Delicious plant-based dinner ideas for the beginner cook
February 4, 2021 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Hi all! I am transitioning from an eat-whatever-i-want diet to a healthy, plant-based, whole foods diet. I have a pretty open palate. I like and will try a lot of foods, but mostly enjoy salty and savory flavors. I want to go healthy but don't want to sacrifice taste/flavor. I need ideas, please help!

I want to put some plant-based meal recipes in regular rotation, but I only have one thing I've been making regularly so far. I started doing a thai vegetarian stir fry over rice which is yummy, easy to do, and fast - but I need more options because it gets boring eating the same thing all the time. I also tried a vegan sausage pasta with greens which was tasty as well.

For other plant based eaters, what are some of your "fallback" delicious dinners that you keep in regular rotation?

Criteria in summary: delicious, dinner, plant-based/vegetarian-ish, possibly vegan
posted by koolaidnovel to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
I really like roasting chickpeas and cauliflower in the oven with plenty of olive oil plus some combination of salt, pepper, curry powder, cumin, garlic powder, and cayenne.

I usually make a creamy sauce for it too, using fresh herbs like dill with a yogurt/sour cream base — would probably be possible to make it entirely plant-based but I’ve never done it.
posted by mekily at 7:40 PM on February 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

I want to put in a plug for Gena Hamshaw’s Power Plates. I have lots of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks but this is the one I turn to the most. Her recipes are easy, accessible, super flavorful, and nutritionally balanced (she’s an RD).

The recipes don’t require a lot of unusual ingredients, and there’s a great intro with basic meal prep ideas and menu plans. I make both her ribbolita and Tuscan kale salad at least once a week. That second link will take you to her blog; there’s great recipes there, too, but I love the book!
posted by stellaluna at 7:46 PM on February 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

It's weird, but stay with me:

Instant oatmeal (I make it with milk), with salt, a little sesame oil, maybe some vegan chicken stock powder. Stir through a mix of sauteed shiitake and king oyster mushrooms. Garnish liberally with lots of spring onions, maybe crispy fried shallots, cilantro, a swirl of hot sauce. It's like heartier congee in a couple of minutes.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 7:54 PM on February 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, roast ALL the veggies. Pumpkin/squash, potatoes, peppers, broccoli, kale, if it's a vegetable you can roast it.

OK maybe not lettuce. But maybe!

I found out recently that you can roast a pumpkin whole! Like, literally just put in on a pan in the oven and cook it until it's tender enough to stick a fork in.
posted by inexorably_forward at 7:56 PM on February 4, 2021

I make the Marcella Hazan onion+butter+canned tomates sauce about once a week for eating with pasta.

Also good is Japanese curry, you buy the block of curry roux, boil some vegetables like potatoes, celery, carrots and mushrooms, add the roux and you're done. You can eat on rice or with bread or if you thin it out then you can make curry udon.

Nabe (Japanese hotpot) is great in the winter. You fill the pot with water, put a piece of kombu or dashi powder in it, bring to a boil, add your veggies like napa cabbage, daikon, green onions, mushrooms, and bean sprouts, and some tofu and noodles like udon or maroni and then dip the cooked food in some ponzu and eat. Once you've finished eating the hotpot the water will have absorbed a lot of flavour from the food that was cooked in it and you can make a savoury rice porridge for the next morning.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:56 PM on February 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Occasionally, I make a pine nut and red bell pepper lasagna that is quite enjoyable. It can be made with or without dairy/milk/cheese, if you prefer to go vegan with it. Gently toasted pine nuts are quite savory. Flaky sea salt (Maldon) can add a light crunchy note, along with the bell pepper. There are several recipes online that are good starters to the general process.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:58 PM on February 4, 2021

Vada Pav. Jesus sideways shitting christ Vada Pav are fucking insane. Given the choice between a burger and a vada pav, I will actually choose the latter they're so goddamn delicious.

