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Help convert a meat eater to vegetarian dinners!

  • m

I've gotten my solidly meat-centric husband to agree to 2 vegetarian dinners at home per week. (For perspective, this is the guy who said many years ago that he'd take me to Greens for my birthday "if we can go somewhere else after" haha!) So we're making serious progress here.

So now I need some really amazing ideas to make sure he doesn't miss the meat! All ideas welcome...

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  1. Smitten Kitchen's Mushroom Bourguignon. It could even be a weeknight meal.

    1. We're both meat-eaters, but I can tell you what veg dishes we make often and have made recently.

      Lasagne with mushrooms and greens in the place of the meat is always delicious, especially if you use a *very* good cheese.

      Refried black beans over rice. I keep cheese, sour cream, tortillas, and hot sauce available (in case he wants to make a burrito), and offer to fry an egg to drop over the top if he's just putting it in a bowl. Speaking of eggs, breakfast for dinner is an easy way to knock one out (waffles, pancakes, eggs, hash browns), and I do it all the time.

      Vegetarian black bean chili. I was surprised that my boyfriend liked it. I made it while he was out of town, and he came home early. And then I had to share. And it wasn't even *great* chili, just stuff out of cans, seasoned and simmered.

      I just made French onion soup last night, and I used Better than Boullion (which is veg). Add a good salad, and you have a nice meal. I do a fair amount of vegetable soups, and as long as I have a bread and a salad to go with, he's happy.

      I make a cheese polenta, pour it into a casserole, and put all kinds of stuff on it. Our favorite is spinach, mushroom, tomato and cheese. I added sausage to it last time, but it was overkill. My boyfriend said it's one of his favorite meals--and he doesn't like polenta.

      Ravioli frequently has meatless fillings, and you could make your own, if you're into that kind of thing. Make a nice sauce, salad, a good bread, and maybe some greens on the side. And since that's the second time I've said salad, do some research and come up with some interesting ones.

      Pizza is an easy thing to go vegetarian with. Later this week I'm doing a phyllo dough pizza, and don't plan on any meat-toppings.

      I think that Indian food can be your friend (I'm not the best person to advise you here, I'm limited in what I've done), but lentils are frequently used, and are very filling. I find the most commonly used spices to be bold and savory enough that I don't even miss the meat if I've ordered something without. Thai food is another cuisine that I more often go meatless with. You could always get some cookbooks from the library.

      Good luck, Maya.

      1. Lots of good ideas and inspiration here: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives....

        Also, just try to make things that are filling (e.g. pastas) and have a good substantive mouthfeel to them (e.g. portabello mushrooms) or are things that generally do not highlight meat (e.g. pizzas).

        Good luck.

        1. Don't serve tofu.

          With that critical part out of the way, I find that the issue with most vegetarian foods is that they try to replace traditional dishes with meat substitutes. That doesn't work, since meat is just better for those dishes. "Why am I having 2nd rate dishes when I could be having 1st meat versions?" Take this chance to really introduce the fella to vegetables.

          I love kale's texture, so featuring smoked kale or adding it to an otherwise soft dish to increase the bite is great. You can also roast or braise cabbage (something exotic for a meat-lover).

          If you're willing to splurge (and hunt for them), see if you can buy some good mushrooms. Common ones are nice, but a mix of the higher quality ones (such as morel and the wide variety of boletus) can stand on their own with just a simple sauce.

          Winter squash is in right now, and even a meat eater can appreciate a warm, hearty soup.

          Overall, my favorite vegetarian item is an eggplant sandwich. I bread the eggplant with a mix a hot spices and fry it up for that nice crunchy texture. Top it with some roasted/smoked kale, some caramelized or marmalade onions for sweetness and some goat cheese for a little smoothness. Served with a side of crispy/baked kale and it's a satisfying meal.

          6 Replies
          1. re: ediblover

            Don't serve tofu? Not sure what you mean by that.

            If you mean don't serve tofu processed to allegedly look/feel/taste like some kind of meat, I'd say don't totally avoid it but be careful. I have non-veg friends who love the soyburgers at a local restaurant even though they don't really taste like hamburgers. Tofu can be enjoyed in its own right but it's not a meat substitute. A real meat eater could be very disappointed if he's told "this tofurkey tastes JUST LIKE real turkey" when it patently does not.

            Tofu cooked in it's "natural environment" is pretty darn good too. Pad Thai with tofu instead of shrimp is really good. There are lots of ways to present tofu in delicious ways. Lots of ways to stirfry it, lots of great marinades to enhance the flavor of the dish you cook it in.

