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What's your 'go-to' vegetarian main dish?

I've got company coming this weekend, a cousin who eats mostly vegetarian (he will eat meat just prefers not to). I'm looking for a good main dish that will be substantial and tasty. Any cuisine is good - especially Indian or Italian. I'd love to know what you always cook when you want a great vegetarian meal! No eggplant please. TIA.

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  1. I cook a lot of vegetarian dishes for dinner because meat is sometimes just too heavy (and expensive). Here's some that my husband likes the best.
    - veggie baked ziti
    -zucchini parm
    -linguni with veggies and lemon (shitakes, zucchini, carrots)
    -strir fry with tofu or seitan
    -'italian' baked tofu
    -polenta with sauteed broccoli and mushrooms
    -spaghetti with tomato/basil sauce (my husband can eat this every single night)
    -homemade veggie/bean burgers with tehina
    -spinach & cheese lasagna
    -spinach jibin (kind of like a crustless spinach quiche)
    - sauteed tofu over mushroom brown rice

    I hope this helps!

    6 Replies
    1. re: cheesecake17

      A red lentil dal, or Tadka Dal. So easy, so delicious, and so healthy. See Madhur Jaffrey's book on easy indian cooking recipes. Fabulous book.

      1. re: foodsmith

        I second you foodsmith. Madhur Jaffrey is the queen of Indian cookbook authorship. When I first started cooking indian food, her books are where I learned from. Her recipes make indian cooking much easier as they are geared more toward an american audience but still getting great results. My husband makes the biryani from her book and it is so splendid that I have deemed him the "Biryani King". Definitely worth buying.She has written several so look through them all and see what you like. Some of the same recipes are in more than one book.

      2. re: cheesecake17

        the italian baked tofu sounds fascinating, cheesecake17. how do you make it?

        1. re: cimui

          It's kind of a copout recipe, but it's really good. Press a block of firm or extra firm tofu and cut into about 6 or 8 slabs or 'cutlets.' I marinate before I go to work in olive oil, red wine vinegar, good seasons dressing mix, black pepper (i know- not the best thing but with real herbs it's not the same) and a little bit of lemon juice. When you're ready to bake, arrange cutlets in a baking dish lined with foil and greased and pour some of the marinade on top. Bake at 450 until tops are firm (20 min?) then flip cutlets and bake at 400 until marinade is mostly absorbed and tofu is chewy-ish about 20 more min.

          You can also marinate it in pretty much anything and bake the same way. I like miso, lime juice, and soy sauce.

          1. re: cheesecake17

            nice. sounds very similar to what i do with a mix of soy sauce, brown sugar, onion powder and five spice -- also a copout recipe. but sometimes those are the best. :) thanks, cheesecake!

            1. re: cimui

              Sure, enjoy it! It tastes good cold, cut into cubes on a salad the next day.

      3. I cook alot of indian food as my husband is from calcutta. many weeks we go meatless because the veg food is so flavorful. you can google good indian vegetarian dishes for recipes such as aloo gobi(potatoes and cauliflower), dal(lentils and these are great because they are loaded with protein) okra, cabbage , potatoes with green peas, etc.... Also when we feel like eating light and are tired of meat, I make a spicey black bean filling for tacos. I like to spice them with ground cumin, corriander, some thyme and chili powder depending how hot one likes it. if you top it off with fresh cilantro, it isvery good.You can also use the fat free, spicey, or traditional canned refried beans as a taco filling. Pesto pasta with vegetables(mushrooms, peppers,onions) is good as well. You can also do a stir fry asian vegetarian noodle dish(you could also cook chicken seperately and meat eaters could add this if they want). I make an Indian-chinese dish called 'Hakka Noodles". You buy the noodles at indian grocery stores. That is quite a tasty dish. Good luck.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bengaliwife

          i like these ideas, bengaliwife.

          lupaglupa, one of my favorite ways to eat a balanced vegetarian meal is by eating thali style with an array of small dishes (analogous to tapas, i guess). these might make a good combination:

          1. aloo gobi, like bengali wife suggested (which i incidentally learned how to make from madhur jaffrey; her version includes tomatoes, which is ultra tasty)

          2. dal with spinach -- this recipe looks similar to one of my handwritten favorites: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/spin...

          3. mutther paneer -- tomatoes, onions, peas with paneer cheese

          4. cacumber -- cucumber, tomato, red onion, cilantro chopped salad with partially ground freshly toasted cumin... at least how i make it

          5. plain yogurt with cucumber grated in

          serve small (half cup) servings of each with basmati rice and naan

          you have plenty of complete proteins, lots of calcium, starch, a variety of veggies. the best part is that you can prep some of these dishes in advance of the dinner, since they only get better with time. (i.e. dal. aloo gobi and mutther paneer can also be made ahead.)