This serious eats vegan Dan Dan noodles, while not super authentic is REAL good, and a regular staple in this fairly omnivorous house. Meat is missed in neither.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:01 PM on February 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

I used to work at a student vegan/vegetarian restaurant. Popular dishes included:

veggie lasagna (basically lasagna sheets with a tomatoey sauce and lots of chopped veggies and cheese (vegan cheese option) (the line was always bigger on lasagna days)

Pad Thai with tofu

Shepherd's pie with lentils and mashed potato

There was always a curry and a chickpea dahl available

Moussaka with egg plant

We also did salads: watermelon cucumber was nice, your standard garden salad type thing, also more hearty salads such as cubed and roasted beetroot & pumpkin & sweet potato in usually left over rice etc with a nice dressing.
posted by freethefeet at 8:01 PM on February 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I always make this Korean braised tofu which is simple and usually a hit. You may find the ingredients overwhelming, but if you are interested in cooking North Asian cuisine (much of which definitely hits that salty/ savory/ umami flavor), once you get set up you will use them all again and again.

Also, Maangchi has a lot of really easy to follow and delicious Korean recipes, some of which are plant-based. All are full of flavor.
posted by lulu68 at 8:13 PM on February 4, 2021

You will find recipes for this that are all over the map - many with far too many ingredients - but I love a butternut squash soup with miso and coconut milk and ginger. If you want to make a little creamy garnish you can use the cream from the top of the can of coconut milk, and if you like crunchies in your soup you can roast the butternut seeds. Here's one recipe but as long as you season it properly (the miso is salty, don't add salt until after you add miso) it's going to be amazing. Carrots are good in there too for some sweetness and body, you don't have to F with sauteeing them, just roast them whole next to the butternut.

Miso is a great and non-fake ingredient which adds a wonderful funk to vegan recipes if you are not sodium sensitive.
posted by ftm at 8:18 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

1. I agree with ROAST ALL THE VEGGIES. You can serve it over your choice of grain, people can be particular about grains but brown rice, or jasmine rice, or quinoa are all good ones to try.

2. I like spicy soups or stews also served over grains. Butternut squash as ftm says is a good one, I've been eating this one a lot in quarantimes. (spicy peanut and sweet potato, can be made more savory with coconut milk, easily vegan)

3. I've also made spaghetti squash lasagna. More of a side dish in some ways, and really needs a lot of cheese so definitely not vegan, but pretty delicious.

4. If you're someone who would usually eat chili or tacos, these can be made with either TVP or crumbled up veggie burger type things (the spicy black bean are a good one) and taste more or less the same, serve with cornbread!
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’m an omnivore but I love plenty of veggie things. I think the cuisine that’s easiest for me to be accidentally vegan (and usually deliberately ovo-lacto vegetarian) is Mexican American, because I freaking love refried beans and if you’re making them yourself it’s easy to make them without meat. You can also easily find them premade that way in lots of places. Then it’s super straightforward to go as hard as you want on bombastic flavors in your garnishes and salsas, you can make tortillas from scratch or not as you please, or do yummy yellow rice and just layer everything on. Also I love black beans and roasted sweet potatoes together, toss them with a spice blend of cumin, chili powder at your preferred spice level, garlic and onion powder, a little cinnamon, smoked paprika, salt and pepper, then roast until tender. You can use this as a totally banger filling for enchiladas, tacos or burritos, in a bowl on rice with avocado, or even cold on a salad. Very good for batch prep and mixes well with additional veg you may not know how to use up, like different squashes or leafy greens.
posted by Mizu at 10:06 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Roasted broccoli with lemon zest and juice - do it at high enough temp (475?) to let it get crispy around the edges.

Dal (Indian spiced lentil stew) is also a great dish that lasts and lasts, I have a couple recipes that are good but the main ones are a masoor dal with lime juice, and a dal makhani (urad dal with cinnamon and black cardamom). I make it with much less butter than called for, because the lentils break down over long cooking and become creamy by themselves. You can try various types from restaurants before buying ingredients (though the restaurant versions will have more butter usually).

