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How to impress a (kind of) vegetarian

I recently re-kindled a flame with someone I used to date a couple of years back, and I want to cook for him. Normally if I'm cooking for a guy I'll make him some lamb chops or some other meaty deliciousness. Well, can't do that this time, because this guy is (almost ) vegetarian.

He does eat fish & seafood, chicken once in a while, but no red meat of any kind and no pork. He has also expressed to me that he doesn't like portobello mushrooms or eggplant which seem to be vegetarian go-to's. What's a girl to do? I can roast a mean chicken and make risotto and all kinds of creamy vegetable soups like it's nobody's business but beyond that I've got nothin'. I want to make him something crazy delicious. Suggestions please!

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  1. Chicken Marbella - recipes readily available online. My tweak is to render and well-brown the skin side in a skillet before transferring the pieces (I like thighs best) skin-side up to the baking pan. Even though I have a sweet tooth, I halve the brown sugar that is sprinkled over the chicken before baking, and I keep the other solid bits (I add onion to the recipe) off the chicken so the skin stays as crisp as possible. CM is great hot, room, temp, or chilled.

    1. The Chicken Marbella is a great suggestion and VERY popular on this board! I might also offer this one from Epicurious though it DOES have shiitake mushrooms in it (you could always just use less of them) and I know they are not the same as portobellos...the star of this dish is the seared tuna and I would only make it if you can find top-quality tuna...the ginger shiitake cream sauce is unbelievable too. For little effort, this dish is restaurant-quality:
      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

      The only tweaks I've used in this is to cut back the amount of soy sauce; depending on what kind you use, it can be too salty.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Val

        YES! This is a wonderful recipe. The sauce also works nicely with shrimp, milder fish (e.g. halibut) or even chicken.

        1. re: 4Snisl

          4S, I've been meaning to try it with shrimp! heh...once I made this for my in-laws...my dear sweet FIL couldn't handle the thought of eating rare tuna so I had to cook his piece of tuna all the way through....it killed me to do that to such beautiful tuna but wanted him to be happy...he asked me if he could lick his plate, he loved that meal so much.

          1. re: Val

            Such a lovely DIL and host! :)

            Quite frankly, I sometimes think about making the sauce all on its own.....

      2. Without even needing to resort to critters of any kind, you can make a hearty and delicious meal.

        When cooking for vegetarians and vegans, my go-to is often Italian and a puttanesca sauce is high on the short list, especially with some roasted veggies on the side and a tasty hunk of garlic bread. Olives and fire-roasted red peppers are so sexy and, if you take time to roast some tomatoes and garlic too, it's even more foodgasmic.

        Squash is also great, roasted with a bit of spice and filled with spicy lentils (especially a mix of red & yellow with savory Middle-eastern flavors like Aleppo pepper and sumac), which is really good with a light rocket and herb salad with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil.

        Stuffed peppers is also really tasty. Red bell peppers stuffed with roasted veg, goat cheese, and herbs with some saffron rice is groovy. You can also go a bit Mex by doing poblanos stuffed with pepper and roasted corn rice flavored with some roasted tomatoes and a bit of cotija added in there before stuffing, too. This one is deadly tasty with a bit of crema kicked up with roasted tomatillos and jalapeƱo slathered on top.

        Hope it all goes deliciously!

        1. Homemade mac & cheese, though a humble dish, can be very impressive when done right. I like throwing in some diced tomatoes in mine - the roasted tomato flavour is delicious against the creamy cheesy noodles. Oh but wait, your mention of creamy vegetable soups - maybe a comfort food dish isn't the right way to go.

          On the lighter side: poach a salmon fillet in some white wine and herbs and serve with a salad of mandolin-sliced fennel, orange sections, parsley and orzo (or substitute quinoa) with lots of fresh lemon, good quality virgin olive oil and s&p to taste. And maybe some grilled zucchini.

          You'll find something awesome to make, I'm sure! :) And when you do, will you post what you made?

          2 Replies
          1. re: jubilant cerise

            My mind actually did go towards mac & cheese initially, which he likes. But I think the salmon would be a good idea. I also have a nice recipe for Risotto Milanese which I've made for friends and they all love it.

            1. re: notjessica

              That risotto does sound nice! Everyone else's suggestions look pretty awesome too! Tomato pie, sweet potato gnocchi, moqueca... yum!

              From personal experience, I find it's easier/less stressful to make a dish that you know you make well - then you can take more time for the presentation which makes your awesome dish even better.

