big turnip, squeeze alllllll the juice out with a tea towel, shred a big onion, mix with one egg and salt and pepper, form into patties (another good time to squeeze any juice out) and fry in olive oil in a cast iron pan.
posted by sallybrown at 9:05 AM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Pumpkin stuffed with everything good. Dorie Greenspan's original post on it seems to be gone from her website, but here's NPR's story on it. Obviously, we omit the bacon for making it vegetarian and, really, don't follow any recipe at all, which was the point of her original post on the food.
posted by crush at 9:08 AM on September 12, 2019

I have had good luck substituting frozen spinach for meat in this delicious lasagna, making it totally vegetarian. Cook the spinach according to the directions and then pretend it's the browned meat. To be totally honest, I usually add a bit more cheese than the recipe asks for.
posted by ubiquity at 9:24 AM on September 12, 2019

Tofu pot pie with smoked tofu (and store bought crust if you don’t like making pastry). No particular recipe but you can follow a chicken pot pie recipe and just sub the diced tofu for chicken. Bakes nicely in a cast iron pan if you like.
posted by five_cents at 9:27 AM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Slice tempeh into slabs, marinate with salt and tamarind and a bit of water to loosen, deep fry. Also works well with fish.
posted by emeiji at 9:51 AM on September 12, 2019

Best answer: Crispy polenta cakes are a nice substitute for the meat. Just recently made this recipe and you could sub the kale for any other side. Bonus - polenta absorbs sauces well.
posted by yawper at 10:20 AM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lentil and mushroom pie, using frozen puff pastry - Pepperidge Farm is vegan. Saute chopped onions, celery and carrots in a little oil, add lots of chopped mushrooms of your choosing, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and a can of brown (puy) lentils. Spoon this into either a large pie dish or individual pie dishes (foil ones are fine) and top with the puff pastry. Glaze with milk or egg wash and bake at about 350F until the pastry is risen and golden. This makes a 'proper' dinner which you can serve with potatoes and veg on the side.
posted by essexjan at 10:31 AM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

When I cook veg*n for potluck or dinner parties, my "main" tends to be a simple casserole or skillet/stir-fry/pan-fry. So it might be a mushroom-eggplant-tomato thing for your big umami hit, and then sides can be a starch of your choice and a green veg. There are loooots of zucchini-based recipes out there that would perform the same function, like stuffed or casserole. Ratatouille is as much a method as a recipe, but here's a quick one. If you don't mind fake meat, vegan sausages are a good way to either bulk up this kind of Mediterranean-ish dish, or you can do a sausage-and-peppers type thing.

Even for vegetarians, I like to avoid cheese in this "main" type dish, and let that be part of the sides if necessary. Go for big umami in your main, to get your "meaty" fix, and let the creamy notes come from elsewhere.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:38 AM on September 12, 2019

Best answer: Almost everything I would have thought of has been mentioned, except stuffed mushrooms. This is an Ottolenghi recipe and they are always delicious, but there are plenty more recipes out there.
Maybe bean burgers would be something?
Or a lentil stew? This is something everyone I know enjoys: finely chop an onion, a carrot and a stalk of celery. Gently soften the vegetables in olive oil. Add finely chopped garlic to taste. Now add a cup of rinsed Puy or caviar lentils and water to cover + 1 cm. Cook over a slow heat till the lentils are ready, 30-45 minutes (this depends on the freshness of the lentils). Season, and simmer for 5-10 minutes more. This is fine on its own, but its also really nice with a starch and a side.
posted by mumimor at 11:24 AM on September 12, 2019

I forgot: I usually add thyme to the lentil stew with the lentils and water. And you can use a vegetarian stock instead of water for a richer taste, or throw in a parmesan rind.
posted by mumimor at 11:59 AM on September 12, 2019

Best answer: Grilled halloumi is very good. I also like vegetable crumble, which I would certainly serve with other vegetables. And cheese pasties.
posted by plonkee at 12:15 PM on September 12, 2019

Best answer: Congratulations! You are today's lucky winner of the "person I link the Moosewood Daily Special to"!

But seriously - that's probably going to be a good resource; it's nothing but soups and salads, with some main-dish sized and some side-dish sized, and a lot of them are meant to complement each other. There are probably several of their "main dish salads" that will sound similar to the bowls you've been having, and they offer suggestions for each recipe as to what other recipes in the book you can pair with it. You'll probably get ideas for other bowls as well.

that is the cookbook I recommend more than any other in here, and for good reason.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on September 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I highly encourage you to try cooking tofu! Also, it's delicious cousin tempeh. And have you eaten or cooked with seitan before? YUM.

I like to buy several blocks of tofu at a time and freeze them. Freezing gives them a lovely, chewy texture and they soak up flavors even better. Thaw in the fridge, drain. Pressing optional. Cut into cubes or triangles. Fry in coconut oil. Splash in some soy sauce/tamari and rice wine or white wine vinegar. Simple and delicious; excellent with vegetables of many kinds.

I'll also prepare tempeh like that (sans freezing), but my favorite tempeh main is tamarind bbq sweet potatoes and tempeh from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Have happily brought to potlucks with many compliments. Tamarind paste is worth hunting down, but honestly it'd be delicious with a jar of bbq sauce thrown in, too. I like it best with broccoli or broccoli rabe or brussells sprouts on the side, but it would happily pair with many vegetables.

And my show-stopper seitan recipe is also from Moskowitz, this time from Vegan with a Vengeance: jerk seitan. Basically, you marinate strips of seitan in a flavorful jerk sauce and fry it. She suggests serving it with sauteed peppers and onions and over coconut rice or roasted sweet potato. I can't remember why I started serving mine with mango, but mango paired with the spiciness of the jerk marinade is so, so good. Have served to company.
posted by carrioncomfort at 1:13 PM on September 12, 2019

Best answer: Stuffed French Bread "Pizza" -- scoop out each half of a loaf of French bread, brush with good olive oil, fill the cavity with sauteed chopped vegetables mixed with store bought pizza sauce, top with grated mozzarella and parmesan, and then bake until the cheese is bubbly and browned in spots. Endless varieties in that one.
posted by cross_impact at 2:36 PM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ooh, also cheese enchiladas with chips, salsa, guacamole, and refried black beans.
posted by cross_impact at 2:39 PM on September 12, 2019

I like that kind of simple plate, and when I do it, I sub high temp roasted vegetables for meat. High temp roasted cauliflower with oil and salt (and any spices you want, but it doesn't need them) becomes substantial enough to be the main when you add cheese. High temp roasted butternut squash is also excellent and you can spice it lots of different ways.

You can do a lot with a bowl of well cooked white beans too. If they fall all over the plate it is ok to use a ramekin.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:42 PM on September 12, 2019

Green jackfruit is the meatiest non-meat I've met.
posted by eotvos at 3:01 AM on September 13, 2019

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