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February 16, 2008 6:07 PM   Subscribe

What are some simple, healthy, and appetizing dinners for impatient cooks that like neither vegetables nor meat?

I was raised on a combination of bland, homestyle meals (meat and potatoes) and Italian meals. Although I now hate pot roast, steak, ham, turkey, and meat loaf, I've been eating pasta for the last few months. This week I ate tortelline (with microwave sauce; x4), mac & cheese (nasty kraft; x1), microwaveable soup (x1), and ravioli. Ugh. I definitely don't feel healthy, so I'd like to try a fresher, more diverse diet. The problem is I don't know where to start.

I want to go vegetarian, but I've never really liked vegetables (are there any "gateway" vegetables?). I don't like meat (seafood, beef, pork, chicken, etc) either. (No, I'm not into Alanis Morissette). I do like Mexican food (cheese enchiladas esp), obviously Italian meals, but that's where my experience ends.

So, with that in mind, what do you reccomend I cook?

(Thanks in advance for feeding me!)
posted by fleeba to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Are there any vegetables you do like?

You can sneak veggies into soup, chili and spaghetti sauce by puréeing them. Parents do this to kids I think, so you might try poking around on cooking-for-fussy-kids-type sites.
posted by loiseau at 6:11 PM on February 16, 2008

Middle-eastern: cous-cous with dates and raisins, stuffed grape-leaves, etc.
A whole new world, healthy, and as veggy or meaty as you prefer...
posted by Dizzy at 6:13 PM on February 16, 2008

I know you're trying to get away from pasta, but you might find it more appetizing if you start making your own sauces.

Get a can of tomato sauce (not the paste, it's too acidic). Put it on the stove, add things, and heat up. Some things to consider adding: garlic, onions, olives, oregano, basil, chives, coriander, hot pepper, balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh chopped tomatoes, cream. It's pretty hard to mess up tomato sauce, and you never have to have it the same way twice.

Other than that, have you tried stir-frying? It's another infinitely expandable concept. Basically you put a few different things into a hot wok (or frying pan, or whatever), stir them around until they're heated up, and put them over rice. Again, it's hard to wrong. Good ingredients: broccoli, snow peas, bell pepper, ginger, garlic, onion, carrots. And soy sauce. Soy sauce + ginger + a bit of garlic = basic Chinese flavor.

None of this will take very long. Longer than microwave soup, yes, but there has to be some tradeoff for eating fresher.
posted by echo target at 6:21 PM on February 16, 2008

The Chickpea Cutlets from the Veganomicon are an easy, yummy thing that both vegetarian me and my non-vegetable eating boyfriend will eat. (I'll be watching this thread with interest. I was about to ask this same question!)
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:30 PM on February 16, 2008

As for gateway vegetables, if you like potatoes, then you know roasted potatoes are delicious. So roast some potatoes, but try adding other vegetables too -- cauliflower is particularly delicious roasted, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes... just toss in a little bit of oil and salt and pepper and stick them in the oven. So yummy.
posted by loiseau at 6:39 PM on February 16, 2008

Seriously? You need to eat your veggies!

Failing that, seconding cous-cous. It's the easiest thing in the world to make. Really. It involves boiling a fluid (water, broth, juice even), putting the cous-cous in, turning off the heat, waiting five minutes, and eating. To make things even easier, the most common sized package of cous-cous is exactly how much you can prepare with a standard 14 oz. can of broth. And you can add just about whatever you want to it. Maybe sautee up some peppers and onions, or add some dates, raisins, and cinnamon, as dizzy suggested. Also, you can buy it in bulk, and spend 20-30 minutes (or, the ammount of time one might spend preparing a normal meal) preparing enough to last you all week.

Eat some fruit too. Much more bearable than vegetables. Or... suck it up and eat some veggies.

Also, while eating raw vegetables is, if I remember correctly, supposed to be better, you don't seem terribly averse to eating them in sauces and stuff. I'd say keep up the italian and mexican foods. Try increasing the proportion of vegetables you have in your dishes. Then maybe you can move on to some cooked, but not sauced, veggies? Maybe some peppers and onions?

