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how can I make vegetarian meals seem more like a whole meal

I was going to try to cook more vegetarian meals because I think it is healthier. But whenever I just cook vegetarian, I feel like I am just eating side dishes and no main course. I know it is a psychological thing. Even when I go out to eat tapas, I never feel satisfied, mentally, I feel like I am eating appetizers and am waiting for the main course. What can I do to start getting satisfied with vegetarian meals?

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  1. I've been there, and have found the following tips helpful:

    Don't cook everything together. the flavors just meld together, not in a good way. You want your starches and vegetables/sauce cooked separately.

    Pick healthy grains that will fill you up; basmati rice is delicious, but brown rice, quinoa, and other whole gains will be more satisfying. And of course pasta is always a quick go to.

    Don't just have one or two veggies. You can easily pick up several different veggies and put them together in different ways. Make sure to have some crunchy ones, like bok choy or daikon together with other flavorful softer veggies so you have a good balance. Adding another starch to the veggie mix, such as garbanzo or other beans, makes it especially filling.

    Sauces are vital; research Indian, Middle Eastern, and other cooking styles that use a lot of bold flavor; that seems to be the biggest hurdle in making a vegetarian meal satisfy. Play with lighter sauces/dressings as the seasons change; I love using lime, fruits, and cilantro in the warmer weather.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. A variety of textures and flavors can make a vegetarian meal much more satisfying. Starting with a creamy goat cheese and date tapa will whet the appetite with its richness and savory sweetness. Roasted mushrooms with pimenton on lentils with crusty bread will give the palate meatiness and rich umami while also satisfying the appetite with a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Vegetarian meals can be very satisfying with only a little more planning than would go into an omnivorous meal.

      1. vegetarian meals that include legumes (beans, lentils, tofu) as opposed to just vegetables tend to be more satisfying. and since you're talking vegetarian and not vegan, don't forget about eggs and cheese, both of which can help make the meal seem more complete. i think the key to feeling satisfied is to approach vegetarian meals the same way you would carnivorous ones...so instead of just putting together a bunch of side dishes, make an entree that can serve as the focus/centerpiece of your meal - vegetarian lasagna; tofu stir-fry; moussaka made with lentils instead of meat; bean stew or chili; veggie burger or falafel; vegetable frittata; whole-grain vegetarian risotto or pilaf; vegetable tagine with chickpeas; stuffed pasta (ravioli, cannelloni, etc.) with ricotta & vegetable filling; eggplant parmigiana; polenta with mushroom ragu...i could go on, but i think you get the idea. if you make dishes like that and serve them with the same sides or accompaniments as you would their carnivorous counterparts, it'll feel more like a complete meal.

        12 Replies
        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          Agree about the beans and legumes. I just made a killer moroccan tagine with chickpeas this weekend and it was totally satisfying.

          1. re: cathyeats

            cathy, care to tell us the recipe, please? You had me at "killer Moroccan tagine"...lol!

            1. re: Val

              OK, as promised, here's the tagine recipe. One of my favorite efforts of late, I must say. You can see how pretty it is here: http://whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010/05/...

              Moroccan Vegetable and Chickpea Stew

              2 T. extra virgin olive oil

              2 c. chopped onions

              3 cloves garlic, minced

              1 carrot, cut into 1/2 inch half-moons

              1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets

              1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

              1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed (about 3 cups


              1 t. turmeric

              1 t. coriander

              1/2 t. salt

              1/4 t. cayenne pepper

              1 t. paprika

              pinch cinnamon

              1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

              1/2 c. raisins

              2 c. vegetable broth

              2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (recommend Eden brand - bpa-free cans)

              1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted

              Harissa, purchased or homemade

              Whole wheat couscous

              Heat the oil in a dutch oven. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic, spices and salt and cook for 2 minutes more. Add all of the vegetables and stir to coat. Add tomatoes, raisins, broth and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered. Add a bit of extra broth if the stew gets too dry. (It will need more if the stew sits and thickens after you cook it.)

              Serve the stew on whole wheat couscous, topped with the toasted almonds and a dab of harissa.

