Vegetarian cooking from the pantry
January 26, 2021 2:37 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of dried/canned pantry staples that I have hoarded happened to accumulate, and now it's time to cook with them. But finding recipes is flummoxing bonus lentil-hater who wants to cook lentils question.

I'd like to make vegetarian meals only using what I have on hand (different types of flour, pasta, rice, dried beans, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, onions, garlic, a few odd potatoes and sweet potatoes, oil, spices and seasonings, etc. along with fresh basics like milk, cheese, eggs, salsa, ketchup, and so on) and that require absolutely no fresh vegetables or herbs. When I do searches for vegetarian recipes from the pantry, lots of them include fresh vegetables, which is not what I'm looking for right now. How do I find recipes that really only use non-perishable ingredients?

Bonus inspired by today's earlier lentil recipe thread: because of reasons I have lentils, but I don't like lentils - they always taste like dirt to me. What are some vegetarian lentil recipes for people who don't like the taste of lentils?
posted by medusa to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If you have red lentils, this recipe is a revelation. I think cooking the tomato paste doesn't just give it a deeper flavour, but it keeps the soup a pretty colour. I've always liked brown and green lentils well enough, but I have always found that red lentils cooked to a disappointing yellow, looking and tasting like mush.

It's really lovely even if you skip the yogurt. The recipe asks for carrots, but a little finely diced sweet potato should substitute nicely if needed.
posted by maudlin at 2:45 PM on January 26, 2021

Supercook lets you put in your list of ingredients and will find recipes you can make. If you don't list something that will match a lot more recipes, it will ask you if you have it. Also you can use dried herbs if the recipe calls for fresh in most cases.
posted by soelo at 2:53 PM on January 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Have you heard of Jack Monroe? Her Twitter is @BootstrapCook and she specializes in recipes made from canned goods, and a lot of them are vegetarian/vegan.
posted by johngoren at 3:04 PM on January 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Supercook sounds promising, but after putting in most of the ingredients I have its giving me hundreds of recipes for macaroni and cheese, fettucine alfredo, and cornbread. Is there a way to tell it "Enough of that, move on"?
posted by medusa at 3:10 PM on January 26, 2021

Pasta con ceci! Olive oil, pasta, tomato paste, garlic, can of chickpeas.

I like this recipe.
posted by dazedandconfused at 3:17 PM on January 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

A quick red sauce is one of the easier pantry items to make, and very adjustable to what you have on hand. Note that unlike Hazan I like my red sauce with lots of alliums:

28oz can whole tomatoes (crushed would be fine, chopped might be weird)*
1 onion, diced
4-8 (or more!) cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste.
2 tbl olive oil
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1/4 cup pasta water (optional, but good)
2-3 bay leaves (optional)
dried oregano or dried basil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Over medium heat in an uncoated pan, add the oil and the onions and simmer until softened (roughly 10 minutes or so), stirring occasionally to keep the onion from browning. Add the garlic and red pepper and saute for another minute, then add the can of tomatoes (both tomatoes and liquid), bay leaves and dried herbs. Bring to a slight boil and reduce heat to simmer. Allow to simmer until most of the tomato liquid has reduced, stirring occasionally and using your spoon to break up the tomatoes and any large pieces of onion. If you're using the wine, stir it in now and cook it off. Pull a ladle of pasta water from the cooking pasta and stir it into the sauce right before draining the pasta, and serve hot.

You can throw in a can of drained, chopped artichokes at the same time as the tomatoes to mix it up, or frozen spinach towards the end of cooking. I'm flexitarian so I often add an anchovy or two; you could add some canned olives or capers to bring it closer to a puttanesca. Make a double recipe to serve as the base for a baked ziti (add frozen peas)! This is a very flexible and forgiving recipe that can adapt to what you have on hand.

* If you're using whole tomatoes, I recommend stabbing them with a sharp knife while they're still in the can so they don't splash everywhere when you try to break them apart)
posted by thecaddy at 3:31 PM on January 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I also do not love lentils, but they make great hummus, and you can jazz up any basic recipe with what you have on hand. I use it as a sandwich spread, to thicken soup, in dollops over rice or greens, etc. in addition to as a snack.
posted by headnsouth at 3:33 PM on January 26, 2021

I love this Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew. Since I'm lazy, I buy berbere spice mix, but you can also follow the directions here to make it. I pour it over rice.