As far as "gateway" veggies, I like cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes. Cucumbers and carrots are both a bit sweet, and kind of pleasant tasting, IMO. Also, are you against just a plain garden salad?

Another thing. What I often do is rather than eating "meals" is eat some healthy-ish snacks throughout the day. First, because cooking a meal for one can be rather time-consuming (but you can prepare some bulk meals for all week as suggested above). Also, because I've heard, and correct me if I'm wrong, that it's generally better to spread out your eating, rather than eating large meals. And finally, because that way, I can eat various different foods, that each have some good, and some bad to them, but since I'm eating each food in smaller quantities, throughout the day I can get a good balance of different good stuff, and not too much of any particular bad stuff. For instance, one day I might eat some cereal for carbs and protein from the milk, and try to not eat too much sugar the rest of the day (I like the sweet stuff), maybe some trail mix, which has lots of protein, but also lots of fat, then maybe some yogurt, which is really tasty, has some more protein (no wonder I'm so buff without trying... as far as I know I don't eat excessive amounts of protein) and some vitamins cause I like yogurt with fruit, low fat, but some more sugar, perhaps some cucumber, cause I find them tasty enough, and probably a few pieces of fruit, and maybe something bready at some point. It's not the absolute healthiest diet, but it could be a lot worse.

Oh, and again, sorry to nag so much, but, how old are you now? And you still won't eat your veggies? There are some ways to work them in that are rather painless, but sometimes you just gotta eat them.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:40 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm sure someone will chime in to explain about the amino acids and complementary goodness, but one classic vegetarian healthful dish is rice and beans. Well, wait a minute, look here.

Also, you said you liked Mexican food -- there's a lot more than cheese enchiladas here.

On preview, what gaucho said about veggies. Maybe you could puree them in a blender or good processor and hide them in sauces for your pastas and tortillas. And try drinking some V-8. :-)
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:45 PM on February 16, 2008

Ahem, *food* processor. I really did preview, too.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:46 PM on February 16, 2008

When it comes to stir fry, don't underestimate the flavoring potential of Hoisin sauce. Great stuff, that. (If you were using meat, it works really well to cut the meat up and marinate it overnight with hoisin sauce, cooking sherry, and soy sauce, but you aren't, so pretend I didn't say that. Use cheap sherry from the liquor store, not the stuff they sell in the Chinese section of the grocery store, because that latter has a lot of salt in it. Let the soy sauce do the salting; it tastes better.)

Stir fry is easy and cheap, and it might well make you change your mind about vegetables. In addition to the list above, also broccoli and cauliflower (which I otherwise despise), green beans, bean sprouts, and lots of other things. Mushrooms.

But in some cases you have to phase your cooking. You don't just toss in everything all at once because some things will be underdone and others overdone. Bean sprouts take very little cooking; overcook them and they become limp and nasty. They're mostly water, and the water cooks out.

(I like bean sprouts and I don't care for rice, so I use a lot of bean sprouts and skip the rice entirely. Works great. Also it's more fiber. And preparing rice is a hassle unless you have a rice cooker.)

Snow pea pods and bell peppers take middling cooking. Broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans take a lot of cooking. Fresh mushrooms do, too, and they use more oil. So what you do is start with the heavy dense stuff, cook it for a while (using peanut oil or sesame oil; save your olive oil for italian cooking), then toss in snow peas and/or pieces of bell pepper, cook a bit more, and then put bean sprouts in last and let them cook for no more than 30 seconds. And if you really want to be adventurous, toss in a handful of unsalted cashews at the end. Mix some corn starch with water and make a slurry, and pour it in near the end (say, just before the bean sprouts) to thicken the fluids at the bottom of the pan into a gravy. (That's also a good time to include hoisin sauce.)

If you have access to an oriental food store, you can also get things in cans that will add variety and spice. Canned bamboo shoots or canned water chestnuts are good; baby corn too. Also canned button mushrooms are easier to cook with and more forgiving than fresh ones and take less cooking (and use less oil).