        2. Lasagne with a roasted pepper sauce or zucchini & mushroom layers
          Spaghetti squash topped with habanero, garlic, shallot
          Saag paneer
          Vegetable chili

          2 Replies
          1. re: Caralien

            Broccoli and pasta. Steam broccoli and cook pasta separately, saving a little of the pasta water to add back later. Saute garlic in oil, but don't let it brown. Then pour broccoli into the garlic/oil and toss. Add a dash of salt and the pasta water, sprinkle with your favorite grated cheese (we like Romano). Oh, and a hunk of butter. "Butter makes it better!" as my mom always says--this is her recipe. Easy, tasty and sometimes even better the next day once all the flavors meld together.

            Also love to make coconut soup with tofu rather than chicken--serve over rice and load up the soup with your favorite veggies--bamboo shoots, mushrooms, green beans, squash...now I wish we could have this tonight! Goes without saying that hot chili sauce (Sriracha) makes it nice and spicy!

            1. re: Caralien

              i tend to eat alot of vegetarian foods myself and a couple of my favorites are:
              mushroom ravioli (cream sauce or sage butter)
              cheese enchiladas
              rotini (or any pasta, i just prefer rotini as the flavors get stuck in the shape) in pesto with sundried tomatoes and roasted red peppers
              veggie and cheese stuffed peppers
              eggplant parm
              mostly all indian food is perfect, some personal faves that aren't as common are tandoori paneer, pav bhaji, veg biryani.
              bengaliwife - great call on the indo-chinese!

            2. I make a spinach and mushroom lasagna that is a killer; one of my family's favorites. Use no boil noodles. Make a bechamel for the sauce. Saute or boil the spinach. Saute the mushrooms (Creminis work very well in this). For the cheese, use 8 oz whole milk cottage cheese, 8 oz Fontina, 2 oz parmesan and one egg. Season to taste.

              1. If cheese is allowed, I love a recipe for a polenta gratin from the original Green's cookbook. You make the polenta in advance, chill in a loaf pan, then slice into triangles. Make a simple tomato sauce, put some in bottom of gratin dish, layer the polenta triangles with sliced fontina cheese. Band with the rest of the tomato sauce, sprinkle gorgonzola on top, bake until bubbly. Yum, serve with a simple salad, very decadent and tasty.

                1. I've had roommates that were vegetarians and some of the things I would cook when we were all eating tigether were:
                  Pasta and Lentils
                  Lentil Soup
                  Rice and Beans (w. guacamole and chips on the side)
                  Pasta and Broccoli
                  Grilled Veggie sanwiches (with goat cheese for those who were so inclined)
                  Cabbage and Noodles

                  1. Like other posters, we eat mostly vegetarian. For guests we often do a roasted vegetable or mushroom lasagne, served with a big green salad and homemade garlic bread, or "portobella parmesan" with marinated oven roasted portobellas served over spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce. A lot of meat eaters particularly like this dish. If you want to go Indian, you could do a vegetable curry and rachet it up by making your own naan and raita to serve. Good luck!

                    1. Lima bean casserole with brazil/butternuts broccoli and chives.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: phantomdoc

                        this sounds interesting...tell me more...

                      2. In cool > cold weather a savory bread pudding or lasagne.It is easy to utilize more than one vegetable or cheese for more complexity.Longer cooking helps flavors to meld.
                        Mushrooms,spinach,onions,garlic,winter squash varieties,too many cheeses to list..

                        1. In addition to seconding other posters' rec of an Indian paneer dish, I'd also suggest vegetarian empanadas. I usually like to make a few different batches with varying combinations of beans, lentils, cheeses, peppers, plantains, corn, spinach, etc.

                          For the cheeses, my favorites to use - usually separately - are manchego, mozzarella, and goat cheese (yes, hence the name). Yum!

                          1. Minestrone can be very satisfying with a few parmasan toasts on the side (or full-on bread and cheese plate if we're greedy). We make the recipe from the Daily Soup book which is very hearty and has lots of pesto stirred in at the end.

                            1. Mollie Katzen's "Zuccanoes"


                              There are lots of great recipes on her site so look around while you're there, but we've used this recipe as a jumping-off point for tons of variations of stuffed zucchini.

                              1. Ina Garten's mushroom lasagna is delicous and what I often serve my vegetarian guests


                                1. These two are killers:

                                  "Marrakesh Vegetable Curry"


                                  "Seven-Vegetable Couscous with Chunky Onion Harissa"


                                  1. Cabbage and macaroni and cheese. Not together. I'm really trying hard to go veggie two nights a week. Though perhaps I should check into a good cabbage AND noodle dish. Anyone have one?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: VAfoodie

                                      For a super quick cabbage/pasta meal I take sauteed onions, add a bag of coleslaw mix and saute it and then mix that in with cooked pierogi. Sometimes sprinkle with cheddar. Super easy and fast.

