HOME > Chowhound > Vegetarian & Vegan >


Ideas for an elegant but simple vegetarian dinner -plenty of catches...

I have been reading cookbooks and recipe ideas, and I am totally coming up blank. Here's the scenario: my anniversary is the weekend after New Year's, and we are headed up to a favorite romantic but remote getaway cabin. When I say remote, I mean 17 miles from the nearest place where food can be purchased, 100 miles from a supermarket, and probably 200 miles from any elegant restaurants. And snow is a distinct possibility, so we might not even want to drive even the 17 miles.

But I would like to make a special meal for hubby for our special day. And the cabin kitchen is well-equipped. Generous breakfast supplies are provided, so there will be extra milk and eggs should I need it for a recipe. And there are basic spices, oil, butter, etc. But anything else I need I have to buy in advance and bring with me, and since we plan on leaving as soon as I get off work the day before I probably will be doing the shopping two or three days ahead of time.

DH says he's happy with a soup and salad, but I feel I can do better. I can always bring an elegant pre-purchased desert (or maybe just some really good chocolates)....but what to do for a main dish? DH does eat some seafood, but I am concerned about freshness given the four hour drive.

Any ideas? I am drawing a blank....DH will eat dairy, and as I said before, occasionally fish, but a vegetarian menu is best.....

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Vegetarian version of chiles en nogada . . . that's what I'm making this weekend. A showy dish and you can do some of the prep ahead of time and take the components with you.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Do you think if prepped on Thursday (my day off) it will still be good on Saturday? What prep would you do ahead of time? And I am assuming you will stuff the chiles with cheese?? Or maybe with a rice version of picadillo? DH would enjoy that....

      1. re: janetofreno

        The first and only time I made them, it was for 22 people. I started a week ahead of time doing a couple steps each night as I had time. Things to do ahead of time: roast and peel chiles (don't stuff them), peel and soak walnuts in milk, dice the dried fruits, wash the fresh fruits, toast & chop the nuts for the filling, seed pomegranates, peel garlic and onions.

        I think rice would be a good filling. It will pick up the flavor of the spices well and you can make it ahead as well. I wouldn't add cheese to this dish as the creamy walnut sauce has queso fresco in it and is rich enough as it is.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Here are the photos of the chiles en nogada I made. We had two vegetarians at that dinner and I'm pretty sure that I used rice in the filling for them. Enough time has passed that I'm willing to do it again but for only six people,

          This recipe is more elaborate than most on the web, but I figure if you're going to take the time to make this dish, go all out and don't skimp on the ingredients. It also gives some hints on what to do ahead of time and on the day you serve.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            You could skip the battering and frying. That's actually the more common way that chiles en nogada are prepared (at least in my experience), and then you could do nearly everything ahead of time. I'd just wait and blend the nogada shortly before serving because it should be well-aerated. It has a texture similar to melted ice cream.

            And since chiles en nogada are served at room tempereature or even chilled, if you skip the frying there's no cooking or reheating to be done before serving.

            Maybe textured soy in lieu of the ground meat? I bet that would be nearly indistinguishable from regular picadillo.

            1. re: Soul Vole

              Yes, thanks for pointing that out. I skip the batter/fry step. It's so much prettier to show off the green of the chile.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I agree. It's a perennial argument amongst Mexicans whether the chile should be capeado (battered and fried) or not. One argument against is that the green color of the chile is part of the green, white, and red of the dish -- the colors of the Mexican flag.

                1. re: Soul Vole

                  I only recently found this out. Makes me more inclined to make the dish - which I already wanted to make :)

                  1. re: Soul Vole

                    Here's last weekend's chile en nogada. I managed to find biznaga . . . a multi-year search. But then as soon as I get home with my trophy, I read that the cactus is an endangered species. So, I will make the rest of the stash count. And having tasted it now, I can feel more confident about making future substitutions.

                    Happy new year!

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      GORGEOUS!!!! We were in Mill Valley this year for Christmas instead of Sonoma so didn't make it to El Molina Central. I really need to make this. Don't I?!? :)

                      1. re: c oliver

                        El MolinO Central. If you choose to make it, the addition of saffron made a subtle difference to me.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Oops. Typo. I speak just barely enough Spanish to know THAT wasn't right :) And to order food and drink!

          2. re: janetofreno

            I am in a similar rental cabin (in the mountains) situation this christmas...only feeding 6 people where two are vegetarian.