I'm a horrible cook, but even I can do a decent stir fry. Experiment, learn what works, learn what you like, figure out how to phase your cooking so everything comes out good, and you might be amazed at how good your third or fourth batch is.
posted by Class Goat at 6:57 PM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, I'd be stumped too if I had to rule out both meat and vegetables. If you'll permit me to go a bit beyond the bounds of your question, it seems to me like you might be objecting to bland foods rather than vegetables per se. You say you like Italian and Mexican food, which are strongly flavored, so maybe if you try some Indian-style vegetarian curries you might enjoy those. I'm not a vegetarian but I love Indian food and never miss the meat when I cook Indian dishes.

Perhaps look into other cuisines which are highly seasoned for further inspiration: Chinese, Thai, Cajun, Greek, Malay/Indonesian, Vietnamese, etc. Many dishes are labor-intensive but there are a few quick gems here and there, especially if you cultivate some skill at stir-frying.

If you're not committed to becoming a strict vegetarian, and are willing to eat meat in small quantities, Chinese and Thai food might be right up your alley. Stir-fries and Thai curries are fairly quick if you find recipes that don't require lots of ingredients to be chopped (Ma Po Tofu is one of my all-time favorite lazy dishes, as is Pretty Much Any Sliced Vegetable With Spicy Pork Sauce, or the Thai fave A Little Meat And A Lot Of Vegetables In Red Curry Sauce With Coconut Milk.) Recipes for this type of dish abound in good cookbooks and websites. There are even vegetarian versions of these dishes, but they lack something, IMO. For pure vegetarian food, I think India easily beat the pants off the rest of the world.

posted by Quietgal at 6:59 PM on February 16, 2008

Rice and beans. Seriously. If you have a crock pot, all you have to do is dump the beans and rice in, turn it on, go to work/school/whatever all day, and come home to deliciousness. You can add some salsa or taco sauce, or even a little sour cream/cheese if you feel you want more dairy representation.

The ultimate vegetable gateway is tacos. Just start loading veggies onto your tacos, have taco salad. Add veggies to the rice and beans and just keep branching out from there.

Another easy one is fried rice - you need some leftover rice (or rice and beans if you've got it), crack in an egg, add some onions, some sprouts, some broccoli, some celery, some soy (not too much though, just a touch!), cook it hot in a fry pan or wok. You can toss in some chunks of tofu or tempeh, some frozen vegetables (spinach, peas, lima beans). It's so easy and so tasty. And now I am going to go make some fried rice.
posted by SassHat at 7:03 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Drink your veggies. Get a juicer and experiment. I like pineapple/carrot/celery/lime.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:13 PM on February 16, 2008

Best answer: You should not try to come up with a diet that excludes meat and vegetables, because that's just not healthy. If you're going to be a vegetarian, you have to eat vegetables. In other words, if your question is, "How can I avoid ever eating vegetables while being a vegetarian?"... then that's a question that just shouldn't be asked.

Try going to the produce section of the grocery store with a completely open mind. And don't just go to the produce section -- look at canned, dried, frozen. Put aside all notions of "That's a bit too pricey," "That's a bit exotic for me," etc. Maybe you've never really thought of getting...I don't know, artichokes? OK, then buy some and put them in EVERYTHING. Put them in sandwiches, pasta sauce, salads, eggs. Eat like that for a week. For one week, you're going to be obsessed with that vegetable. It'll be ridiculous. Have a little fun with it. Then try to find another to add to your palette. Maybe...asparagus? Eggplant? Sweet potatoes? Red peppers? Dried tomatoes (in bulk or canned with oil)? I really can't possibly tell you what you would like -- none of us can. But keep going like this, and it shouldn't take too long before you've build up a whole repertoire for yourself.

Maybe when you think of the word "vegetables," you think of boring little vegetable side dishes that are meant to accompany the main meat dish: carrots, corn, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower. If that's the problem, then start by crossing those specific vegetables off your list. But don't use that as an excuse to stop eating all vegetables; use it to push yourself to find the vegetables you do like.