            I love eggplant sandwiches too. I also love curried eggplant, szechuan style eggplant, Thai Basil Eggplant, etc etc etc. I've found eggplant to be more troublesome than tofu in trying to tempt people unfamiliar with vegetarian cuisine away from the Dark Side. Eggplant seems to raise more hackles in non-vegs than tofu, assuming no experience with either.

            Of course, if the non-veg has been abused by some version of TVP faking meat, they may be more turned against the Tofu. It sort of depends. But both are good items to try in the absence of existing strong prejudice.

            1. re: ZenSojourner

              Though I like tofu myself, 9 out of 10 (non Asian) people that I know don't like tofu. It can actually be a turn off for some people.

              1. re: cutipie721

                Supermarket tofu has limited appeal, but if you live in a place with a substantial Asian population you may be able to find a tofu factory. Flavored tofu, deep-fried tofu, stuffed tofu (my favorite is stuffed with spicy ground meat, but that kind of defeats the OP's point) - there's a lot more variety of taste and texture out there than you'll find on the grocery store shelf.

                1. re: cutipie721

                  plain tofu right out of the package pretty much sucks.

                  But if you dry-fry it and marinate it:


                  Its a whole new ballgame.

                  Just a possibility. If not now, maybe later down the road. It's an awful good thing to just skip entirely.

                2. re: ZenSojourner

                  I made pad thai with tofu last night and my meat loving husband really enjoyed it. I still have some left and will probably use it in fried rice loaded with vegetables later in the week which I have done before he approved.

                  1. re: jules127

                    Oh great, I'm glad it went over well!

                    Pad Thai is one of my favorites. I like Pad Woon Sen even better.

              2. I made cabbage rolls last weekend using a plentitude of sauteed sliced baby bellas instead of meat. I'm quite a carnivore and I didn't miss the meat a bit.

                1. Instead of making the whole meal vegetarian, you could include substantial vegetarian dishes in other meals. For example if the typical meal is chops, mashed potatoes and plain peas, replace the peas with ratatouille. Or upgrade the potatoes so they are interesting without meat based gravy. A tossed green salad could be replaced with one using lentils or chickpeas. In effect, phase in the amazing non-meat dishes before you try to remove the meat ones.

                  1. If you choose a meal that isn't **supposed** to have meat, you won't miss it. A traditional steak dinner with a block of tempeh where the ribeye should be is unlikely to be a success.

                    But there are all kinds of dishes that are traditionally meatless. Want Mexican food? You could do cheese enchiladas, chiles rellenos, or quesadillas with beans and rice on the side. Or go Middle Eastern - falafel, baba ganouj, or kushari would all be good. For Greek, how about dolmas or spanakopita? French dishes such as ratatouille and lentil soup are viable vegetarian options, and Italy's greatest contribution to Western culture - pizza Margherita - is meatless (but don't let it completely overshadow things like eggplant parm and the dozens of mushroom and veggie risottos).

                    Thai eggplant curry, Korean bibimbap or sudubu jjigae, and Chinese Buddha's Delight all are or can be meatless, too. And that's without getting into the Brahmin and Gujerati cuisines of India, which are entirely vegetarian.

                    If you don't want to wander that far afield, just take the grilled cheese sandwich to the next level with good bread, warm brie, and a few slices of apple. Serve it with a salad and you've got a meal.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      I've done grilled cheese with arugula and an onion "jam." On the panini grill.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        I'll echo this advice. Ditch the American recipes and go ethnic. You won't miss the meat and the ethnic vegetarian dishes aren't second-rate meatless adaptations.

                        1. re: amokscience

                          The beauty of it is that every "ethnic" cuisine has at least a handful of vegetarian dishes. And that includes American ethnicities such as Bostonian (baked beans and brown bread) and Southerner (cornbread, greens, and field peas).

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Properly made cornbread is NOT vegetarian!

                            It's just not right without the bacon fat!


                            1. re: ZenSojourner

                              OP is looking for non-MEAT options. That doesn't mean that "lipids" can't be meat-based. I assume.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Eh? I'm going by the title:

                                "Help convert a meat eater to vegetarian dinners! "

                                But if bacon grease is fine, then there are soooo many ways to use it that might help tempt him away from the Dark Side, LOL!

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  C Oliver, why would you assume any such thing?

                                  The OP asked for "two vegetarian dinners a week". Even using your term of "non meat options", butter, ghee, or cheese may work, but certainly not bacon fat.

                                  1. re: Rasam

                                    I agree. Don't see how a vegetarian dinner includes bacon in any form (although I could happily offer a list of "almost meat free" meals that we cook that might use a small amount of something like that as a seasoning). For example, I might make an entirely vegetarian soup - and sprinkle a little crisp pancetta on top as a garnish.