              1. re: cathyeats

                <swoon> looks really divine...thank you...I'll be leaving the peel on the eggplant and sweet potatoes for added nutrition and fiber!

                1. re: Val

                  Yeah, I should have left the peel on the eggplant. I don't find sweet potato skins very appetizing, though.

                  1. re: cathyeats

                    "I don't find sweet potato skins very appetizing, though."
                    really? i love it when i'm roasting or baking sweet potatoes. the trick is to get it super-crispy :)

                    thanks for posting the recipe - it looks delicious. ever try adding carrots, butternut squash or pumpkin? they add a really nice hint of sweetness to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. dried apricots are great too - i usually use them instead of raisins.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      i'm with you on skins... in fact for white potatoes, that's the only part i like. and on sweet potatoes or yams, it's the MUCH preferred part.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        There is a carrot in the recipe, and the sweet potato adds sweetness - you could substitute butternut squash, but I think both would be overkill. Good tip on the dried aprictos!

                        1. re: cathyeats

                          i totally didn't see the carrot - sorry! and yes, i probably should have clarified that i meant them as a *substitute* for the sweet potatoes. i don't have much of a sweet tooth - particularly when it comes to savory dishes - so that certainly would be overkill.

                        2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Absolutely - root veg, squash, chickpeas and you have my killer tagine.

                          Spin the spicing, swap the chickpeas for flageolet beans, add a cheese cobbler topping and you have my killer veg stew.

                          Spin it one of many different ways and you have a killer veggie curry.

                          I would not like to never eat meat again but a goodly number of our regular recipes don't include it

                  1. re: cathyeats

                    Agree about the beans and legumes, and, also, whole grains.

                    I think like a meat eater, unfortunately, but I still look at my plate and wonder where's my protein (eggs, tofu, cheese, nuts) , where's my veg, where's my grain... and try to tick those off.

                    Also, I think meats have that umami thing going on that is very satisfying. You can also get that in mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and soy sauce.

                    Here's a list of other umami rich (vegetarian) foods from this site: http://www.umamiinfo.com/umami-rich_f...
                    Shiitake mushrooms
                    Enokitake mushrooms
                    Soy beans
                    Sweet potatoes
                    Chinese cabbage
                    Parmesan Cheese
                    Green tea

                    Also, this might be nutty, but you might look at some vegetarian cookbooks that do some meal planning to get an idea of menu combos. I notice the current cookbook for May+June "Gourmet Today" has an entire section on vegetarian mains, but in the back she's got a menu planning section that lists a couple of pages of vegetarian menus. It might be worthwhile to just see how others are developing their menus. In fact, grab a copy of the book from your library or wherever and come join us for COTM! You could play along and be completely vegetarian the entire time. There are plenty of vegetarian recipes in there.


                    Another book that I know of that does full menus is Berley's Flexitarian Table. It's not 100% vegetarian (the premise is what if you have a household that is mixed meat-eaters and vegetarians, how do you plan and cook meals side by side to satisfy both). It has full menus.



                2. I recently made a roasted veggie and chickpeas medley, then tossed in whole wheat penna - fresh parm and it was excellent and filling.

                  I too think key is beans.

                  1. I do a navrataan korma that's super satisfying -- I would happily serve it to my most ferociously carnivorous friends. Just in thinking about why that is, I think there are three components: texture, flavor complexity, and a sauce!! That tends to apply across the board with my best vegetarian meals (and I cook vegetarian the majority of the time). Black beans (with green pepper, celery, onion, bay leaf, smoked paprika, thyme) with coconut rice is another great one.

                    A big element of "satisfying" is umami, IMO. So I choose umami-rich ingredients as components of vegetarian meals -- parmigiano and sundried tomatoes for pasta dishes; caramelized onions for a million other things. Miso. Soy sauce. Egg yolks. Seaweed! Fermented stuff! Even ketchup has umami!

                    I think the biggest thing for me is to think in terms of "what delicious thing can I make with this beautiful acorn squash (or kale, or fava beans, or beets, or whatever)" rather than just trying to cook "normally" but without meat. Does that make sense?