I'm a vegetarian, and I would recommend it to most people. There are tons of benefits, and I think the downsides are overstated. But maybe it's just not for some people. I think vegetables present an exciting array of flavors -- I find it more exciting and diverse than the array of meats. But if you don't feel that way at all, and you're not willing to just bite the bullet and eat vegetables even though you're not crazy about them...then maybe it's just not for you.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:19 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gateway vegetables:

- green salads - I particularly think you might try a salad at a good sushi restaurant with the (non-dairy) ginger dressing;

- really good Chinese stir-fry with tofu;

- edamame (lightly boiled soybeans in the pod).

You could try these at restaurants. If (when) you like them, you can try to reproduce them at home. They won't be the same, but they will be healthy.

Edamame comes frozen from the supermarket. Just thaw/heat, maybe salt (a little), then chow down.

Green salad - you can make a bunch of this ahead of time and then eat over the week. DO NOT store salad with dressing on it; add the dressing just before you eat it, particularly if the dressing has oil in it. Also, be careful with cucumbers. These are one of my favorite salad ingredients, but they only keep for a day or two sliced. Also note: the more dressing you use, the less healthy it is, but start with whatever makes it taste good to you. You might enjoy French dressing particularly.

Stir fry - this is quick to cook, but the prep can take a while - cutting up vegetables, etc. You can do a lot of this ahead of time, then just get out the cleaned/prepared vegetables & cook right before a meal. There are gazillions of recipes around.
posted by amtho at 7:36 PM on February 16, 2008

This is quick and easy and good for non-veggie lovers: lightly sautee some onions and veggies in butter and pepper/oregano/favorite spice for just a few minutes (don't overcook), then let them cool a minute or two, then put them in a blender just until smooth, then - and this is the good part - fold the veggie purée (I like zucchini as the "gateway veggie" here) into half a jar of alfredo or tomato sauce heating in a pot on the stove. Pour sauce over pasta and there you go.

Amounts can vary; for me a 2-to-1 ratio of veggie purée-to-alfredo/tomato sauce works perfectly, which is like 3 large zucchinis and half an onion to half a jar of sauce.

It's quick, easy and gets a healthy dose of veggies into you in a way you'll probably like the taste of.
posted by mediareport at 7:41 PM on February 16, 2008

Best answer: Another gateway vegetable food that _can be_ pretty healthy: sandwiches. Get some awesome bread (I favor sourdough or rye), maybe some fake meat cold cuts, some absolutely beautiful and fresh lettuce, and a very ripe, locally-grown, organic tomato. You'll want to have mayo and/or mustard on hand, too.

If you want a "gourmet" sandwich, lightly toast the bread. Not too much, or it will skin the roof of your mouth when you bite into it!

OK, we've all made sandwiches, but the point here is to use a lot of lettuce. The tomato adds a lot too (although, yes, tomato is technically a fruit, I think it can count as a "gateway vegetable"). Don't go overboard on the condiments.

Cucumber can work well on sandwiches, too.
posted by amtho at 7:43 PM on February 16, 2008

Are you sure you hate these things or is it possible you just hate them because you've never had them properly prepared. I used to hate tons of veggies (carrots, tomatoes, brocolli, peas, etc.) because (though I didn't know it at the time), my mother was a terrible cook. Once I learned how to make things properly, I liked them. (A rice/vegetable steamer helps!)

I've now been a vegetarian for 18 years.
posted by dobbs at 8:24 PM on February 16, 2008

Avocados make great toppings for veggie sandwiches. They contain a great deal of fat (about 15% by weight), which is why they feel so wonderfully creamy and smooth on the tongue. Use them in vegetable sandwiches the way you'd use cheese slices.
posted by Class Goat at 8:41 PM on February 16, 2008

Best answer: What are some simple, healthy, and appetizing dinners for impatient cooks that like neither vegetables nor meat?

For ideas check out Mark Bittman's 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less || 101 Quick Meals? Make It an Even 111 || A Kitchen Blitz, When 10 Minutes Seems Like an Eternity. [Previously].
posted by ericb at 10:01 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't believe you don't like meat or veggies. You haven't had veg cooked well, methinks. I never ate asparagus, eggplant, cherries or spinach until I lived on my own and started cooking for myself, now I love them. Google some recipes, find one that looks delicious, and go.