                                    1. re: Rasam

                                      Perhaps the OP was using the term "vegetarian" precisely, but given that five dinners a week are omnivorous, she may just be looking for **meatless** dishes, in which case bacon fat might be fine. Unless the OP fills us in or somebody here has mastered the art of mind reading, there's no way to know.

                                      At least CO's assumption that bacon fat hasn't been ruled out has been stated as such. An implicit assumption that the OP wants true vegetarian food is a little more pernicious.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        That goal 'two vegetarian meals a week' sounds like something one might pickup from an article about healthy eating. The real goal is probably something like reducing your intake of fats and red meat, and vegetarian meals may be a way of working toward that goal.

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          Wow guys! It was a facetious comment to start with! Just a little good-spirited rib-poking.


                                        2. re: alanbarnes

                                          Yes, ab, my assumption was that for some non-vegetarian reason, OP wants two meatless meals a week. Health, the planet, whatever. Last night I had a dinner with no "meat" but it did have chicken stock in ones of the dishes. Maybe OP will let us know.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            OP here - I was looking for "vegetarian dinners" -primarily no meat, but ideally avoiding bacon grease, chicken stock, etc but allowing for dairy/eggs. However, all ideas are welcome - I have already tried quite a few on here so thank you all!!

                                      2. re: ZenSojourner

                                        While it's possible to make good vegetarian - or even vegan - cornbread, I agree that the **best** cornbread involves pork fat and lots of it. But the OP is trying to move from a meat-centered diet toward meatless meals; whether animal fats and stocks are a part of that is up to her. And for that matter, lots of butter has its appeal, too...

                                        For somebody who's willing to be flexible, there's a slippery slope. You can just use meat as a seasoning - use a little stock or put a ham hock in a pot of beans so there's only a sliver or two of meat in each serving. It isn't vegetarian, but it's a lot greener than slapping a pork chop on each plate. And it tastes so good...

                                        Still and all, the OP can be hard-core without giving up anything. There are plenty of delicious vegan recipes out there. Adding animal products adds options (and flavor) but although I have a hard time imagining it, there's no reason somebody can't eat well without bacon fat.

                                2. sorry if i'm duplicating responses... if i am, please take it as flattery, and that i agree :)

                                  if you go with chili, be sure to use TVP... the granules suck up flavor and almost chew like ground meat.
                                  mushroom pot pie
                                  shepherd's pie with TVP
                                  polenta lasagna
                                  eggplant parmesan
                                  grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup
                                  paninis with grilled butternut squash, gruyere, caramelized onions and sage
                                  sloppy joe's with TVP
                                  black bean burgers
                                  tempura and stir fry
                                  eggs and potatoes and pancakes if desired

                                  1. Spanakopita is excellent. And I like to make portobello sandwiches -- a nice big mushroom seasoned with olive oil and salt and pepper and balsamic, in a really nice bun.

                                    Something else I do when planning veg meals for non-veg people is to keep in mind the mouth feel of chewy/juiciness/fattiness/umami that characterizes meats in my mind. By bringing those qualities to my veg dishes, they seem more 'filling' and 'good' to people who are used to eating meat.

                                    The first vegetarian dish I ever made for my husband was deep fried tofu cubes, straw mushrooms, and water chestnuts in a vaguely chinese-american style sauce with soy and ginger and garlic. I put it over rice, and served some ginger and lemon glazed carrots along with it. He liked it, and now (only 12 years later) even occasionally requests veg meals.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: AnnaEA

                                      i just had some soup made with refer leftovers. surprisingly satisfying.
                                      chinese veg food from buddist restaurants very good, very meatlike subs.
                                      veg and cheese sandwich w sprouts and avacodo.

                                    2. Actually a meatless pasta e fagiole is really good, with some good bread and wine. I just made some tonight.

                                      Well mine had some meat in it but it doesn't really need it. It's good without it and I've made it without it before.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                        mmmm I love a great pasta e fagiole!!

                                        1. re: lexpatti

                                          Well I wouldn't lay any claim to greatness for it, but it did come out pretty well - better than I thought it would!

                                          Next up: black bean soup. Mmmmm!

                                      2. It's great that you and husband are eating at least 2 vegetarian dinners a week - very "green" choice (useful pun).

                                        What cuisines does your husband like? Within those cuisines, are there any non-meat dishes - that may be your easiest route.

                                        Or some dishes may be easier to convert than others.

                                        E.g. if your husband likes Italian food, veggie lasagna, veggie pasta sauce, etc. are easy to make (and easy to substitute veg products for hidden ingredients like chicken stock etc.)

                                        To Emme's list, and to the suggestion of Indian food, I would also add:

                                        Vegetarian chili (and if your husband is freaked out by TVP granules instead of ground meat, use bulgur wheat - it is amazingly good).

                                        Any form of veg pasta

                                        Thai and Chinese food : easy to find veg options, tofu options, and to sub something else for fish sauce.

