Wednesday, May 12, 2010
10 vegetarian main dishes for busy people
Sometimes I like to make recipes that begin, "Four days before serving, ..." Most of the time, I'd rather pull stuff out of the refrigerator and be eating in less than 30 minutes. Here are some vegetarian ways to get a meal together quickly - with options for days when you have more time and inspiration. A few require more than half an hour's cooking time, but you can throw the ingredients together, pour yourself a tall one, put your feet up, and let the oven do its work.
1. Black bean soup. Trader Joe's sells good organic black bean soup in cans. Add maybe just a little kosher salt and garnish with cilantro or sour cream or Greek yogurt or chives, or some combination. If you'd rather prepare your soup from scratch, epicurious.com has a killer recipe for black bean soup with cumin and jalapeños. Bush beans give excellent results.
2. Lentil stew/soup. Trader Joe's also has this in cans, though if you're serving a crowd, it's much cheaper to make it yourself, and the hands-on time is minimal. Your basic ingredients are dry lentils, vegetables (bell peppers, carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, garlic), liquid (water or vegetable broth), and seasonings (salt, basil, oregano, black pepper, parsley). You can simmer this on the stove or in a crockpot. You can make it thick or thin. If you like actual recipes, click here for a bunch to choose from.
3. Tostadas. On each plate, lay out a tortilla (raw or crisped, corn or flour). Then add the following layers, or layers of your choice: Chopped lettuce (iceberg or romaine). Beans (pinto or black, refried or whole). Cheese (queso fresco or cheddar or Mexican blend). Chopped fresh tomato. Salsa. Those are the essential ingredients, but you can jazz it up a lot of ways. Fry some onions and then warm up the beans with them. Add chopped bell peppers - yellow and orange are nice - or chili peppers if you prefer. Top with diced avocado and cilantro. Sour cream is good. Or ... what do you have in your refrigerator that might work?
4. Noodles and cheese. No, not the boxed kind unless your kids insist. My kids liked noodles fixed like this: Cook 8 oz. egg noodles, drain. Mix with 1/2 stick melted butter, 8 oz. cottage cheese or ricotta cheese, 8 oz. sour cream or sour half and half, 1 egg, a little salt and pepper, and a couple of shakes of dried basil. Bake in covered casserole dish at 350˚ for 30-45 minutes.
5. Spinach and artichoke casserole. This recipe comes from Jeff Smith's 1984 cookbook. I have never met anyone who didn't like it.
6. Lentil loaf. A bit esoteric, though a staple of my vegetarian ancestors. Don't expect it to taste like meatloaf. Let it be its own thing, for good or for ill. Mix 1 cup lentils (canned and drained - or dried and cooked), 1 cup canned milk (or cream or milk or plain yogurt), 1/2 cup oil (olive is best), 1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans), 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (or crushed crackers or shredded wheat or corn flakes), 1 small onion, minced, 1/2 teaspoon sage, 1 egg, salt and pepper to taste. Put it in a lightly oiled loaf pan. Bake at 350˚ for about an hour. You may want to serve it with a little gravy or tomato sauce. The second time you make it, play with the seasonings.
7. Eggplant casserole. The only way to get some people to eat eggplant. Mix 1 large eggplant (peeled, diced, cooked, mashed), 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 loaf bread (cubed or torn into little bits), 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 small onion (diced, sautéed in butter), 1 egg, and 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I like sharp), plus more milk or eggplant cooking liquid if mixture is too dry to hold together. Pack into casserole and bake at 350˚ for about 45 minutes.
8. Faux meatballs. Easy method: buy them frozen at Trader Joe's or at your grocery store. They are excellent with spaghetti and tomato sauce. If you want to slave over a hot stove, you can mix (by hand or in your food processor) 1 1/2 cups saltine crumbs, 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans, 16 oz. low-fat cottage cheese or farmers' cheese, 1 onion (chopped fine), 6 eggs. Roll the mixture into dozens of walnut-sized balls and fry over medium flame until golden brown. Soak overnight in tomato sauce or packaged au jus gravy.
9. Cheese quiche. Buy a prepared crust, make your own, or skip the crust entirely. For the filling, you'll need grated cheese, which you'll place in the crust, and an egg-milk custard that you will pour over it. Here's a good basic recipe with lots of ideas for ways to play with it. Or you can probably pick up a ready-made quiche - or something equally interesting - in the Whole Foods deli.
10. Insalata caprese (pictured at top of this article). One of the easiest meals of all, and there is nothing tastier. Arrange whole basil leaves on a plate. Arrange sliced or quartered ripe tomatoes (heirloom or home grown are especially good) on top of the basil. Put chunks or balls of mozzarella cheese (the ultra-fresh kind that comes packed in water, either cow or buffalo) atop the tomatoes. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over all. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
Cautionary note to would-be vegetarians: Maybe you'd like to get healthier or save the environment or boycott factory farms. Should you become a vegetarian? Perhaps - but probably not overnight. Start by eating meat-free meals at least once a week. Try new foods, whether you prepare them yourself or order them in restaurants. By cutting back on meat consumption, you're already helping your body and the earth. And when you find plant-based meals you truly enjoy, you may decide to cut back - and help - even more.