                                      For company my mother in law (red meat lover) loved the veggie 'meat loaf' that I made and requested it again:


                                      Also a risotta made with veggie stock would be wonderful.

                                      We often go to a pasta dish with tomatoes, blue cheese, mushrooms, walnuts, basil, balsamic vinegar and oil tossed together while the pasta is hot.

                                      1. re: VAfoodie

                                        Very similar to what etoiles describes above - haluska! Although I, too, often make it with a side of potato & cheese pierogies sauteed with butter and onions, it's worth pointing out this is not a particularly diverse-tasting meal. I usually like haluska better as a side dish. But hits the spot when all you want is a good ol dinner of buttery, noodle-y Polish food!

                                        1. re: VAfoodie

                                          Actually, one time based on a recommendation from somewhere (moosewood? epicurious?) we did put a whole bunch of thinly sliced cabbage into the mac & cheese. I roasted it first (tossed thinly sliced cabbage and onions with a very small amount of oil and roasted on a pan). We were skeptical, but it turned out great. Another time, I might toss in some caraway and mustard seeds.

                                        2. I'm a 95% vegetarian cook, although my dreamy husband isnt picky about cheeses made of animal rennet and is now ok with anchovies being an ingredient (bacon of the sea!). Anyway, here are some of our standards:
                                          - cheese souffle. Impresses people, but also if served with good toast, salad, just nice and simple and hearty.
                                          - corn pudding from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. Souffle-like, but heartier and easier. serve with some greens sauted with cumin and maybe some black eyed peas.
                                          - if he eats fish, I made a killer chickpea stew with anchovies, fennel seeds, onion, garlic, chili peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and served over whole wheat pasta last night with parmesan and lots of parsley
                                          - spanikopita.
                                          - turkish lentil soup with rice. http://cmes.hmdc.harvard.edu/ecmes/ph...
                                          cheap, filling, delicious
                                          -these korean pancakes are like crack. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                          1. I've made Rachael Ray's Broken Florentine Lasagna a number of times for guests to unanimous raves.


                                            1. Grilled Portobello Mushrooms. Marinate the mushrooms in balsamic, olive oil, crushed garlic, fresh thyme, salt and pepper for 30-90 minutes. Grill (or cook in grill pan) and serve.

                                              1. You could make a couple of homemade pizzas with different toppings, using buffalo mozzarella on one and goats cheese or parmesan on the other. I recently made some chickpea and bulgur burgers that turned out really well. Another vegetarian dish that I love is a lentil and red wine stew with lots of fresh herbs and spices, garlic, onions, carrots and leeks.
                                                Homemade gnocchis are delicious and relatively easy to make too and you can add butternut squash, sweet potato,beetroot or spinach to the dough instead of potato to make them more colourful.

                                                1. I know you asked for Main dishes but I just have to tell you about my new go-to-vegetarian side dish - Mark Bittman's Savory Bread Pudding. It does call for 2 cups of milk, though I think one could substitute vegetable stock. There's onions, carrot, celery, herbs....It's one of the most flavorful dishes I've made in a long time. The leftovers make a great "bed" for steamed veggies such as broccoli...or poached eggs, if you eat them.


                                                  1. this is easy and quick, too: red beans and rice
                                                    saute your trinity of chopped green pepper, celery, onion in a small amount of vegetable oil -
                                                    season with chili power and Worchestershire sauce, chopped garlic, bay leaf, cumin, cayenne
                                                    add a large can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (unless you have time to soak dry beans and cook them)
                                                    chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
                                                    stir in cooked rice and serve with Crystal hot sauce or Tabasco - or, serve on top of rice.
                                                    This is comfort food. Think New Orleans on Mondays.

                                                    here's a recipe for Black beans and rice: http://www.elise.com/recipes/archives...

                                                    1. My go-to is polenta with a garlicky mushroom ragu, made with veggie broth instead of beef. Simple, but rich and flavorful. Serve with salad or steamed or roasted veggies.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: mordacity

                                                        I am thinking of making Rachel Ray's Vegetarian Polenta Ragu for some friends.

                                                      2. Many excellent ideas here! I'd also like to add my fave:

                                                        I tend to slow-cook beans (black, pinto, you name it) in bulk and freeze in smaller portions. Then they're great to mix with whatever Tex-Mex inspired items I have on hand, such as corn (I freeze fresh in the summer), green chilies, jalapeno, jack cheese, etc. Stuff into warmed corn tortillas, top with sauce and a sprinkle more cheese, and bake until hot and melty. For sauce, I love a homemade enchilada, BUT I've also had fine luck in a pinch with a quality pre-made such as Hatch green or red, or even a jar of quality salsa verde, like Trader Joe's. I serve with rice, salsa, sour cream, etc.