                                        Mexican food: again easy to veg*anize. (By the way, many of the spices in Indian food overlap with Mexican - e.g. cumin, garlic, and so on).

                                        The blog o sphere and cookbooks are FULL of easy homestyle Indian cooking that uses few ingredients, less daunting to novice cooks.

                                        Ethiopian restaurants are great for a veggie night out.

                                        1. A Middle-Eastern feast and one of my favorite dinner party menus: If you're in an urban area, somewhere around there should be a Middle-Eastern deli selling freshly-made felafel so you don't have to get into making that at home. Serve these little "meatballs" (made from lightly-spiced ground chick-peas and deep-fried) with lots of garlicky hummos, tabbouleh, andf lettuce and tomato salad with Kalamata olives. You might throw in a stuffed grape leaf or two (meatless variety filled with rice). That should be enough, but if this has to be more elaborate add a second course of a meatless moussaka with plenty of eggplant and a layer of grated Mozzarella under the Bechamel sauce, and some spanakorizo (cooked rice mixed 1/2-1/2 with chopped cooked spinach and flavored with lemon juice and cinnamon). Baklava and coffee to follow. Trust me, nobody will miss the meat.

                                          1. So many good ideas, and I too use them regularly. The problem, wow has cheese gone up - just everything. Looking at the prepacked meals, and the cake mixes for 99 cents, sure is tempting. But I'm trying to hold true to my beliefs in cooking from scratch and using fresh veggies, and baking my own stuff with butter. Off track. The point is trying to eat less meat and more veggies.
                                            This is on my upcoming dinner menu for the next two weeks
                                            Red beans and rice - New Oreleans style
                                            Quiche and salad
                                            French onion soup with croutons
                                            Chili with cornbread no meat, but I'll probably serve it over turkey burgers or hotdogs.
                                            Split pea soup - can you use ham hocks or shanks for flavor? Makes an amazing meal the same said for small navy beans
                                            Allan Barnes mentioned chile rellenos, excellent and so satisfying - red rice, cheese
                                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/7220939@... these are so filling and I'm telling you we just love them.

                                            enchiladas or sour cream and spinach enchiladas
                                            Minestrone soup with homemade baquettes
                                            Brocolli soup and anadama bread
                                            Stuffed large shells with ricotta and spinach - excellent, I'm telling you you'll be a rock star.
                                            Lasagana - with,mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes,onions, egglplant, and ricotta and fresh tomato sauce.

                                            and lastly, I make pizzas and my personal favorite is vegetarian. Lots of mushrooms, garlic, onions, tomatoes, basil, spinach, zucchini. Whatever is available.
                                            Roasting beets and brussle sprouts is also a great side and filling.
                                            Stir frys using all your veggies, and fried rice. I make it iwith bbq pork but you don't have to.
                                            Quesadillas loaded, and loaded baked potatoes sans bacon. Or fill them with a creamy broccoli soup or corn and jalapeno chowder.

                                            1. I made crespelli a week or so ago -- crepes filled and rolled with a ravioli filling with some cut up mozzarella, baked with a marinara sauce and more mozzarella over the top. My very carnivorous husband ate it happily for dinner, and happily finished the leftovers the following night. There was no mention of meat.

                                              1. From "Around My French Table," her Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good is getting lots of love on CH. You can omit the bacon. And you can substitute stock for cream.


                                                1. So many dishes in Italian and south asian cuisine. A decent cookbook or nosy round the internet will make it easy.

                                                  Some of our regular, and more general, veggie dishes:

                                                  Root vegetable cobbler
                                                  Lentil burgers
                                                  Bean & mixed veg casserole (I make this one quite spicy hot)
                                                  Chestnut, leek & mushroom pie
                                                  Cracked wheeat pilaff with chestnuts & fennel

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    Would you post the recipes for root veg. cobbler and the chestnut ,leek and mushroom pie? both sound amazing

                                                  2. A good cookbook choice for you might be this new one from Kim O'Donnel called "The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook - Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour"
                                                    She's a great cook who used to write for the Washington Post and had a very popular blog there. She's a meat eater but was an early proponent of Meatless Monday. You can learn more about her and the book at http://kimodonnel.com/

                                                    1. Let them put meat on top.
                                                      I lived with a meat eater - and I was a veggie (not vegan).
                                                      I cooked veggie meals (nothing special) and let him put slices of ham/bacon on top if he wanted.
                                                      He only did it once.
                                                      He is now completely vegetarian (and I have moved out and had to teach him to cook properly before I left).

                                                      1. black bean and cheese enchiladas. Portobello burgers with cheese. I agree with vegetarian lasagna-excellent choice. Hummus and grilled veggie sandwiches.