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Seeking: Vegetarian main dish for 18 people that can be made ahead

I'm hosting a dinner for about 16 people next week, and I'm looking for some ideas. I want the meal to be all vegetarian (doesn't necessarily have to be vegan, though).

I'm thinking about making a big pot of soup — either a middle-eastern style lentil soup or an east asian miso-vegetable-noodle soup, so both of those would probably be vegan and pretty hearty. But I want to have another dish to go along with this. The dinner is on a Tuesday night, so if I can do most of the prep/cooking on Sunday, that would be ideal...will only have about 1.5 hours before the meal on Tuesday to get everything ready.

Any ideas for good main dishes to accompany either of those soups? Thanks in advance!

Dave MP

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  1. How about a nice coconut-curried chickpea stew with red (and some hot if you like) peppers, onions and kale? Serve over your favorite grain with a cilantro garnish. Can easily be made ahead and heated prior to serving.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Science Chick

      Hmm, interesting idea. But might this be a bit too soup/stew if I also served a noodle soup? I suppose I could skip the soup, though. But thanks for this idea, definitely something to ponder!

      Dave MP

      1. re: Dave MP

        ok, how about a layered bean/cheese/corn tortilla enchilada thingy?

    2. How about a lasagna or other baked pasta dish?

      5 Replies
      1. re: firecooked

        I was initially thinking lasagna, but I wasn't sure how well this would go with a big soup. But I suppose I could make some sort of vegetable soup that would complement an Italian baked pasta dish a bit better. Any ideas? I have a good vegetarian cheese lasagna recipe, but other creative lasagna variations could be cool too.

        1. re: Dave MP

          Since you're going to be 18 people, I'd suggest making two pans of different lasagnas. Maybe a cheese lasagna and a vegetable lasagna. Others have made butternut squash lasagna, and I often make spinach and wild mushroom lasagna.

          For the soup, what about a vegetable lentil soup? Or white bean and kale? Both Italian skewed and colorful.

          And a big salad. My favorite lately is arugula, pomegranate seeds, and shaved fennel.

          1. re: cheesecake17

            I like the white bean and kale soup idea, though I've never made a vegetarian version of this. Any tips? Also, can I make it one or two days ahead?

            Agree on the big salad...I was actually thinking of doing a big kale salad, but probably won't go that route if I am also serving kale soup.

            1. re: Dave MP

              The soup recipe I use is pretty simple. I wouldn't prepare it a few days in advance... It would taste ok but might get murky looking. It's got a base of onion, leek, garlic and has canned diced tomatoes, broth, white beans and ribbons of kale. The ingredients can all be prepped in advance, but I'd put the soup together the night of.

              1. re: Dave MP

                I would do the soup ahead, but wait to add the kale... Just add when you reheat.

        2. How about a baked egg casserole? I don't just use them for breakfast. Something along the lines of this spinach mushroom egg dish with something other than salsa. Ibet you could make it compliment the lentil soup seasonings.

          I have not tried this.

          1. Spanakopita to go with the middle-eastern theme? (Assuming you go lentil soup.)

            1. I'd make the lentil soup and a roasted root vegetable whole wheat couscous , do the soup on sunday as well as prepping all the veggies for the couscous, throw them into roast while making the couscous, all done in less than 45 minutes and a pleasant change from ubiquitous lasagne, toasted walnuts and a Dollop of greek yogurt on top.
              We often do this for a crowd with whatever vegetables are seasonal, always a hit.

              1. Mujadarra was suggested in another thread. It seems like a big yawn if you've never tried it, but it isn't. Make lots of caramelized onions to top it.

                Gordon Hamersley has a vegetable stew with a cheddar biscuit crust that's delicious-- http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/wi... --and a roasted vegetable salad with hazelnuts and romesco sauce that is equally good.

                4 Replies
                1. re: sr44

                  Actually, one of the people coming told me that one of his top 5 favorite foods is mujadarra, but I have never made it before, and it seems like it takes a bit of time, especially to make it for that many people.