The main thing for me as far as building meals was getting in the habit of combining a couple of different "side" dishes and calling that dinner. In my family of origin a lot of things were coded as side dishes just because they were vegetable based, so it made sense I'd need to change that. So, roasted butternut squash in tahini sauce, side of green beans with almonds. Or a side of black beans.
posted by Lady Li at 10:38 PM on February 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, also, mejadra - I make it with brown basmati rice and you can't tell at all. Less onion, or part of it carmelized rather than fried. But the spiced rich savory rice and lentils is just a wonderful dish.
posted by Lady Li at 10:40 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I started trying to get 3 veggie meals in every week and so these are some regular ones in my rotation:

Ratatouille: I love ratatouille with fresh bread, I make a good batch about 2x a month. I don't bake bread from scratch, I just buy some parbaked bread and heat it up. It's awesome. Easy & vegan.

You can also use leftover ratatouille to make a nice risotto so make yourself a big batch!

Coconut curry: I also regularly make coconut curry - I switch up the ingredients. The base is always cumin/curry powder/turmeric/garam masala sauteed with garlic, ginger, onions. Then I toss in some tomato paste, and whatever the main ingredient will be - red lentils, chickpeas or cauliflower, or butternut squash, or potatoes - or some combo of same. Heat that up, add cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes for some heat if you want, then toss in a can of coconut milk and some veggie stock, some frozen peas and/or some kale. This is a regular weeknight meal and it makes good lunches, too.

Fried tofu: I have really come to love tofu, if you get some extra firm tofu, squeeze out the water by putting it between two plates with a heavy can on it for about 20 minutes, you can dredge it in some corn starch and fry it up with just about any combo of spices and it is very yum. I regularly make this pepper tofu with bok choy.

Other ideas: I also love making pad thai with fried tofu, the Thug Kitchen recipe is DIVINE.

If I'm feeling really tired, steamed artichokes with some rice pilaf on the side doesn't ever disappoint.

If you like pizza, get yourself a pizza stone and make yourself veggie pies!

You can make fritters out of cauliflower and zucchini. Very satisfying if you're looking for something different. Cauliflower is very versatile. I try to always have a head of cauliflower in my fridge.

If you need inspiration, my favorite go-to cookbooks for veggie recipes are:

Thug Kitchen - the recipes are SO good
The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. Full of incredible recipes for eggplant, chickpeas, roasted veggies, etc.
Cool Beans. So many bean dishes! They are really really good. I made the black bean & plantain chili earlier this week and it was delish.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:51 PM on February 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Oh my gosh I totally forgot one of my favorite weeknight savory veggie meals! Miso eggplant! This is one of my favorite mix-it-up veggie meals. Good with a salad and some rice.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:55 PM on February 4, 2021

Yay awesome! Veg meals is how I started getting into the habit of cooking more too! Meat can be so intimidating / inconsistent.

As mentioned above a couple times, one ingredient I've found to easily and consistently make my plant-based meals more savory, hearty, and delicious is coconut milk! In a lot of cases, it doesn't necessarily add a significant coconut flavor, just creaminess and richness (but of course coconut flavor is great too, like in the curry mentioned above).

My absolute go-tos are:
Sweet potato kale soup which is way better than it sounds. It's a hearty, nutritious, flavorful tomato-y stew that's both feels satisfying and healthy. It's such a breeze in the Instantpot, but would be just as easy on the stove.

One pot creamy mushroom pasta. This recipe is magic, you put shallot / onion, garlic, torn up mushrooms (so much faster than slicing!) in a pot, add spices. Then you dump your pasta in along with some stock, coconut milk, and 15 minutes later you have the most delicious, creamy pasta. I think the soy sauce is key in this, as are some of the spices, but I've def been liberal in omitting stuff like the sundried tomatoes / nutritional yeast.

