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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:
          spinach(defrosted frozen- used most of a 16 oz bag)
          asparagus(I used very thin spears, blanched and cut into bite sized pieces)

          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.


          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:

            Color Me Vegan has a great Carrot and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

            I have also been meaning to try this Pickle Soup from Love Soup (sub the barley for brown rice perhaps):

            Hope this helps!

            1. You might check out a copy of the Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes cookbook. I only glanced at it years ago when it first came out, and I'm not sure, but if my memory is correct it might be a good starting point.

              Good luck. There wouldn't be much for your family to eat in our house! We eat a lot of Indian, legumes, eggs (non-cooking husband can make a mean frittata when pressed into duty), eggplant and beets.

              4 Replies
              1. re: odkaty

                I did try glancing through that book on Amazon. Maybe I'll head to the bookstore to peruse it further. I know the restrictions are tough, since most vegetarian recipes call for legumes and eggs as protein sources. We were raised on so much meat that we often ate it 3 times per day and even more as snacks, and rarely were fed eggs. I never even tasted a bean until I was out of high school! It never ceases to amaze me how much meat your "average" American consumes in a day so I'm impressed with their desire to cut some of it from their diets. Thanks for your help!

                1. re: nothingswrong

                  I wonder if they'll become more open to legumes and eggs as their diet changes? The first time I served my husband eggplant he was most upset and refused to touch it for years. Now I serve it to him regularly, and he will ask for ratatouille, baba ghanoush, or whatever.

                  1. re: odkaty

                    Good point. I used to hate chickpeas unless they were whirred into hummus. But they're so healthy, I decided I needed to train myself. Now I eat them probably 3 times a week.

                    1. re: katecm

                      Yes. I realized at some point in my late teens that I couldn't be vegetarian and hate vegetables. Now, I salivate in the produce section and eat at least 3-4 veggies per meal. I think if you're raised eating the same few things and not encouraged to try new foods, it's hard to branch out. I hope they'll branch out too. The bean aversion in my family is mostly a textural thing--we all have it, and I don't know why. Maybe I could get them to do like an Italian white bean spread (mashed) on flatbread with roasted veggies and arugula? We'll see!

              2. Do a search for Ottolenghi recipes in The Guardian newspaper. He did a column called "The New Vegetarian" which is full of creative ideas for veggies. He's not actually a vegetarian himself, interestingly.

                3 Replies
                1. re: greedygirl

                  Agreed. His cauliflower cake is absolutely wonderful. I dumbed it down a little, skipping the sesame seed (i think) crust on the pan, and didn't miss it at all.

                  Another thought is a vegetable tian. Caramelize a good amount of onions in an oven safe pan. Layer slices of zucchini, yellow squiash and tomato in a ring shape until you get to the center. Season with salt, pepper and herbes de provence and cook until the veggies are tender. Top with some crumbled goat cheese and finish just until it softens.

                  1. re: katecm

                    He also has a vegetable paella that's probably available online as well. Haven't made it myself, but what I've made from those columns (via his book Plenty) has been fantastic and so flavorful.

                    1. re: katecm

                      That Ottolenghi cauliflower cake looks wonderful, but the eggs wouldn't be welcome. I have a recipe I've been meaning to try for cauliflower patties/fritters that have similar ingredients minus the eggs. They look delicious.

                      Your veggie tian is perfect! I will definitely be trying this--thank you!

                  2. As a side dish or an appetizer, I like Turkish Zuchinni pancakes. Recipe was from a Bon Appetit over a decade ago and available with a google search.

                    Shreaded zucchini that is then squeezed to get the water out, then add salt, pepper, crumbled feta, chopped green onions,fresh tarragon, parsley and dill and chopped walnuts or pine nuts. Bind with flour and beaten egg to produce batter.

                    Pan fry in small amount of oil or lipid of choice .Keep cooked pancakes warmed in oven on cookie sheet.