                  I like the idea of the roasted vegetable/couscous to go along w/ a lentil soup, a big salad, and then I'd probably get some nice bread to go with it.

                  Thanks all for the ideas!

                  1. re: Dave MP

                    Time, yes, but not complicated assembly. Slice the onions with a mandoline, be generous with the oil, and everyone is golden. Strain and save the oil for future use.

                    1. re: Dave MP

                      If you're going the Middle Eastern route with couscous and lentils, a nice flatbread would be a great complement. I think Trader Joe's even sells a packaged version - you can just brush with a little oil, season as desired, and heat.

                      1. re: Dave MP

                        The onions can be prepared in advance. I usually do, especially when I'm having company, so that my house does g smell.

                    2. Maybe not elegant enough for a dinner party, but how about a pizza party (maybe flatbread sounds more fancy)? We've been making "pizza" at home on lavash (TJ's or Whole Foods) and they've been turning out quite tasty, especially after crisping up a few minutes on a pizza stone at 500F. You could make different toppings ahead of time and let guests assemble their own, aided by copious amounts of red wine? (Homemade marinara, roasted broccoli rabe, pan-roasted mushrooms and peppers, soy sausage+cannelini beans, smoked gouda, good mozzarella and ricotta for the non-vegans, etc.) I've wondered what a miso paste concoction might taste like on our lavash. With some cubes of pressed tofu or seitan/tempeh and shredded up scallion and a shower of Korean-style seasoned seaweed - miso soup reinterpreted!!

                      I always love a mushroom dish when it's cold out. I know you already have your soup narrowed down, but I made 101cookbooks' mushroom chowder for Thanksgiving and it was a big hit. It tasted even better the next day so you can definitely make this ahead of time. http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/...

                      Not to sound like I'm a 101cookbooks shill, but this sounds intriguing for a main dish for a crowd. http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/...

                      EDIT: Oh shoot, the baked farro has cheese in case you are trying to keep it on the vegan tip. Guess you could sub in vegan cheese?

                      Please, if you can, let us know what you end up doing!

                      1. I'd consider doing a Moroccan chickpea tagine as the main course. You can make it ahead and it's a hearty, filling dish, particularly when served with couscous or quinoa. You can also serve a salad of romaine, cucumber, tomato, olives and onion tossed with herbs and a preserved lemon vinaigrette, cumin-scented carrot salad, and za'atar spiced flatbread. For dessert, you have many make-ahead options in the form of cookies, cakes & pastries (Claudia Roden's Orange Almond Cake would be a perfect complement to the meal).

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          ghg, I adore that cake. adore adore adore.

                          1. re: magiesmom

                            As do I! BTW, it's *amazing* with Meyer lemons instead of oranges.

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              That makes sense. And it is Meyer lemon season now. hmmm.

                              1. re: magiesmom

                                Alright, I'm convinced. Will make that cake! At the farmer's market today I bought some raw almonds (which are quite fresh and already taste great) and two citrus options: blood orange and meyer lemon. Now I need to decide which fruit to use in the cake!

                                I'll definitely report back about the cake, and the rest of the meal. Probably am going to serve the following:

                                Dates stuffed w/ blue cheese
                                Bread (either bakery or homemade)
                                Maybe some sort of bean dip or hummus
                                Mauritian Lentil Soup (with coconut milk)
                                Roasted vegetable couscous (specific good recipes would be appreciated)
                                Kale salad (with a tofu-miso dressing)
                                Claudia Roden's cake
                                Fresh fruit

                                1. re: Dave MP

                                  Use the blood oranges for the cake - they're wonderful in that recipe and the flavor will work well with the rest of your menu. To gild the lily, top the cake with a honeyed blood orange compote (splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier optional).

                                  For the couscous:

                                  Add mushrooms & roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, and sub sherry vinegar or lemon juice for the balsamic.