Other things I like to keep on hand to boost flavor post-plating are liquid aminos (a little more umami than soy sauce), and lots of different hot sauces! Do you know about chili crisp? Get you some chili crisp.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 11:15 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

There is a brand of soy chorizo which is flavorful and can be used as a substitute for things where you are looking for a bit more flavor in Mexican dishes. Highly recommend it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:47 PM on February 4, 2021

One thing that is on a regular rotation in our family is a pasta sauce made with aubergine in place of meat. We make it exactly like a bolognese, but use diced aubergine where one would normally use meat. Browning the aubergine (like you would beef) can use a lot of oil, but there are two ways to deal with that: either use a wok with a lot of vegetable oil on high heat, and when the aubergine is golden with brown flecks, take it out with a spider and drain it on paper towels. You can reuse the oil. This is the fastest way. Or, you can coat the aubergine dice with olive oil and roast them in the oven on a baking sheet with baking paper, turning them 2-3 times during the roasting time.
Meanwhile, make a soffrito of one medium onion, finely chopped, one medium carrot, grated or finely chopped, and one stalk of celery, finely chopped. (You can also chop all three elements in a food processor).
Gently sauté the soffrito in olive oil, till the onions are translucent. Add the roasted aubergine dice and stir well. Then add a 1/2 cup of white wine or a tbs of wine vinegar, and stir till all strong vinegar or wine smell has disappeared.
Add a can of tomatoes, some oregano and a cup of vegetable or chicken stock. Stir, and let simmer for 30-45 minutes. Season to taste. This can be made during weekends and frozen in small batches and used for a pasta sauce. My adult kids prefer lasagna made with this sauce to the meat version.
posted by mumimor at 3:54 AM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Meera Sodha's workers curry (aka chana masala) is entirely vegan and a regular rotating staple in my (non-vegetarian) household. It's delicious and in these times also has the advantage of being able to be made almost entirely from pantry ingredients.

If you like her recipes she has three cookbooks, 1 of which (Made in India) is largely vegetarian and 2 of which (Fresh India and East) are completely vegetarian.
posted by andrewesque at 5:42 AM on February 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

AlexiaSky, is it the trader joe's soyrizo? That stuff is awesome. We regularly fool meat-eaters and vegans with it in chili.

Also, shakshuka, minus the eggs, is vegan and delicious. You can serve it with bread or add chickpeas to make it more filing.

Something else we ate this week was charred peppers and onions with chickpeas and rice covered with a jarred korma sauce. Not sure if the sauce was vegan, but jarred Indian sauces are delicious and one of them might become your new favorite. We buy at Aldi.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:46 AM on February 5, 2021

Oh She Glows has an amazing vegan Alfredo sauce - the main ingredient is cauliflower, which sounds insane, but it really works. I like to top it with this nut-based parmesan from Minimalist Kitchen. Since you like salty and savory, you could put that on a lot of things. (In case you're really new at this, nutritional yeast is very different from baker's yeast - do not substitute. )

Oh She Glows also has my go-to lentil loaf.

My veggie chili recipe is not online, but it substitutes wheat berries for ground beef, and you could do that with any soup or chili. Soak the wheat berries overnight, and start with about 3/4 cup. The texture is remarkably similar, and most of the flavor in a soup comes from other things.

I make this Ethiopian lentil stew at least once a month. It gives you the recipe for a berbere spice mix, but I am lazy and buy it already made up. I serve it over rice.

If you really get into this, you might want to consider getting an Instant Pot. I eat a lot of beans now, and the Instant Pot makes it so much easier.

I've been vegan for about four years, and the cookbooks I use the most are Forks Over Knives and Oh She Glows.
posted by FencingGal at 5:50 AM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Coming in to recommend the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook yet again because this is exactly the kind of situation for which I would recommend it and because I kind of always do.

That's a cookbook of soups, stews and salads, but many of the recipes are designed to work together as a kind of combo meal, so you could make a couple different soups and a couple different salads once a week and then just mix-and-match. Many of the recipes are easy and all are tasty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:44 AM on February 5, 2021

This is without a doubt the best vegan burger I've ever eaten. This recipe makes a ton of mix, so you should have some left over to freeze.