Since you like starchy things like potatoes and pasta, try looking up some cottage pie recipes, here's one, and there's a link to a vegetarian version.

Green salads are ok, but iceberg lettuce is awful. Try romaine or spinach, or forgo leafy veggies and cut up tomatoes, onions or something and put italian dressing on it.

Tonight I'm making potato soup (pumpkin it good too), with steamed asparagus and broccoli. Mmm, hungry now...
posted by Jhoosier at 10:04 PM on February 16, 2008

I'm not a big fan of veggies, but I'm learning, and it's 80% learning to oven-roast them. It;s simple and really tasty, trust me. Take your most tolerated veggies (I favor brussle sprouts and onions. Brussle sprouts are much better than childhood has led you to believe), chop them into big chunks and toss them with some oilve oil, salt and pepper. Plenty of all three. Place on a pan, not crowded, and put in 350-400 degree oven. Open up the oven and give the pan a few shakes once or twice. When they look done (and I mean done, starting to turn dark brown inn places, take 'em out and eat 'em. Maybe salt 'em a bit more, if you want.

Seriously, it's easy
posted by Bookhouse at 10:06 PM on February 16, 2008

Sweet potatoes are not vegetables, but are a good way to eat something that is better for you than regular white potatoes. Just slice them up like fries and BAKE THEM at 400 degrees for, oh, 20 minutes or so. Maybe longer. Poke them with a fork to tell. Don't eat this with ketchup. Just try them as they are. I find they are sweet and tasty on their own, maybe with a tiny touch of season salt.

Also, you might look for broccolini (or asparation, I've seen it called) which is essentially bunches of small, thin broccoli that have long, thin stalks sort of like asparagus. It's less bitter than actual broccoli. Again, you can bake this (roast, I suppose, is more properly the term) or cut it up and make it in a stirfry. Sugar snap peas are also good, because they are also slightly sweet, but get quality ones (like from Whole Foods) - the ones I've "taken a chance on" that were prepacked in the "steam packs" were grody and stringy. Also, bookhouse is right - Brussels Sprouts are actually tasty. Clean them very well - cut off the ends and remove any leaves that are at all loose, cut them in half and roast them in the oven. You can also wok them up with some lemon juice and prosciutto, but that's not very vegetarian. I LOVE roasted sprouts right now. I eat them about once a week.

You might also try a baked squash - butternut is good, again, it's sweet, and you can bake/roast it.

In any case, shop at a farmer's market if you can, and if you can't, the next best thing in your area (Whole Foods or such what). Fresher, closer to home veggies always taste better than the on-steroids ones at large chains. Just try a new veggie every week, regardless of whether you think you will like it. I never even thought of cauliflower as edible until this year.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:10 PM on February 16, 2008

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a tasty grain that has complete proteins (right?) that took me way too long as a vegetarian to discover. Cook it up in some vegetable broth and maybe toss in some beans or raisins and cranberries. Mmmm.
posted by lauranesson at 10:49 PM on February 16, 2008

-Soups are great! Lentil soup, for instance, is very easy to make, you can throw a few veggies in there for some nutrition (sauteed onion and garlic, add some chopped carrots and celery, lentils, veggie broth-there are a million recipes online). It freezes beautifully. This vegetarian tortilla soup is also very good, and healthy, and easy.

-Lentil and goat cheese salad is also fantastic-lentils are really perked up with a dash of vinegar.

-I'm feeling a bit inspired by my efforts to get my children to eat vegetables, which are probably similar to getting anyone who doesn't really like them to make the leap. I have found the big bags of peas in the pod at Costco to be a huge hit-they are sweet and crunchy. Ripe tomatoes in season-especially cherry tomatoes. My 10 year old loves spinach raw off the plant, but not in salad or cooked. Raw carrots, with or without dip. Edamame, the soybeans mentioned earlier, are really fabulous and a huge hit with kids and adults. Boil them for about five minutes, drain, toss with coarse salt, then slide the pod through your teeth, pulling out the beans and leaving the pod behind.

