Vegetarian dinner ideas for large groups, with some extra constraints
November 3, 2019 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I need vegetarian main course ideas for a recurring group dinner of 15-30 people! For the sake of my sanity, the meals should be:
  1. Possible to prepare for a large group in ~3 hours. I'm still learning this skill, so general advice here is appreciated as well!
  2. Ready to serve to everyone all at once. For instance, pizza is not ideal, because by the time the 6th pizza is ready, the 1st pizza is already cold.

Bonus points for also accommodating some of the less-common dietary restrictions in the group. It isn't required that all meals meet these extra criteria, especially not all of them at once, but it's great when they do:
  • Gluten-free
  • Nightshade-free (no tomatoes or peppers)
  • Allium-free (no onions or garlic)...I have yet to pull this one off 😬 Leeks are OK though!
My natural tendency is to cook complicated things, so I am still learning how to feed a large group without spending all day in the kitchen. So far, I've learned to stick with preparation methods that are easy to scale to large batches (e.g. roasting, simmering soup), and avoid small-batch steps like stir-frying and deep-frying. I'm sometimes OK with recipe side-quests like "make your own vegan fish sauce", tho, since I can use the extra later. If it's possible to do some or all of the preparation 1-2 days ahead of time, that's great, but not strictly required.

I've already done polenta porridge, chili and cornbread, a couple Indian meals, and DIY black bean and plantain bowls.

I have access to a well-appointed kitchen that is set up for group cooking: a 6-burner stove, two ovens, two huge rice cookers, two instant pots, two large slow-cookers for keeping things warm, etc. I also have good access to ingredients and like cooking international cuisine.
posted by introcosm to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite vegetarian thing to make (and scales well) is mushroom bolognese. With fresh pasta to scale up the fanciness if you want.

The Food Lab’s vegan archives probably have lots of other things along the same line. A quick glance shows lots of stew- and soup-type mains, plus casseroles, which would be my strategy for a group that large.
posted by supercres at 12:06 PM on November 3, 2019

Response by poster: Forgot to mention one other constraint - I'm supposed to keep total cost around $5-6 a head.
posted by introcosm at 12:10 PM on November 3, 2019

Taco potlucks are the go-to thing in my friend group because it is very easy to accommodate all dietary restrictions, inexpensive in both time and money for people to contribute, and a very fun and social thing to build and share them together. Even if you don't potluck you can easily prepare a taco station. There are all kinds of options for fillings and because people construct them themselves everyone is safe so long as you clearly label everything. Pulled jackfruit, shredded tofu, and even rice make excellent alternatives to ground beef. You can get tacos/tortillas without gluten easily enough, but people can also opt for just using a bowl and skipping those items.

Another common one for my circle is hot-pot. Very social to eat and also very easy to keep safe. The hardest part is the broth, especially for people that can't do onions/garlic (and one person that can't brassica). I know two people with that allergy and we setup two hotpots: both have vegetarian broths, but one has a base with no onions that gets its own utensils and is not under any circumstances to go near the other pot. Works well for us.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 12:14 PM on November 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

You could do a baked potato bar similar to the taco potluck described above.

You can make a vegetarian shepherd's pie using leeks in place of the onions and garlic.

Most of my friends who have allergies to onion and garlic aren't allergic to onion or garlic powder. You may want to ask.

I highly recommend checking out the Triumph of the Lentil, a vegan cookbook. It indicates when a recipe is soy-, nightshade-, gluten-, nut-, free.
posted by wasabifooting at 12:21 PM on November 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

No bonus points for these but I would say black bean enchiladas, vegetarian chili, or baked ziti.
posted by lyssabee at 3:22 PM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mujadara is astonishingly good given the simplicity and pairs well with a green salad. For cooking on this scale, you could batch the onions ahead of time in a slow cooker or oven.
posted by veery at 3:39 PM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

My go-tos when I needed to cook for a houseful of about 15 people on a regular basis are below. These are all cheap and can be prepared in a total cook time of less than three hours.

1. Pasta with vegetarian meatballs. I made these with TVP, and my recipe was not gluten free because it uses bread crumbs, but you could sub those for cornmeal. The sauce I made was a tomato sauce, but you could make two sauces, one nightshade free.