                    Garnish with mango chutney (I've used both homemade or jarred Major Grey's) and fresh sour cream.

                    I bring them to functions all the time and get rave reviews.

                    Also, as someone mentioned above, I too make a risotto of roasted garlic, fresh mushrooms and fresh spinach. Replace the chix stock with a veggie stock and then really only the parm. cheese and butter are animal based.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jjjrfoodie

                      Thank you--we have an abundance of zucchini here already and those pancakes sound delicious. Battering vegetables is probably the #1 way to get people to eat them, isn't it?!

                      Will google the Bon Appetit details. Thanks!

                      As for risotto--the parm and small amounts of butter are okay. Just trying to limit insanely unhealthy veggie meals, but anything in moderation is totally fine. Thanks again!

                      1. re: nothingswrong

                        Here ya go...

                        Can't seem to find the risotto recipe so I'll cut and paste later tonite.

                        We also have a local restaurant that does vegetarian Carribean fajitas that I;ve "reverse-engineered". Sliced zucchini, sliced yellow squash, sliced onions, par cooked sweet potatoes and diced fresh pineapple. Cook on high heat with sweetened jerk sauce in a wok or fajita pan and and top with cotija cheese. Serve with warm tortillas, cilantro rice and sour cream. Nice combo of sweet , savory and spicy.

                        1. re: jjjrfoodie

                          thanks for the link. i was flipping through bon appetit earlier tonight and saw a similar recipe--strange!

                          those carribean fajitas sound great. i think the man of the group would seriously enjoy them. thanks for all your help!

                    2. Last summer I grilled some poblano peppers stuffed with rice and cheese, a little salsa, I think, and some mexican spices. (I kind of threw them together, so I don't remember just what was in them!) They were hearty and filling - and you could most likely bake or broil them if you're not using the grill for this group.

                      I concur with the roasted root vegetable pot pie suggestions from some of the posters. Sounds yummy.

                      1. Rice pilafs with whatever veggies they do like, veggie pancakes, will they eat bulgar, also makes a great pilaf, peppers stuffed with rice and cheese, stuffed winter and or summer squashes.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: magiesmom

                          definitely thinking stuffed peppers. we grew up on stuffed peppers made in the traditional greek way. i've never tasted anything as delicious without the ground beef/lamb. i have a few new vegetarian recipes i'll be trying soon--thanks!

                        2. A sort of Americanized Thai red or green curry would be good--crack coconut milk with store bought curry paste, add in whatever vegetables suit your fancy. Would be good with a green papaya salad or something.

                          Fried rice, even though it has "fried" in the name, is really not so bad for you. Stir fry? Broccoli with ginger sauce? Egg rolls are good vegetarian. I make dumplings and bao vegetarian with fake meat but would be good without, too. This vegetarian hot and sour soup is very good (with veg stock, obvs):

                          Hominy grits with mushroom sauce are delicious, and don't really need much doctoring up with cheese as long as you salt and hot sauce them appropriately. Ditto polenta with mushrooms.

                          This potato/poblano/corn taco filling is delish, and you can cut back the crema if need be:

                          Epi has a good vegetarian-able tortilla soup:

                          Baked empanadas with some mushrooms or sweet potatoes and rajas and queso fresco. David Chang's scallion ginger noodles seriously rock:

                          and go great with his steamed buns filled with pickled shiitakes (scroll):

                          A stromboli/calzone with either spinach and cheese or broccoli and cheese can be pretty healthy as long as you keep the veg to cheese ratio in balance.

                          Bibimbap, minus the egg since your folks don't like it. Maybe with kimchee rice to up the flavor?