-Master pasta sauces, since you like italian. And hey, how about homemade pizza? You can learn to make dough, or buy raw dough for about a buck each at your local Trader Joe's or grocery store. Tomato sauce or white sauce, shredded cheese, and whatever you want (or nothing else). Black olives, slices of fresh mozarella, basil, pineapple, all the standard vegetables-not all together, of course.
posted by purenitrous at 10:54 PM on February 16, 2008

Best answer: I grew up with a similar diet, and most of my veggies came out of a can. They were either soggy or overcooked, and aside from beans and diced tomatoes, I won’t eat any canned veggies. Either fresh or frozen and not overcooked! Then I lived with a vegetarian for a while and learned to cook vegetarian. Perhaps you’ve not had a lot of really great vegetable dishes. The first thing I’d do is start ordering veg dishes at restaurants to see what can be done with them, and ask the chef for the recipe or look it up online.

One easy thing you can do right away is change your brand of pasta. I’ve switched to Barilla PLUS, which has protein and other good stuff in it. Unlike whole wheat pasta, which gives me a weird mouth feel, Barilla tastes good.

I make a simple veggie chili using canned beans. On medium heat, saute a small chopped onion, a chopped clove of garlic, and about 1/2” piece of some chopped fresh ginger root in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. I buy a 4” chunk of fresh ginger and chop what I need the first time, then freeze the remainder in a small baggy. The next time I want to use fresh ginger, I just grate what I need using a box grater and pop the frozen piece back in the freezer.

After 5 minutes, add a can of diced tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of cumin powder. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

Add 2 cans each of kidney and garbanzo beans (chick peas). If it’s too thick, add a cup of water. If you like hot stuff, add a few dried chili flakes or a finely chopped jalepeno with the seeds removed (note, do not do what I do and touch your eyes after handling hot peppers, or you will be sorry).

Cook the whole lot for about 10-15 minutes on medium to medium-low. You can add 1/4 bag of frozen spinach or a chopped green bell pepper if you want some green stuff in there. Adjust your spices and serve.

My husband is not a big veggie eater but he loves roasted asparagus. I just chop off the tough ends, put the spears on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper and toss with your hands. Roast at 400 F for 10 minutes, yum! This would make a good side dish for any meal. Roasted veggies taste great because they get a little carmelized, you’ll be surprised how good they taste compared to steamed or boiled veggies.

Do you like eggs? You could make quiche. I use a refrigerated pie crust, the kind that comes rolled up. I take a crust out of the fridge, and while it’s softening up to allow unrolling, I sautee some chopped baby portabella mushrooms and chopped onion in olive oil. Dump them on a plate and stick in the fridge to cool. I nuke about 1/4 to 1/2 a bag of frozen spinach, and also put in the fridge until lukewarm. Then I unroll the pie crust and put in a deep dish pie plate sprayed with cooking spray. For the egg-filling, I whisk 6-8 eggs with about 1/2-3/4 cup of 2% milk. Whisk it really hard until you see bubbles on the edge of the bowl.

Dump the mushroom/onion mixture into the pie crust. Add some shredded cheese, Mexican mix or Swiss, 1/2 to 1 whole 8 oz. package. Squeeze the water out of the spinach and sprinkle around the top. Pour in your egg/milk mixture and tamp it down lightly with your whisk to make sure it gets in all the crevices. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes or until the edges have started to turn brown (sometimes it takes a little longer in my oven). Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes before slicing.

Veggie nachos are good. Heat a can of vegetarian refried black beans (they also make ‘em with hot stuff). Chop some onion, fresh tomato, green pepper, jalepeno, and cilantro. Put the beans in a bowl, add tortilla chips around the side, and dump the fresh veggies on top. Sprinkle with shredded Mexican-blend cheese. You can use salsa if you don’t have time to chop the veggies (go easy on the cheese, think of it as a condiment).