                                                        It's flexible enough to make with whatever is on hand, is super hearty and full of protein and fiber (so I never miss the meat), and is on the table in no time.

                                                        1. PESTO IS ALWAYS A GOOD CHOICE.

                                                          1. Thank you all for the many excellent suggestions - they will keep my family happily eating vegetarian for weeks to come. My cousin however won't benefit from your wisdom - his plans changed and he's not coming. So now I have all these choices and no guest. Hmm - what NOT to cook for him first?

                                                            1. Well, now that you can add meat,

                                                              For my son's vegetarian g/f, who will eat eggs,milk, and cheese, i make a Bisquick "quiche" of Jarlsberg and Parmesan cheese with mushrooms onions and broccoli in it. If i have carnivores, I throw out the broccoli and add cooked sausage and bacon. Served with salad or fruit on the side and sometimes some garlic bread

                                                              1. I tried this off of youtube. It turned out pretty yummy.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAUEiu...

                                                                1. Cheese enchiladas or wild mushroom lasagna.

                                                                  1. Amy Sedaris' Spanakopita

                                                                    1. Definitely vegetarian lasagna for me. I made one recently with a vegan bechamel sauce that was great - creamy and delicious, but healthy. Here's the recipe:

                                                                      Vegan Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce

                                                                      For the marinara sauce (or use 4 1/2 c. of your favorite marinara sauce)

                                                                      2 T. extra virgin olive oil
                                                                      4 cloves garlic, minced
                                                                      1 28-oz can plum tomatoes in puree (undrained), chopped or squeezed with your hands
                                                                      1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
                                                                      salt and pepper to taste
                                                                      1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

                                                                      For the vegetables:

                                                                      2 T. Extra virgin olive oil
                                                                      1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms (I used a mixture of cremini, oyster and shiitake), sliced
                                                                      1 large bunch of green Swiss chard, center stems removed and leaves well chopped

                                                                      For béchamel sauce:

                                                                      5 T. organic canola oil
                                                                      8 T. all-purpose flour
                                                                      4 c. unsweetened almond milk (make sure it’s unsweetened – you can find this in a non-refrigerated carton)
                                                                      1 t. salt
                                                                      1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
                                                                      Black pepper to taste

                                                                      12 whole wheat lasagna noodles (or 16 if you’re using the smaller variety, such as Bionaturae brand)

                                                                      To make the marinara sauce, heat the 2 T. oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add all the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the basil and remove from heat.

                                                                      To prepare the vegetables, heat 2 T. oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Add the Swiss chard to the pan and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. (You can add a little additional oil to the pan if it seems dry after removing the mushrooms.) Combine the mushrooms and chard and set aside.

                                                                      Prepare the béchamel sauce soon before assembling the lasagna. First, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. You don’t want it to turn a color. Remove the pan from the heat and add a cup of the almond milk. Use a whisk to make it smooth, then return the pan to the burner and add the rest of the almond milk gradually, whisking with each addition. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, whisking constantly, until thick and velvety. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

                                                                      Cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions and drain. Place 1/2 c. of marinara sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9″ pan. Cover with 3 lasagna noodles, and top with 1 cup of béchamel sauce, 1 cup of marinara and a third of the vegetable mixture. Repeat with a second and third layer of noodles, sauces and vegetables. Finish with a final layer of noodles, and top with a cup of marinara and carefully spread about 3/4 c. of béchamel over the top. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.


                                                                      1. Brown Rice & Cheese Casserole
                                                                        Perhaps my favorite casserole of all time... Kinda halfway between a soufflé and a risotto. I still need to have this at least a couple of times a year, and honestly would be happy eating it a couple of times a week.

                                                                        2 eggs, lightly beaten
                                                                        1/2 cup heavy cream
                                                                        1/3 cup water
                                                                        1½ cup cooked brown rice (3/4 cup uncooked) [I use a bit more than this]
                                                                        1¼ cup freshly grated Cheddar (10oz bar = 2½ c)
                                                                        salt to taste (preferably Herbamare seasoned salt...)
                                                                        1/4 cup chopped bell pepper (½ med. pepper, can use green, red, or both for a festive look)
                                                                        2 Tb grated onion {I use a little more here too}

                                                                        Preheat oven to 350°. Beat eggs together with cream and water. Stir into cooked
                                                                        rice. Add cheese, salt, green pepper & onion. Mix well. Turn into an oiled casserole
                                                                        dish and bake 45 minutes or until set.

                                                                        serves 2 - recipe times 9 is enough for 20 people

                                                                        tender variant uses 1/2 cup water and steamed, skinned peppers

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                                                          well, the thread is a few years old, but definitely a handy one so i'll play :)

                                                                          even carnivores keep coming back for chana masala, or polenta with mushroom ragout.