(I find that some lentils need to be washed a lot because they have actual dirt on them - which may not be apparent when you're just looking. Red lentils are tiny, which can make them hard to wash in a regular colander. I eventually bought this colander for washing them - which made a huge difference.)
posted by FencingGal at 3:35 PM on January 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

Allow me to introduce you to my new favorite lentil pancake /flatbread recipe. Super easy and very delicious.

Take 1 cup of red lentils and put them in a container. Add water to cover them by about an inch. Soak for at least 8 hours (I just do this at night and they are ready in the morning).

Once soaked, the water level should be bout even with the lentils. Add some if not, or tip some out if it's too high.

Puree well in a blender. That's it. The batter can be flavored however you like, or used plain.

If you want pancakes, add a couple tablespoons of sweetener. Fry in butter or oil just like regular pancakes. You can add any spices or fruit you like (blueberries and nutmeg is my go to). I find that topping with maple syrup completely overrides any remaining lentil flavor.

If you want savory, add salt to the batter instead. Spread out the batter in the pan for a thinner flatbread type thing. Add any herbs and spices you like, or garlic, diced peppers or onions, etc. They go great with any soup, stew, or curry.

Vegan and gluten free!
posted by ananci at 4:45 PM on January 26, 2021 [14 favorites]

Do you want to stick to using up what you have or are you ok with adding a few additional shelf stable items? If possible, things like canned corn or mushrooms help.

Based on your list, I'd consider some savory fritter/pancake-type recipes for the flour, lentils or cooked rice.

If you have yeast, you have the ingredients for some sort of pizza or other flatbread delight.

Make your own flour tortillas for bean burritos w salsa and cheese?

Maybe shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato sauce)?

Hide the lentils in a chili?

Lentil burgers with home fries?

On preview, ananci's recipe looks tasty!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:01 PM on January 26, 2021

Mujardara is a good go to for lentils. I usually throw a stick of cinnamon and some cayenne in mine.
posted by Ferreous at 6:07 PM on January 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Different lentil varieties have different flavors and textures. French lentils often have an earthy flavor I don’t really like. Lighter yellow and white lentils can be creamier and sweeter. I mentioned it in the other thread, but dal is the shit. It’s like a once a week meal around here and no one gets bored of it.

This one is close to what I make. At this point daal sorta morphs and changes a bunch as I go and stuff is in season (and whatever I happen to have on hand)

It’s not pantry friendly, but I feel like the cilantro and some Serrano type chilies are almost mandatory to fully get there.

If you can grab some, lightly breaded, shallow fried eggplant is a fuckin RAD side to it.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:16 PM on January 26, 2021

If you have red lentils (or maybe some other kinds but that kind for sure) this stew/soup is my favorite. You do not need fresh ginger or fresh tomatoes, you can make it all with the kinds of things you have and it's GREAT with some coconut milk tossed in. I like it over brown rice.
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 PM on January 26, 2021

Real Simple Magazine used to have recipes like this called "pantry dinners" They don't have the original article from almost 20 years ago where I was introduced to the concept, but this is a link to one recipe from that article that I still make to this day, and if you search their food section for "pantry dinners" you should come up with some options.
posted by momochan at 7:39 PM on January 26, 2021

You could use the lentils and the salsa to make a version of vegan shakshuka? You could make lentil pancakes or replace the peppers with salsa and I bet it would be tasty. Unless you have a jar of roasted red peppers...
posted by pazazygeek at 8:29 PM on January 26, 2021

Nigel Slater’s Butter Beans and Tomato

Meera Sodha’s Black Eyed Bean and Chickpea Usal (skip the mangetout or add some more frozen peas or whatever, if you don’t have them)
posted by fabius at 5:13 AM on January 27, 2021

Beans and rice or beans and cornbread make a weekly appearance on my table. If I'm doing dried beans, I soak overnight, then cook in there pressure cooker. I add salt, oil, a smashed clove of garlic, and the tops and tails of an onion to the cooking water. While those are cooking, chop and onion or two and a few cloves of garlic. Saute in oil, add spices as desired. I like cumin and smoked paprika. Serve with rice cooked with or without tomatoes or a simple cornbread. Pickled jalapenos or canned corn are nice additions if you have them.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:05 AM on January 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Came in to second Jack Monroe. This is her website

Do you have stuff in the freezer as well? Because that makes it much easier to vary the food. I sometimes snow in, so I am very prepared for situations like this, and some of the pantry staple standards are my favorite foods.