I watch the Food Network a lot, and while all of their meals are not veg or necessarily healthy, I get a lot of good ideas and cooking techniques from the shows. Also, I check cookbooks out of the library and try out the recipes before deciding on buying one. As far as nutrition, I take a super B-vitamin complex with antioxidants every day, just in case (I've gone back to eating meat, but I know I'm not eating 100% healthy ALL the time). Lastly, check out your local colleges and see if their adult continuing ed programs offer any cooking classes. Explain to the instructor that you’re looking for healthy non-meat-based meals, and see if he/she offers any suggestions. Also, your local hospital may have nutrition classes.

Good luck and feel free to MeMail me if you want more suggestions or cooking tips.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:15 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

To add to what loiseau said about sneaking vegies into your food, check out Jessica Seinfeld's DECEPTIVELY DELICIOUS cookbook. She purees vegies on Sundays, then refrigerates/freezes them and adds them to everything she cooks, even brownies. Kids can't taste the difference, and neither will you. Do it! Hide your vitamins.

Borrow the book from your library if you don't want to buy it, or here are a few of the recipes online. (And here are step-by-step instructions for pureeing vegies.)
posted by mjao at 5:13 AM on February 17, 2008

...impatient cooks...

If you're really impatient, there are lots of short cuts. Slow-cooked rice and beans can be fantastic, but fast-cooking mixes (I like Zatarain's) are pretty good and take 30-45 minutes to cook. Don't want to wait that long? Get a pouch of precooked brown rice and a can of black beans, warm each up in the microwave, mix 'em together with some hot sauce or salsa, and you're done in five minutes.

Similarly, frozen vegetables, while not as tasty as fresh, can serve as the basis for some microwave concoctions. Zap some French-cut green beans, drain 'em, and douse 'em in picante sauce. Cook up some steam-in-bag broccoli and then cover it with whatever it takes to make it palatable -- pasta sauce and Parmesan, grated Cheddar, stir-fry sauce, etc.
posted by backupjesus at 5:20 AM on February 17, 2008

You mentioned only reheating things in the microwave. I don't have anything against microwaves, but you should be comfortable with cooking on a stove. The trick with stovetop cooking is using a high enough heat. Don't be afraid of whether you're going to burn down the house or set your dinner on fire. When sauteeing (aka frying) onions or other vegetables (like zucchini, carrots, or mushrooms), get the oil (I highly recommend olive oil) shimmering hot before you put the stuff in the pan. Onions are something that are better the longer they are cooked; sautee them for a good ten minutes, till they start to darken (but not burn!) and carmelize. This brings out a more complex, almost sweet flavor.

There are a lot of excellent suggestions above, like the butternut squash and edamame (pron. ed-uh-mah-may). The best meals are made with fresh, simple ingredients. Some of my own cooking highlights include homemade egg salad on toast with a spinach salad, and breaded chicken cutlets with sauteed broccoli raab (which is my favorite vegetable, but because it is a bitter vegetable, is not to everyone's liking; it needs to be plunged into salted boiling water for a couple minutes to reduce the bitterness; after that you can sautee it with garlic and red pepper flakes).

I suggest buying one of those bean variety bags and make a big pot of soup. Soak the beans overnight. Add a can of diced tomatoes and some sliced carrots. Add lots of water and let the beans cook for a couple hours. Add a few seasonings, like bay leaf, garlic, and salt and pepper. Sometimes salt and pepper is all you need--and garlic. As long as it's fresh garlic. Please don't buy that minced stuff in a jar.

Hummus is an easy thing to make yourself, and it doesn't even involve cooking, just mashing the chickpeas, tahini sauce, garlic, with some lemon and olive oil (and salt and cayenne). I've even started baking bread, which may sound terrifically daunting, but it so easy and I feel rather spoiled when cutting into a fresh loaf, instead of shelling out five bucks for one of those fancy loaves at Fairway.

I see you live in Great Falls, and based on what my brother's told me about that town (he lived there, but it was several years ago, btw), I would guess you don't have access to a wide variety of vegetables. I would advise minimizing your potato intake, as they're pretty high on the glycemic index. That still leaves you with a lot of starch choices: rice, couscous, pasta, quinoa, bread.

And have fun with it. Cooking isn't a competition; if you attempt to make something and it doesn't work out, you'll know better for the next time. My recipe notebook and cookbooks are full of my little notations about additions, subtractions, how something turned out.