                          Have you ever made parm broth? Just simmer parm rinds in water until they disappear. INCREDIBLY delicious and makes soups taste very hearty. I like to toss in some spinach tortellini and garlic and eat it with bread.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: auds

                            Oh! And a family favorite is called, alluringly, rice with stuff in it. A bunch of different vegetables that are vaguely thematically related, like say some spinach with sesame, some simmered bamboo shoots, some soy simmered shiitakes, some cooked red peppers, some raw carrot strings, some quick pickled daikon, etc, etc, etc, with a big pot of rice and all the fridge's condiments. Diners can prepare their big bowl 'o' stuff as they please. Nuts and scallions and other fun stuff as topping. And I know (I know! I'm sorry!) I'm breaking the meat substitutes rule but just FYI all the meat lovers in my life go wild for quorn, especially in rice with stuff in it. I'll shut up now.

                            1. re: auds

                              that's my kind of dinner! i make a "lazy cook's mostly veggie risotto" at least once a week (sautee garlic/onion/peppers/carrots/whatever with rice until toasted; season; add broth; let simmer til almost done; add spinach/greens/beans/peas/whatever for last few minutes; top with lots of grated parm). mmm! could eat it every day with some fresh bread from la brea bakery.

                              yes, the fake chicken products (especially breaded ones) are usually the easiest for meat-eaters to take, but i had to cut all of the processed soy/fake meats from my diet as it was wreaking absolute havoc on my body. i subsisted on that stuff for many years growing up and it's really just terrible for you. super-processed, full of fillers and hard to digest. i enjoyed this chow article recently: http://www.chow.com/food-news/71598/w...

                              anyway, not to lecture, apologies. if i could stomach morningstar farms buffalo "chicken" wings, i'd eat them twice a day. okay, now I'LL shut up :)

                            2. re: auds

                              wow, thank you for all the ideas. all the asian dishes sound plausible.

                              that potato/poblano/corn dish made my heart sing. i make something similar with regular bell peppers but will definitely be forcing this on my family (and probably living off of it all summer). thanks!

                              i've never made parm broth but have a bad habit of adding grated parm to almost everything i eat. sounds really good--especially with the garlic and tortellini thrown in.

                              thanks again for all the recipes. empanadas and calzones sound great--just saw a recipe for homemade vegetarian pupusas which looked fantastic... so much to think about! chow never lets me down :)

                              1. re: nothingswrong

                                Add the zest of a few lemons to the parm broth, and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice. If you want, sautee up a few minced shallots in evoo and puree this with a cup of your broth, add back to pot. You could thicken with a roux and whisk in a little half and half or cream, or not. I do this for a velvety lemon soup to which I add a few tortellini, also, and Parmesan -- it is just amazing.

                            3. As a vegetarian emeritus, I have compiled quite a repertoire for dishes that are both delicious and FILLING, as you say. I really like both Moosewood and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, both of which have given me all sorts of inspiration over the years.

                              How about featuring squash in one dish (or two, even) -- you could go so many ways with this

                              I have a great spaghetti squash casserole or a harvest squash casserole (Mexican-y flavors) both delightful crowd-pleasers

                              or, a new favorite, some **roasted butternut squash enchiladas with a homemade chili sauce**?! (You asked for casseroles and the yummy roasted fillings for corn tortillas)

                              I also think stuffed squash or stuffed pumpkin would be excellent. Roasted butternut risotto is divine, always.

                              For stuffing squash/pumpkin, Dorie Greenspan has a very general go-to for stuffed pumpkin, and you could lighten it up, add some spinach or other greens, and omit the bacon of course:


                              Roasted squash enchiladas (adapt this quesadilla recipe, and make a sauce with dried chiles and some freshly toasted/ground cumin, a little honey, cilantro



                              **and how about braised mushrooms and artichokes in a little wine and some good veggie stock, with a few lemon slices thrown in and fresh rosemary? Something like this, minus the chicken:


                              (chickpeas would be good in this kind of braise but I assume they're out due to the no beans rule)

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: twilight goddess

                                i am definitely thinking something stuffed even though summer's coming. perhaps i'll have to save those squash/pumpkin recipes for fall. thank you for the roasted squash fillings for enchiladas/quesadillas/tacos though. they look delicious.