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    I agree about the blood oranges, but I wouldn't make a couscous salad, I would serve roasted vegetables and couscous hot, using whatever vegetables are seasonal where you are. Cut them in even sized pieces, toss with some olive oil and spices ( cumin,paprika, coriander, for example) and coarse salt. Roast at 425 30 to 40 minutes, until soft.
                                    Combine couscous with boiling vegetable stock, let sit 5 minutes or ten if couscous is whole wheat. FLuff with a fork, serve couscous in a ring around the veggies.

                                    1. re: magiesmom

                                      That recipe isn't a cold salad - it's supposed to be served hot.

                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        I didn't get that, sorry. It seems to be served room temp.

                                        1. re: magiesmom

                                          You know, I've NEVER even noticed that - I always serve it hot! Oops :)

                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                            well, it is good to know that it works hot also. That is more appealing to me.

                                  2. re: Dave MP

                                    No specific recipe for the couscous, but I like the vegetables served in a ring around the couscous rather than mixed in.
                                    Zucchini, eggplant, grape tomatoes are all delicious with couscous.
                                    Or butternut squash, beets, carrots, parsnips, spiced with cumin.

                                    How do you prepare the dressing for the kale salad?

                                      1. re: Dave MP

                                        Nigella adds cocoa powder to Claudia's cake and it is sublime.

                                        1. re: relizabeth

                                          I made the cake last night, and it seems to have turned out pretty well! Dinner is tonight, so I'll be reporting back on everything soon!

                              2. Since you said dairy is OK, how about some kind of vegetable cheese casserole. I have lots of variations on these using artichoke hearts or broccoli or spinach etc They can be made in advance and are a nice contrast to the original lentil or miso soup mentioned.

                                1. I make vegetarian chili that's great with TVP (textured vegetable protein) and beans and lots of red and green peppers and onions and tomatoes, olive oil and spices/herbs. I add those pimento-stuffed olives, too, for a bright acidic taste (otherwise I can't stand them). Then non-vegans can add shredded cheese or sour cream, spicy people can add chopped chilis for more spice, etc. Serve with rice and tortilla chips, homemade is better--in large size so dipping is possible. Guacamole if you can get good avocados. A one-dish wonder main dish.

                                  Everyone has loved it--the only negative is that it's often asked if it's *really* vegetarian.

                                  1. Thanks everyone for the advice. The meal happened last night, and it was a big success (though cooking for 18 people is a lot of work!!). Luckily I had some excellent help in the cooking, and here's what we served:

                                    Appetizer course:

                                    - Bread from Tartine, still warm from the oven. We ended up going through almost an entire loaf when the guests arrived, along w/ some brie and goat cheese.
                                    - Dates stuffed w/ blue cheese, warmed in the oven.

                                    Soup course:

                                    - Mauritian dahl soup, made with lentils, coconut milk, various spices, onions, and served with crispy shallots, cilantro and lime as garnishes. Many people also ate the bread with this.

                                    Main course:

                                    - Roasted vegetables. I ended up making three trays of veggies. Two were a mixture of butternut squash, carrots and parsnips, which I seasoned with cumin, coriander, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, olive oil. The third was a tray of zucchini, bell pepper, and leeks, seasoned with olive oil, balsamic vineggar, salt, and pepper. By the time we ate, this was all at room temperature, but we were able to mix it in with the hot couscous.
                                    - Couscous...I basically made something up here, and it worked well. In a stockpot, I sauteed two chopped leaks, then added some ginger root, turmeric, a can of tomatoes, and 4 cups of vegetable stock. Then I added in a bunch of raisins, and salt and pepper, then when the guests arrived, I brought it to a boil and added 4 cups of whole wheat couscous. It came out great, and was moist and had plenty of flavor, but not too strong. Tasted great with the vegetables.
                                    - Kale salad with miso dressing. For the dressing, we mixed 1/2 package of soft tofu, 1/8 cup white miso, 1/8 cup lemon, 1/8 cup soy sauce, 1/8 cup mirin, 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Then we added a bit more lemon and pepper and salt. The soft tofu makes for a nice creamy (but still dairy free) dressing. We used two whole bunches of kale which was just barely enough for everyone.
                                    - For condiments, we had a yogurt cucumber sauce, a small bowl of preserved lemons, and cilantro.