Maybe it could be fun to test different tomato sauces. Marcella Hazans famous buttery sauce is very different from thecaddy's posted above. You can learn a lot from trying out similar but different recipes and finding out what you like about them.

Apart from studying food from the subcontinent, which is always a good idea, you can look at the Italian Cucina Povera, lots and lots of the food Italian peasants ate and often still eat are mainly based on pantry staples. (link to a book review about Tuscany, with a couple recipes, but you can find Cucina Povera in all Italian regions). Here are some more recipes.

I think FencingGal has a good point about the rinsing of lentils. They really need to be rinsed a lot. With that done, adding a bit of acid to your dish, regardless of what the recipe says, will brighten it up. I often use lemon and/or a splash of wine (remember to cook off all the alcohol), but you can use any vinegar, pickle juice, lime, tamarind, and just recently I made a borscht where I used sauerkraut for acidity and it was delicious.
In the same vein, what I feel when I am cooking from the pantry is that I need some brightness to balance the bland. Pickled onions or this recipe for an onion salad which is well know in Turkey and the Middle East as well as in Armenia is good for contrast.
You might try these Turkish lentil balls. I haven't made them myself, but I have eaten them, and in my opinion they are delicious. The recipe uses parsley, but I think they will be fine without. It also uses sweet red pepper paste which is a good thing to have, but if you don't have it, you can add a few drops of a not too strong chili condiment. if you don't have bulgur, I'd replace it with cooked rice. Or flour, preferably durum, but much less than the proportion of bulgur, maybe half to begin with, and then add till you get a consistency you can form into balls.

I make a lot of fried rice, with or without eggs. I dry fry a bit of vermicelli noodles, then add the oil and the finely chopped onion, some ginger and some cumin, then when the onions are translucent, the leftover rice. I stir very well for the first couple of minutes, then let it sit over medium heat till I get a bit of crust on the bottom. Then I add soy sauce to taste. It's more Middle Eastern than Asian, and very comforting.

A Spanish Tortilla is a good pantry food classic. When I first made it, it was a bit of a project, but now it's just a regular nice food.
This is a chili recipe using only pantry ingredients, another classic -- I haven't tried it, but it is basically what I do when I cook a vegetarian chili from the pantry.

Looking at your list, I had an idea for a curry, so I googled to see if it exists, and it almost does: SWEET POTATO CHICKPEA COCONUT CURRY Just leave out the spinach and cilantro, it will still be fine.

White bread in the stores here is really bad. So I bake my own white bread regularly. I recently discovered I can have a yeasted dough in a lidded container in the fridge for up to three days, and then make fresh pita breads or homemade pizza when I feel like it. (Take it out and stretch and fold it a couple of times a day, then when you need a piece, take that out of the fridge 30 minutes before use, stretch and fold and leave to rest on the countertop) Pizza with just olive oil, thinly sliced potato, salt, pepper and a dried herb like oregano or rosemary is my favorite. The pita breads are good for scooping up hummus or a bean spread made in a similar way.
posted by mumimor at 8:31 AM on January 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, and here's my recipe for refried black beans. You can use pintos, I just like black beans better.

2 c dried beans
6 c water
1 onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves, halved
2 bay leaves (optional)
1/2 c coconut oil or lard
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Dump everything but the oil and salt in slow cooker, cook on high 8 hours. Fish out the bay leaves and puree everything to your desired level of smoothness (I use an immersion blender) and add the oil and salt.

Good on tacos, or in burritos or tamales, etc. especially with some roasted sweet potatoes and cheese.This also makes a great dip for tortilla chips!
posted by ananci at 8:53 AM on January 27, 2021

Rainbow Plantlife has so many good pantry and lentil recipes.
posted by jessca84 at 10:24 PM on January 27, 2021

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