              I've also taken chances with new dishes that I feel my skill level can handle and have impressed myself, as well as my dining mates (usually my partner's family and half of them are in the food and wine industries, so I'm always extra stoked to impress them).

          2. It's that time of year when all i can think of in response is "tomato pie." It's so easy and impressive and about the tastiest most wonderful thing on the planet. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/sa...

            Serve with a nice salad and some crusty bread, fruit and cheese for dessert

            1. other veggie options could include Gnocchi which seems like lots of work to a guest :) they're intensive, but done right, impressive. you could do a sweet potato gnocchi with gruyere and sage sauce.

              also hearty and homey and fun, a Broccoli Pot Pie. or other veg of choice.

              does he like ethnic? if you feel comfortable, try tackling ethiopian or thai or...

              1 Reply
              1. re: Emme

                He actually loves Thai and Indian food. I have an Indian cookbook I've been flipping through for ideas.

              2. Chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon. Fairly quick and easy to put together, and a vegetarian dish you can eat with a fork and knife. Highly recommend the book as the authors are mad creative. I love the book (and I'm not even vegan or vegetarian :p).

                Oh and seeing as he likes Thai food, maybe a red or green curry with tofu or seitan?

                2 Replies
                1. re: tamagoji

                  Use caution with this cookbook. There are some fine recipes in it, but also many errors as to quantities and technique.

                2. Check out moqueca, a *DELICIOUS*, extremely flavorful, and fresh-tasting seafood and veggie stew. It's Brazilian, so unless your bf is from there, you have the added bonus that he likely hasn't tried it before.

                  I like this recipe: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/moqu...

                  My changes are posted in the comments with the name "Culinspiration."

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: ChristinaMason

                    That looks amazing. I might even like it, and I'm not a huge fan of fish myself. But coconut milk and cilantro? I'm game with that.

                    1. re: notjessica

                      Seriously, it is so, so good. I think I served it over jasmine rice. Make sure it's nice and limey.

                      1. re: ChristinaMason

                        That dish looks fabulous Christina! I'm not a lover of coconut BUT I like coconut milk in dishes (if that makes sense) and because I love Mexican, Jamaican and other caribbean cuisine, I'm used to mixing coconut milk & cilantro. Will make this dish for guests, maybe this week. Thanks for posting the link

                        1. re: Cherylptw

                          Sure thing! I was really hungry when I made it (the best seasoning, no?), but I think it's good regardless!

                  2. I just posted a recipe for chicken-mushroom cannelloni (which can easily just be mushroom cannelloni) or can be converted into lasagna "Your Favorite Pasta Dish?" thread if something like that would interest you/him--unless, of course, he doesn't like mushrooms at all.

                    But risotto almost always impresses people, and besides Milanese, there are infinite vegetarian and seafood variations.

                    1. Tuna steak. It's like steak. Only tuna.

                      1. Seafood (or lobster) pot pie?

                        Grilled salmon (or any meaty type of fish)?

                        1. Make crepes and fill them with a good vegie mix. You can make the crepes ahead and fill them just before you are going to reheat.

                          1. I think Paella is always impressive...I like this recipe. It contains chorizo, but I believe soyrizo is a good subsitute.

                            http://www.thecookingadventuresofchef...

                            1. Your new flame sounds like me! Mainly vege but love fish. :)

                              Some great dishes to impress:

                              For breakfast: Spanish Baked Eggs with a Roasted Red Pepper Ragout
                              http://tastespace.wordpress.com/2010/...

                              For a main: Mushroom Bourguignon (although I realize you said he doesn't like portobello mushrooms, they really reduce down in this dish):
                              http://tastespace.wordpress.com/2010/...

                              For a fish dish: Salmon Wrapped in Phyllo Dough
                              http://tastespace.wordpress.com/2009/...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: blinknoodle

                                This is also a fabulous main dish:
                                Pan-Fried Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi
                                http://steamykitchen.com/16-pan-fried...

                              2. I don't have a recipe - wish I did - but the absolute best sandwich I have ever had was an eggplant parmigiana sandwich that I used to get at a local restaurant (to which I am no longer local, saaaad me).

                                The eggplant was not obviously breaded - that is I didn't detect any kind of breading. Most of the "eggplant parmigiana" I was typically able to get in the midwest was heavily breaded and then deep fried which is why I typically won't order the stuff. But this sandwich was different. They served it on a Pepperidge Farm hard roll, which happens to be one of my favorite types of rolls, even though it's not freshly hand made.