                                i totally love that last recipe. i think it would be perfect. just what i was looking for, maybe served on top of pasta or rice? i think they'd love it. bookmarked--many thanks!!!

                                1. re: nothingswrong

                                  yes, the last one is also great with a few cheese tortellini or orzo. I like that kind of braise with Israeli couscous, too. Does that count as a hippie grain?! Lol.

                              2. Do you consider tempeh a fake meat? I've been trying to eat more fermented foods so I eat a lot of it but I know some people don't care for the texture. Lots of good tempeh recipes out there, though.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: mollyomormon

                                  no tempeh! i've actually tried to feed it to them before (i won't touch the stuff with a ten foot pole) but they were NOT taking the bait. my family will not touch anything soy (for health reasons), aside from occasionally eating edamame. even fermented, soy as a main protein source/diet staple is simply not good for the body. perhaps people have evidence to the contrary, but i went through hell with various soy products and have been soy-free for a good 4 years now. i know several long-term (30-40 years) vegans who've had their insides ruined from consuming soy on a daily basis (milk, tofu, tempeh, yogurt, etc.) and it's terrifying to see something touted as so "healthy" completely destroy peoples' digestive tracts.

                                  sorry for the anti-soy rant. i have a habit of that. thanks though!

                                  have you tried kefir milk? i've heard wonderful things...

                                  1. re: nothingswrong

                                    It's definitely not my main source because I don't have to work with all the restrictions that you're working with! But I do think it's great that you're accommodating everyones' likes and dislikes. Tempeh and shelled edamame are really the only soy that I consume and I do so in moderation so I'm not too concerned. I do like kefir and I like kim chi a lot too! you mentioned that you've been seeing good tomatoes pop up in the LA markets above; please tell me where! I'm read for tomato season again!

                                    1. re: mollyomormon

                                      tomato season is apparently officially upon us! on a whim, i picked up a few on-the-vine tomatoes from whole foods a few days ago and forgot about them til tonight. when i sliced one open to check if it was too late, i was met with a BURST of juicy goodness. i slow-roasted them with some balsamic tonight (made a delicious pizza w/ spinach, roasted garlic, mozz + parm) and those were by far the best-tasting tomatoes i've had since last year. never ceases to amaze me how wonderful our produce is here. i get all giddy inside when the sweet corn starts looking good too. it makes the hot summers worth it!

                                2. Our house is all veg all the time, but we love tempeh, beans, lentils, and indian food. So let's see:

                                  You could go very 1990s and serve them portobello mushroom burgers with oven sweet potato fries and salad...
                                  Pumpkin or squash stew - in a moussaka type sauce over brown rice is delicious, especially with a bit of parmesan shaved over top.
                                  I made a braised artichoke and chevre pasta sauce this week that was amazing. That might change the pasta dishes up a bit.

                                  What about great sandwich/soup combos? That can make for a hearty dinner. Sometimes you can even slip barley into a soup without complaint.

                                  1. How in the world are these folks getting any protein?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: pitterpatter

                                      they eat meat 3 times a day still! they are only now thinking about decreasing it. they all eat lots of nuts, nut butters,and dairy, and they eat eggs or steel cut oats for breakfast.

                                      they will still be eating meat a few times per week, which is no more than the average person probably needs. i've gotten the majority of my protein from vegetables, seeds, and grains for over 10 years now and my protein levels (in the blood) test just as high as meat eaters. perhaps the protein intake worries of most vegetarians is a bit hyped, as i don't eat eggs at all, no tofu, fake meats, beans, and rarely eat nuts, and i'm surprisingly okay in that department. a cup of broccoli and a baked potato has about the same amount of protein as a small chicken breast. the more important thing is combining foods to get the same types of protein as meat, and making sure vitamin intake is adequate.