                    Regarding specific ingredients, I think winter squashes (acorn is my favorite) and legumes (lentils, black beans, and chickpeas are my favorites) are a life-saver when it comes to filling, satisfying vegetarian meals. Hearty greens and vegetarian soups take me pretty far as well. I'll also recommend 101cookbooks.com, because Heidi, the blog's author, is all about the umami, and her recipes are creative and unique without being totally inaccessible for a Tuesday night. :)

                    Good luck!

                    1. Ditto lilmomma!! The beans and variety of veg isn't working on me, still feel like I'm missing something (like a pork chop!).


                      1. I love a lot of the recipes I get out of Vegan cookbooks because they make me feel like its a "meal" versus tricking my body into thinking it is! My favorite is chickpea cutlets ;) http://www.chow.com/recipes/11364-chi...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jenwee

                          Chickpea cutlets is one of those vegan recipes people unanimously rave about. Some blogger said it was so good her c*** fell off! It was just blah to me. The whole family ate it without complaining but I haven't made it since and no one has requested a repeat.

                          The other recipe people rate highly is Susan V's seitan ribz. I've done it twice and both times, yuck. It's just dried puffy chewy dough with sauce. I don't like. I want to, but i don't like.


                        2. already tons of helpful wonderful suggestions... agree with legumes and fiber.

                          maybe try making meals that somewhat mimic things you'd eat with meat... i.e. tacos with beans and/or tvp; chili w/ tvp and beans; shepherd's pie with portabello mushrooms, mushroom and spinach pot pie; etc.

                          also, try making and plating like you've got a main and side dishes. trick your brain :) i.e. portabello steaks stuffed with crumbled soy chorizo and what not, a side of lentil/rice pilaf and some roasted asparagus, etc.

                          1. I don't have a recipe because i am not vegetarian but most chefs migrate to portobella mushrooms for their vegan menus because they have a real meaty taste and feel.

                            I agree about the psychological thing. After meals with no meat especially for dinner, I am full but feel deprived. My mind keeps telling me I didn't have dinner even though i am full.

                            Anyway find some mushroom dishes.

                            1. My husband is a vegetarian. He is very tall, and runs a lot, so meals must be truly filling. Here are my suggestions...
                              Always have a protein: eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts.
                              Have contrasting textures: breadcrumbs on top of baked pastas, toast with an omelet, well cooked crust on paella.
                              Have soup first.
                              Have several sides.
                              Do not forget dessert. Bread pudding, clafoutis, souffles are things I make as a nice end to a rather light meal.

                              1. I'm not vegetarian, but trying to move that way somewhat. Recently I've been roasting vegetables, and for some reason they are VERY satisfying to me!! Like toss broccoli with olive oil and seasoning (even lemon pepper) then roast on high heat until you get some good browning going on. I can eat a big bowl of this and feel like I don't need something else. Or sub cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: scuzzo

                                  This is a good tip. I think roasted haricots vert done this way taste like french fries. Even from frozen (Trader Joe's).

                                2. last night (actually all day yesterday in the crock pot) was that 15 bean soup mix, but I make it thicker, less liquid so that it's a mixed beans/veggies over brown rice. It's very filling and tasty, I added chopped onions, celery, peppers (I did add some leftover sausage - very lil and I'm not sure it make much diff). The flavors are very much like Red Beans and Rice - cajun herbs, etc. Good meal by itself.

                                  1. My bf is a vegetarian, and very slowly, I have adapted from the meat and potatoes lifestyle to loving vegetarian cuisine. I see that you're making lots of imitation meat...chickpea cutlets and seitan bar BQ. As a meat eater, I haven't developed as much of a taste for those items and try to steer clear of imitation meat. It's just not the same as meat.

                                    Some of my filling meals:
                                    -three-bean chilis
                                    -vegetable lasagna
                                    -spinach ricotta roll ups

                                    You should pick up a copy of the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook and the Vegetarian Epicure at your library for more ideas.


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: hughes227

                                      Actually - Moosewood's is a good idea. I cook out of there frequently.

                                      Was a vegetarian for 10+ years cuz' I couldn't figure out how to cook meat. Am not any more, (I'm the queen of the griil - meat, fruits, veggies, etc.) but I rarely relied on "fake meat". It was usually lentils. I do weigh more now than I did then but it's all good.