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Need help with a casual VEGETARIAN tasting menu--need creative but "homey" ideas please!

So here's the deal. I have three family members who have decided recently to go "71.4% vegetarian" (their words, i.e. weeknights). The problem being that a dinner doesn't seem complete without meat or seafood. Having been vegetarian or vegan for most of my life at this point, I am very familiar with vegetarian/vegan food, and have been cooking for myself daily since I was 14 and know my way around the kitchen. Unfortunately, we all have very varied tastes and appetites.

Vegetarian tasting planned for the end of the month--Since they're not dropping meat altogether, they aren't worried about getting complete proteins or complex nutritient profiles, etc. Just healthy (i.e. whole foods, low fat, and lots of veggies) substitutes for dinners a few nights per week.

Restrictions to the menu:

-ABSOLUTELY NO TOFU or fake meats. None of it. At all. Thanks.
-No beans or lentils (2 of the 3 can't stand them)
-No Indian food
-No egg-based recipes (fritatas, quiche, etc.)
-No eggplant, beets, nori
-No sprouted grains, quinoa, barley, or other "hippie" grains (brown rice is okay, and actually the preference of the house)

I'd like to come up with at least 5 or 6 dishes. Obviously pastas were the first thing to come to mind, but I'd like to limit the spread to only one. Anyone have any great ideas for veggie pasta dishes or manicotti? Good roasted fillings for corn tortillas? Flatbread/pizza toppings? Casseroles? Braised hearty veggies? Pot pies? Galettes? Asian stir-fries?

We might just make the tasting into having me come over to cook each night for a week, so I don't care if foods pair up well.

Emphasis on FILLING veggie-based meals. All members are watching their weight and cholesterol for health reasons. I don't really understand that need for meat to make a meal well-rounded, and I never crave it. So any of you carnivore-types or new vegetarians--your advice is also greatly appreciated! What makes a meal great without meat to you?

THANK YOU for any help!

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  1. Wow, them's some restrictions...

    I had some amazing mushroom tacos last week - roasted with onion and cumin, served with salsa and guac. Could do the same thing as a quesidila, but too much cheese will throw your health element out the window.

    Vege pad thai - no tofu, but plenty of egg omlette for a bit of protein.

    Summer rolls - obviously no shrimp or tofu in them, but gussy up some vermicelli noodles with plenty of herbs and flavoursome ingredients.

    Vegetarian steamed dumplings - you get to control exactly what you put in them.

    Paella - now, I'm talking more about the way it's cooked and the spicing than the actual ingredients here. Rice simmered until you get that crispy bottom, saffron and smokey paprika - decide on the vegetation you want.

    Pot pies - I'd do roasted root vegetables, a creamy sauce and top with filo for a bit of lightness.

    I could keep going - I'm an omnivore, but primarily vegetarian (budget choices, cooking for one etc etc). Unfortunately I love a lot of what is on the restricted list!

    3 Replies
    1. re: ultimatepotato

      Those tacos sound perfect; right up their alley. I make quesadillas as a staple for weeknight dinners, filled with very little cheese and mostly sauteed shredded zucchini, carrot, chopped onion, pepper, corn, etc. So good.

      The pad thai--do you have a recipe (or link)? They all LOVE Asian type dishes. I was thinking summer rolls too.

      Paella is a great idea and I've seen many veg versions on the web. Seems like a bit of a daunting task to omit all the meat and seafood. I myself would enjoy it but wonder what an omnivore would think. Anyway I'm sure it'd make for an impressive spread.

      Thanks for your help! Perfect suggestions!

      1. re: nothingswrong

        Call it a spicy pilaf instead and they'll never miss the rest =p

        Here's a vegetarian pad thai recipe that's very similar to what I throw together - http://thaifood.about.com/od/vegetari... - if you're not totally strict about keeping it vegetarian then yuo can use some shimp paste and fish sauce too.

        1. re: ultimatepotato

          mmm. noodles. always get me drooling.

          yeah--no problem with using non-veg ingredients as "condiments" or part of sauces. thanks for the recipe!

    2. I have gone ovo-lacto veg for Lent, and have been doing pretty well coming up with meals. Risotto with mushrooms and asparagus has been a big hit, but the star so far was the white lasagna with spinach and asparagus. Also high on the list, grilled marinated portobello and caramelized onion snadwiches(with roasted red peppers for those who like them), melted fontina and herb mayo made them sparkle- I served on a multi-grain roll.

      4 Replies
        1. re: lilmomma

          I made a basic alfredo/bechamel with LOTS of garlic- I'd say I used about 3 cups total for the recipe (i never measure except when I bake, but can give you approximates if you need them).

          I used a bagged pre-shredded 6 Italian cheese blend this time (mozz, provolone, asiago, fontina, parm, romano).

          For once. I used a 9" square dish instead of a giant lasagna pan

          Layered in this order:
          sauce
          noodles
          spinach(defrosted frozen- used most of a 16 oz bag)
          cheese
          sauce
          noodles
          asparagus(I used very thin spears, blanched and cut into bite sized pieces)
          cheese
          sauce
          noodles
          spinach
          cheese
          sauce
          noodles
          sauce
          cheese

          Baked covered @350 for 45 min, then another 15 uncovered, and let it rest about 15 min

          It was a little too wet the 1st night, but perfect the next day.

            1. re: nothingswrong

              Thanks- it really was delicious- even my carnivorous hubbie said he wants it when we are back to eating meat.

      1. Spring has sprung and asparagus is available; what about a beautiful green lasagna? You could go easy with the cheeses, re: the health factor; and use a combo of veg: asparagus, arty hearts and spinach with fresh pasta sheets if they are available where you are.

        A delicious risotto would be another contender - but I don't know about the brown rice for that one. I have a gorgeous recipe for vegetarian tamales made with corn, zucchini and black beans, if you'd like. It's a litle involved, but I'll be glad to type it out if you let me know you'd like to have it. Oh, and also, if you can get tomatoes, I'd consider a nice gazpacho; even a white gazpacho with almonds, to start. Or another cold soup of some sort; cantaloupe w/ yogurt, peas and mint (or cilantro and a little cumin and crema, for a Mexican-ish option.) Or a beautiful minestrone with some pasta and a little grated parm. to garnish, or vegetable tortilla soup......
        Enjoy the party. It will all work out just fine! : )

        1 Reply
        1. re: mamachef

          They will eat white rice, so risotto is a great suggestion. I'm sure the green lasagna would be loved too. I've never thought to put artichokes in a lasagna for some reason, and I'm sure they'd love it.

          Tomatoes are starting to look wonderful here in LA! We also have homegrown cherry tomatoes in the summer which are to die for. Thanks mamachef!

        2. I was impressed by Ina Garten's vegetable pot pie.

          http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

          It calls for chicken stock, just substitute vegetable broth, mushroom broth, etc.

          1 Reply
          1. re: blue room

            I will definitely be making this. Chicken pot pie was a family favorite growing up and I've been searching for a good veg version for a while.

            I'll probably use phyllo as someone else suggested to keep the crust to a minimum. I know they will LOVE this; thanks for the link!

          2. Wow, you've got some mighty restrictions with no beans or tofu products!

            Smitten Kitchen's Mushroom Bourguignon is great

            If you want hearty, filling soups, I really like this orange, yam, spinach soup:
            http://tastespace.wordpress.com/2011/...

            Color Me Vegan has a great Carrot and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
            http://www.gettingintoyourpants.com/w...

            I have also been meaning to try this Pickle Soup from Love Soup (sub the barley for brown rice perhaps):
            http://auberginelove.wordpress.com/20...

            Hope this helps!