And to wrap up, here are a few things every kitchen should have:
A sharp chef's knife
Big cutting board
Large sautee pan
Large pot (for making soup, boiling pasta)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:46 AM on February 17, 2008

Best answer: ericb beat me to the Mark Bittman suggestion (although I'd add his big "how to cook practically anything" cookbook to that list) -- he focuses much more on real-world improvisational cooking than most cookbook authors. Most cookbooks I find frustrating, because the recipes are elaborate and call for odd quantities of specialized ingredients that I don't want to have sitting half-used in my cupboards for the next six months. Bittman has a really different approach that I find far more useful in my life.

There's also a not-bad cookbook called The Improvisational Cook. More fussy than Bittman, but a good guide to questions like "what goes with what?" and has some really good foundational recipes in there.

More than anything, I think that what you should do is expand your basic repertoire -- foods you can cook when you are tired and stressed, without having to think about it at all. For me that's things like lentil soup, omelettes, some variations on pasta, and so on. Basic, reasonably healthy food that is easy and fast. Since I like leftovers and a lot of evenings I don't want to spend a long time cooking, but I don't like fast food, I cook big quantities of soups, stews, etc, once a month or so and freeze them in small quantities -- freezer to microwave to plate takes only a few minutes. I use a lot of frozen vegetables, because the quality is often better than the substandard stuff sold in the produce section, they are already cut up, and the serving sizes are good.

And don't feel intimidated by food and cooking in any way. Use whatever tricks like that help you to actually get good food on the table -- don't worry about the purists who will insist that unless you personally handwashed the organic tomato plants each day with biodynamic spring water you are a bad cook. Nonsense -- good cooking is about things that taste good to you and that work with the rhythms of your life. Croutons are just toasted pieces of bread with butter/oil and maybe some seasonings, but they make even canned soup into a real treat. Same with all sorts of little things. Eat the mac and cheese, but experiment with additions or side dishes that turn it from a depressing orange lump into a really nice meal.
posted by Forktine at 6:24 AM on February 17, 2008

Best answer: Quesadillas! The basic version is just cheese and tortillas toasted in a pan, but you can fancy it up with veggies inside or make some sides like salsa, guacamole, and refried beans. It's really hard to go wrong.

Also, I love making a big pot of soup and eating it for a few days. You would probably like French Onion, Broccoli and Cheddar, and Black Bean.

Finally, Elise at Simple Recipes has the BEST Cheese Enchilada recipe. They're my favorite too. Don't forget to add the lettuce and tomato on top!
posted by jrichards at 7:07 AM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: Your taste will also change after diet changes. Let's suppose you eat a lot of spicy, salty, sweet, sour, etc foods. Therefore: vegetables and fruits will taste bland. Because their taste is subtle, you're not calibrated for it. If you can manage that, try not eating anything at all for a full day, that will partly reset your taste and then you will find that even unseasoned potato, for instance, or a banana, have a very rich and complex taste. As you can see, there can be no gateway veggies for this exact reason. Changing taste is pretty tough, actually. My opinion is that the whole tradition of spiced, heavily seasoned dishes came in originally to keep food from spoiling, to make up for bad taste of slightly spoiled food, etc, and then there was a runaway effect where it'd be hard to come back to 'normal' food because it's lost the taste. Anyway, for what it's worth, I like to make beans (soaked overnight) or lentils with random veggies and broccoli and butter as a default meal, sometimes I do the same thing with brown rice insead of beans. I can also do the same thing in a form of a soup for variety. For some reason I hate cooked carrots. Soup with potatoes and yams and veggies is really great. I hate onions and garlic and never use them, for very light spices I sometimes add: red pepper, bay leaves, a very little bit of salt. You can also do beans or lentils or rice with vegetables in a stove in ceramic closed container, then veggies will be more flavorful because taste does not get boiled out of them. It really takes years to learn how to make even simple practical food, and yet that's something everyone has to learn because there's really no other choice. You have to eat something and ready-to-eat food and takeout food is inedible.
posted by rainy at 2:32 AM on February 21, 2008

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