Vegetarian dishes are a great alternative to meat-based main dishes for more and more people. They are often lighter and healthier options, but they can also be very filling and enjoyable. Many vegetarian dishes include eggs, cheese and other dairy like sour cream. Vegan dishes, on the other hand, are entirely plant-based. There are no animals or fish of any kind and no animal by-products.
There are a lot of misconceptions around these ways of eating. Vegetarians and vegans eat more than salads! They aren’t chronically malnourished. Both vegetarians and vegans eat healthily and there are some amazing dishes that can be created with only plants.
There are special considerations, of course. One of the biggest challenges for people who lead a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is getting enough of the right kinds of protein. Adults living a sedentary lifestyle need from 46 to 56 grams a day, and the more active you are, the more protein you need. People who consume a meat-based diet of course have easy access to proteins, but protein can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes as well.
Rice and beans together make a cheap source of complete protein. There is a rice and beans dish in many cultures for exactly this reason. Think Tex-Mex pinto beans and rice, Cajun red beans and rice, Indian dal with basmati rice, Cuban black beans and rice and Italy’s panissa risotto and beans. That’s just a start! Even though many of these dishes classically include meat, they can be made from vegetables only or with some of the wonderful meat substitutes available today.
Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids. Just one cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein. It also contains plenty of iron and magnesium.
Lentils provide 18 grams of protein in a cup. They aren’t a complete protein so will need to be paired with rice or other grains to get all your amino acids.
Walnuts are rich in fat and calories, so making an entire meal out of them isn’t recommended. They do offer up 4 grams of protein per ¼ cup serving and are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Tempeh is made from soybeans. It goes through a process of fermentation that neutralizes the phytic acid which may interfere with the absorption of nutrients such as zinc, copper and calcium. A 100-gram serving of tempeh has more than 18 grams of protein.
Seitan is an almost pure protein with 21grams per ounce! It provides iron and is low in fat, but is made from wheat gluten, so it is not safe for those with gluten or wheat allergies. It’s also not a complete protein, so it should be paired with other sources.
Some of my favorite meatless recipes include tacos, lasagna, chili and casseroles. With fall just around the corner, produce like squash and pumpkin and all the other delicious root vegetables will be in abundance for some great vegetarian main dishes.
Whether you choose to start small with a meatless Monday or you’ve chosen to give up animal-based protein altogether, lots of delicious options await!
1 can black beans or red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can white kidney beans, rinsed
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
2 28 ounce cans tomatoes (diced, whole or stewed – your preference) or 12 large beefsteak tomatoes, seeded, peeled and diced
2-4 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2-4 additional chile peppers, seeded and diced (your choice – make sure you know the Scoville rating before adding to your chili and always wear gloves when handling! If you use dried chiles, rehydrate in a bit of hot water or broth and add that to your cooking liquid.)
4 cups water, vegetable broth or tomato juice (I prefer tomato juice)
1 cup red wine or beer (optional)
2 TBSP chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large stockpot. Sauté onions, celery, carrots, jalapenos and chili peppers in a splash of olive oil just until the onions are translucent. At this point you can either transfer to a 6-quart slow cooker or continue on the stove. Add tomatoes, beans, liquid and spices. Taste test for salt and pepper and adjust if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hours on low.
Serve over rice, quinoa or on its own with a bread of your choice. Garnish with shredded cheese or vegan cheese and sour cream or sour cream alternative.
This is a good basic recipe. Get creative! Add whatever vegetables you feel would make your meal better: squash, potatoes, yams. Some vegetables will make your chili sweeter (yams, sweet potatoes, jicama). To play with the amount of heat, you can always decrease the peppers and chili powder, or increase it if you really enjoy a spicy dish!
Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian, and this hearty “hunter-style” stew includes peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes. Traditionally, it includes chicken or rabbit, but boosting the amount of mushrooms creates a flavorful filling dish. It is often served over polenta, but also goes well mixed with short pasta (baked for a minute with a little cheese?) or served over a simple, plain risotto made with vegetable broth and olive oil.
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb mixed mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, button), sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, sliced into strips
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 zucchini, sliced into semi-circles
1 Tbsp capers
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp red chili flakes (optional)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup dry white wine (or red)
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped, for serving
4 cups cooked polenta or pasta, for serving
Place a pot or deep skillet over medium heat and coat the pan with olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes, so they’ll release their moisture and then begin to brown.
Add onion, garlic, red pepper, celery, carrot, zucchini, capers, oregano, chili flakes, sea salt and pepper and cook for 7 minutes. Pour in the diced tomatoes, vegetable broth and white wine. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Top with fresh basil and re-season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon polenta onto each serving plate and top with a generous portion of the stew.
Cacciatore is delicious, and with all the mushrooms in it, it’s a great vegetarian main meal. It’s also perfect for your heartiest meat eaters if you want to begin sliding more vegetables into your meals.
Children can be picky eaters and taking something like meat away from their diet, even for one night a week, can be a challenge for any parent, but I think these two recipes might just make them consider other options. You can get your little helpers to help you make these delicious quick meals!
Cauliflower Crust Pizza
1 large head of cauliflower, cleaned, rinsed, roughly chopped and steamed until tender
1 large egg
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
½ cup grated parmesan, divided
Zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ C homemade or store-bought tomato sauce
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced (optional)
¼ c red onion thinly sliced (optional)
¼ c cherry tomatoes halved
1 small zucchini, shaved into a few lengthwise ribbons
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
Torn fresh basil for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425F. In a food processor, pulse the steamed cauliflower until it looks like grated cheese. Using a dishtowel or cheesecloth, squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl and add the egg, 1 cup mozzarella, 1/4 cup parmesan and the lemon zest, then salt and pepper to taste.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil. Transfer the dough to the parchment paper and shape into a thin round crust. Bake until golden and dried out (about 20 minutes).
Top the pizza crust with the remaining cheeses and toppings and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is crispy, about 10 minutes more. Tear the basil and garnish the pizza.
Carrot Dogs (recipe by Tasty.com)
6 carrots (washed and peeled, cut to the length of the hotdog bun. Simmer until almost fork tender if you plan to finish them on the grill!)
6 hot dog buns
1 tbsp oil for grilling
1 cup vegetable broth
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp maple syrup
½ tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp paprika
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp pepper
In a medium bowl, combine the vegetable broth, apple cider, soy sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke, mustard powder, paprika, ground coriander, garlic powder, and pepper.
Place the carrots in a baking dish and pour the marinade on top. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 425°F (220˚C) while the carrots marinate.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 25 minutes, until the carrots are just tender enough to be poked with a knife.
If grilling, heat the olive oil on a grill pan on high heat. Add the marinated carrots to the pan and spoon a bit of the marinade over. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until slightly charred.
Place the carrots in buns and add your desired toppings. Add your vegetarian chili to the top of your carrot dog for a chili dog experience!