2. Burritos with black beans. This is very much a choose your own adventure, people can add the ingredients that suit their dietary needs and corn tortillas are gluten free. I liked to make it with a big pot of cumin-flavored rice.

3. "Spring roll salad." This is a vietnamese-inspired noodle salad I invented, it never fails to please a crowd.
Here is the recipe, all quantities approximate, you can really eyeball it pretty well.
-Cook about 4-5 pounds of rice noodles. I like the long round ones that you get at the asian grocery. Allow to cool.
-Cook 3-5 pounds of tofu either by frying (tastier) or baking (easier) in small strips.
-Chop up the following in a big bowl: 3/4 cup-1 cup of cilantro, 3/4 cup-1 cup of basil, 3/4 cup-1 cup of mint, 3-4 bell peppers (you could leave these on the side), a head of lettuce.
-Grate 1-2 cucumbers and 1-2 carrots into the veggie mix.
-For the sauce, combine about 2 cups hoisin sauce and 1 1/2 cup peanut butter, a generous squirt of sriracha (maybe 1/3 of a bottle), and a bit of water. Blend until smooth. Make more sauce than you think you need. Adjust ratios to taste.
-Combine all ingredients with the sauce, toss until thoroughly coated. Serve and enjoy!
posted by mai at 3:55 PM on November 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Mai's salad sounds delicious but hoisin sauce is normally made with wheat. San-J does have a gluten free version.
posted by Botanizer at 4:09 PM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

1. A pulao / pilaf of some kind. Or my favourite, for these situations: Mushroom Coconut Rice, which is basically long grained rice cooked in coconut milk instead of water, and with mushrooms. Add herbs or other seasoning subtly and to taste.

2. Baba ghanoush, hummus, labane or tzatziki

3. Roasted vegetables — so easy, yet so delicious.

3. A large pot of soup

As for tips for having the meal ready in under 3 hours, from my own experience I'd say don't plan to make too many different items; instead choose 2-3 that can be made easily in large quantities.
posted by miaow at 5:39 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I like to have people assemble their own meals as much as possible. This is one of my staples where people are given a generous empty bowl and away they go:

Several chilled bases to chose from - each served in a large bowl (or several bowls if you have the space to to ensure most people get a chance to start grabbing food right away): salad mix, pre-cooked and chilled rice noodles, pre-cooked rice (usually at least two - a wild rice and a separate bowl of jasmine rice that people can choose to mix together if they want), spiralled veggies, quinoa,

Cooked, warm veggies, again either served in a big serving bowl or several smaller bowls to ensure efficiency: baked cubes of sweet potato, corn with some lemongrass, steamed edamame, steamed peas, roasted peppers, caramelised onions (in your case you can skip the last two), broccoli (and other vegetables cooked in tempura) and any other veggie that appeals to you!

Protein: Cooked Tofu (firm, and usually a few varieties like coconut or tempura or chickpeas (often in a chana masala gravy), scrambled eggs and any other protein source you like.

Sauces: a variety of sauces to choose from - curries/taramand/peanut/thai/hoisin/srichna etc

Toppings: Hempseed, sesame seed, something spicy (I'm not really one for spice myself so usually someone brings something like dried peppers), pickled carrots and daikon radish (a MUST for me), crushed peanuts, roasted pumpkin seeds, sliced avocado, chia seeds, finely chopped herbs, and any other topping you can think of.

My other latest choice is Thali, it is easy to pre-make big batches of the five courses and then serve them out in individual bowls on the platter with roti and papadums. It does use a lot of dishes for serving however, which means a lot of cleanup
posted by saucysault at 7:01 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think I'd go for an Indian style meal, with rice and maybe three different cooked items: a dal, a stew and greens, like saag paneer. Bread for those who can eat it. Have some fruit ready for a palate cleanser. This will be cheap and filling and delicious. It's so easy to make that you could even serve more hot dishes.
Also, if your crowd likes a menu, why not just cook the same every time? Almost every time my eldest daughter and her boyfriend come over, they request the same thing (coq au riesling). Traditions are nice, and you will get better and better at preparing it.
posted by mumimor at 4:12 AM on November 4, 2019

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