Meat-Free Meals Made Simple
There's no reason for vegetarian meals to be any more complicated or time-consuming to prepare than those featuring meat. In fact, meals made up of vegetables, pulses, legumes and grains can come together with minimal fuss and zero sacrifice of flavor. It doesn't take much time to bring out the best in fresh, seasonal produce, but even when you're relying on pantry staples and the contents of your freezer, a delicious vegetarian dinner every night is an achievable challenge.
One of the quickest go-to recipes in any vegetarian's repertoire consists of pasta, sauce from a jar and some fresh, canned or frozen vegetables. Considering the variety of potential different pastas, sauces and vegetables available, the combinations are limitless. Preparation techniques vary, too – boil the vegetables in the pasta water or saute, roast or grill them. Consider extras such as olives, beans, chopped nuts and cheeses.
Classic combinations include pasta primavera with tomato sauce and spring vegetables, or fettuccine with Alfredo sauce and mushrooms. Pesto pairs nicely with peas, and sundried tomatoes give an intense flavor boost to any pasta dish.
2. Portobello Burger
Grill or bake whole Portobello mushrooms to take the place of a meat-based burger. They're juicy, flavorful and are complemented by classic burger toppings such as cheese, mustard, lettuce, onion and tomato.
For a gourmet twist, fill the mushroom cap with ingredients before cooking them for a gourmet twist. Try goat's cheese and a smear of pesto, or crushed garlic and wilted spinach. All the usual burger sides, such as French fries and salads, work just as well next to the Portobello version.
3. Homemade Pizza
Whether you use a ready-made pizza base, refrigerated dough, naan or split French bread, a homemade pizza is almost as easy as ordering delivery. Top it with whatever veggies you have in the fridge, be it mushrooms, olives, bell peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, spinach, jalapenos or pineapple.
Get creative with different cheeses and sauces, perhaps a garlic-olive oil base and dots of feta, pesto and goat's cheese or spicy tomato sauce with blobs of creamy ricotta. Venture outside of Italian-inspired pizza combos, and try a peanut sauce with broccoli and water chestnuts, or a spread of refried beans with zucchini and corn.
4. Thai Coconut Curry
A spoonful of Thai curry paste from a jar, a can of coconut milk and stir-fried vegetables combine to make a delicious curry that's ready in minutes. Frozen stir-fry mix or pre-cut vegetables make the preparation easier, but cutting up an onion, head of broccoli and a couple of carrots is simple enough too. Follow the recommendations on the jar of Thai curry paste, as the heat and intensity varies by brand. Boiled rice or noodles make the meal more filling, and you might add diced tofu, too. Fresh cilantro and lime juice are welcome additions.
5. Lentil Soup
Saute an onion, add garlic and your favorite spice mixture and then toss in a few handfuls of red or green lentils. Cover the dry ingredients with stock and simmer everything until the lentils are cooked, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. You'll have a super-simple lentil soup that's perfect for a fall or winter evening.
Bulk it up with sweet carrots, earthy beets or robust kale. Make it Indian-inspired with turmeric, ginger and curry powder, Italian-style with canned tomatoes and fresh basil or Moroccan with ras-el-hanout and chickpeas. Garlic bread, grilled cheese or a side salad make it a full meal.
Quesadillas are the simplest of comfort food, ready in minutes and delicious even when made with as few as two ingredients. Add some cooked vegetables, plus condiments inside or on top, for a more complex flavor. Try black beans and corn, spinach and mushrooms or roasted peppers and olives. Diced avocado, pickled onion and radish slices and all manner of salsas complement quesadillas' rich cheesiness.
Joanne Thomas has worked as a writer and editor for print and online publications since 2004. As a specialist in all things food and drink, she has penned pieces for Livestrong, Robert Mondavi and Modern Mom, among other names. She found her first jobs in a series of kitchens before moving on to celebrate food via the written word. Thomas resides in California and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of Bristol, U.K.