                                    Chocolate-pumpkin whoopie pies, topped with raspberries. My partner-in-crime made these, so I don't know the recipe that was used.

                                    Claudia Roden's Orange-Almond Cake - This was a great suggestion from this discussion, so thanks everyone who mentioned this! The cake turned out really well, and it was nice and moist and not too sweet. Definitely the most impressive gluten-free baked good I have ever personally made. For a topping, I mixed some simple syrup with slices of orange and the seeds of 1 pomegranate. Heated this up, and poured it over the cake before we served it.

                                    Overall, a really great meal and it went over really well! Thanks again to everyone who helped brainstorm ideas for me. And here's a photo of the very last piece of cake!

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: Dave MP

                                      Mauritian dahl soup recipe, please!

                                      1. re: rccola

                                        Here's a recipe I followed (roughly) for the Dahl Soup. I got the recipe from a friend of the family who is from Mauritius.

                                        1 jalapeno
                                        4 T oil or butter
                                        1 onion, chopped
                                        2-3 cloves garlic
                                        1 T ginger
                                        1 T garam massala
                                        2 tsp. turmeric
                                        1 C lentils (I used red, which actually didn't result in the prettiest color, so maybe use green or brown instead)
                                        4 C water
                                        ½ to 1 can coconut milk, full cream or light, depending on how rich you want it
                                        lime juice

                                        Heat oil, add jalapeno, then once it's cooked for a while, remove it. Add the onion and cook till translucent, then add the rest of the garlic, ginger, garam massala and turmeric. Then add the lentils and water

                                        Lower heat, cover and cook about 30 min or until done
                                        Add coconut milk, bring to a boil, and serve with cilantro and/or lime juice. I really enjoyed it served w/ crispy shallots (which I bought in a jar at the Asian market)

                                        1. re: Dave MP

                                          For 18 people, did you do the recipe X 4?

                                          1. re: nosh

                                            Yes, I did the recipe x4. It just barely fit in my 8 qt. pot. It was enough for 18 people to each have a small-ish serving—nice as an appetizer course.

                                            1. re: Dave MP

                                              This soup, as well as the rest of the dinner, sounds scrumptious! Can't wait to give it whirl!

                                              Thanks for the detailed report...and sorry to bombard you with my long-winded stream-of-cooking-consciousness!

                                          2. re: Dave MP

                                            oh, this sounds beautiful!! I'm going to look back at this for future dinner parties!

                                          3. for next time:

                                            ricotta al forno from the evan kleiman cookbook.
                                            cover it with sauteed mushrooms that have had ALL the moisture/water cooked out.

                                            also, vegetarian chili, or ratatouille.

                                            1. I recently hosted 20 people for dinner. I made two huge pans of enchiladas, one red sauce with cheese, and one green sauce with tofu and black beans and soy cheese. (I can post the recipe if you want). I made both the day before and baked as people arrived.

                                              I also made chipotle refried beans and cilantro rice (recipe posted here on CH by Robert Lauriston--one of the best recipes ever). Refrieds are easily made the day before and can just be reheated on the stove at a low temp. The sauce for the rice can be made ahead of time as well, and added to rice the day of the dinner, then kept warm.

                                              For apps-- I just had a huge vat of guacamole and chips. I did make the guac at the last minute to avoid browning (I'm a minimalist---salt, lime, and avocado--so it's not like there were a lot of ingredients to prep... you can even juice the limes in advance to cut down on last-minute mess).

                                              People were thrilled.