I also use Osem Consomme and Osem Mushroom Soup & Seasoning mix. The Consomme (sold as Chicken Soup & Seaoning in the UK) is actually vegan although you would never know from the taste of it. Both varieties add a huge amount of flavour to even the most basic dishes.
posted by essexjan at 7:23 AM on February 5, 2021

Even though Purple Carrot is a kit service, their recipes all use normal measurements (eg: "1 tsp dried dill", not "the little baggie marked #2") are are complete, so you can cook them without relying on their kits.

Most of their recipes are designed to take roughly 25-35 minutes and will serve two, so you won't be stuck with fifty tons of leftovers. They do, IMO, skimp a little on some of the cooking times -- I prefer things a bit more charred/browned than they do.

...and tbh, after doing their recipes for a while I got the hang of some of their "tricks" and can now put together a pretty decent vegan meal in a variety of cuisines with no recipe.
posted by aramaic at 7:27 AM on February 5, 2021

Another basic meal is a hearty minestrone. This is a good recipe, but you can put anything you want in a minestrone. the trick is to cut up the vegetables into pieces that fit on a spoon (several pieces together, preferably) and to put in each ingredient at the right time to cook it as desired. Carrots before broccoli, for instance. The portion here is for four. If you want to divide it up, don't put in the pasta, but cook the amount you need on the day to al dente, separately, and add it to your portion before serving.
The vegetarian cookbook that I always mention is River Cottage Veg Every Day. I don't know if it is my favorite cookbook, but I always recommend it to beginners because the recipes are easy to follow and very reliable, and some of the recipes are favorites. Right now I have a red grape and avocado salad on rotation as a side dish or appetizer, because it's the season. Generally, these recipes are based on regular ingredients that you can buy anywhere, which is both useful and interesting, since it opens your eyes to a lot of new uses for the vegs you know.
posted by mumimor at 8:46 AM on February 5, 2021

For quick, easy and delicious, I cook a cup of quinoa then mix in marinara sauce and cheese. Oh it's SO good!!! Even better than traditional mac and cheese on my opinion and SO simple to make. If I'm getting fancy I through in some roasted summer squash and zucchini. Delicious!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:57 PM on February 5, 2021

Beyond Meat burgers are pretty damn delicious. I eat them at home to the exclusion of all other burgers, and I'm a ravenous omnivore.
posted by lalochezia at 4:52 PM on February 5, 2021

Response by poster: I am SO glad I asked this question! Thanks everyone!
posted by koolaidnovel at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2021

Braised cabbage and tomatoes is a nice winter warmer dish - Bittman has a good recipe with 1 variant: use cumin seed or use caraway. I like mine with low-fat TJ's Greek Yogurt, but it's good even without the dairy (replace the butter with olive oil). From memory,
6C Cabbage, shredded
1 onion
2 tbl garlic minced
28 oz of canned chopped/diced tomatoes
1 tbl caraway or cumin seeds
3 tbl butter
3/4 C of yogurt or sour cream

Add the butter and sweat the onions over low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium and add the cabbage. Cook until the cabbage is softened and starting to brown. Add the seeds and stir, then add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer (~15 minutes) until saucy (not soupy) and cabbage has no "snap" left to thicker pieces. Add the yogurt and take off the heat to sit for five minutes.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 3:14 PM on February 6, 2021

I like to roast beets or other root veggies with some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic/onion powder. I make a dressing loosely based on this. I've put it over romaine as a salad and I also put it with some pasta. If you're a tomato soup person, I can totally vouch for this one. This potato soup is a regular in our house.
posted by kathrynm at 3:30 PM on February 6, 2021

I don't know if this is plant-based enough for you, but I am obsessed with this sheet pan BBQ tofu recipe and I like eating it with either cooked collard greens or a cabbage slaw.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:31 PM on February 16, 2021

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