            I am having a "Feliz Navidad" Christmas dinner. Not the elegance you are looking for, but I am making arepas ahead of time. Always a hit, easy and transport well. I will have a variety of fillings and accompaniments ( black beans, avocado, veggies, rice, etc) but they might make a good side dish to your chiles en nogada?

        2. French Onion Soup with crusty baguette and Caesar salad with real coddle egg will make it a special night to remember... For simple vegan dessert, try chocolate mouse made with avocado: ripe avocado, cocoa, sugar, optional coconut milk to liquefy. Process in blender and chill.... wallah!

          6 Replies
          1. re: roro808

            oohh....I like the French Onion Soup idea, at least for a first course! It is one of DH's favorites, and it would satisfy his "just do a soup and salad" request:-). Not sure why I didn't think of it earlier...that's what I mean by "drawing a blank." And DH loves it but rarely orders it in restaurants since their versions most often contain beef broth.....

            1. re: janetofreno

              This isn't your basic but comes from the folks at Cowgirl Creamery and looks and sounds great!


              1. re: c oliver

                Thanks for this link. We love French Onion soup, but I hesitated to try it with vegetable broth for my vegetarian daughter-in-law. I am now inspired!

                1. re: DebinIndiana

                  You're welc! It's funny. I don't generally like FO soup. Just find it too heavy but this recipe appeals enormously.

                  1. re: DebinIndiana

                    Mushroom stock comes close to beef in flavor.

                2. re: janetofreno

                  I make a vegetarian onion soup out of The Political Palate that's wonderful. The flavor all comes from a long (45 minute) browning of the onions. I'd be happy to paraphrase if you want.

              2. Here are my ideas that are mostly pantry items with all the vegetables sturdy enough for a few days in the fridge + a few hours in the car:

                Mushroom risotto with roasted broccoli or sauteed garlicky kale

                Vegetable paella http://herbivoracious.com/2008/07/veg...

                Mushroom pie http://www.veggienumnum.com/2010/08/m...

                Lasagna can be made ahead and reheated. It will be fine on the drive, especially if it is in a cooler http://www.chow.com/recipes/11415-win...

                I think the other commenter's suggestion of french onion soup is great - special, but minimal fresh ingredients. Miso is a nice secret boost to vegetarian french onion soup. http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                Cheese Souffle with a crunchy apple-celery salad or sauteed greens to accompany

                5 Replies
                1. re: jennymoon

                  I strongly second risotto! Happy anniversary, janet.

                  1. re: jennymoon

                    Was going to suggest souffle too. Cheese or spinach cheese plus crunchy salad. Though mushroom risotto sounds mighty good.

                    1. re: jennymoon

                      The winter greens lasagna is terrific.

                      1. re: jennymoon

                        Third on the risotto - I just made a delicious variation of this recipe. All the ingredients travel well, and it would be a nice way of spending some time between courses drinking wine in the kitchen together. :) I added a medium (peeled, diced) sweet potato in the celeriac step, and kept the sauteed celeriac and sweet potato warm in a 250 degree oven while the risotto was cooking. We had it with about 1/2 c of cheese (instead of 1/4) mixed in at the end and chicken cutlets on top. If you want to boost the veggie protein some almonds or hazelnuts mixed in would probably be great; I also had a fried egg on top of the leftovers the next morning with tasty results.


                        1. After reading the posts below, I like the french onion soup idea as a starter and I;d do a vegetable or mushroom and veggie pot pie as the main.

                          Warm and comforting for both.

                          Soup can be made ahead in a quart or 2 and held in the fridge or frozen for your trip. Add toasted bread and cheese and broil at cabin.

                          I use the Moosewood Cookbook for a lot of inspiration, and since dairy is ok, do a cream or gravy based veggie and mushroom pot pie. Either big in a 9x13 or 8x8 casarole or as indiviual pies.

                          Make pot pie filling ahead, dump into casserole dish and refidgerate. It'll keep for days. If non diary, even freeze.

                          Haul with you chilled cold store bought (or home made) puff pastry or pie crust for topping.
                          Top with crust at the cabin, brush with egg and bake.


                          I do a chicken pot pie with cream sauce, carrots, potatoes and onions riff on the veggie pie out of the Moosewood cookbook too and it's not hard nor time consuming.

                          9x13 or 8x8 size will also mean leftovers since you are so remote.

                          Cooler and ice packs will be fine for food for travel, and any frozen items will happily somewhat thaw ans be ready when you get there. Win-win. BTDT x100. :-)
                          Good luck.

                          1. When I camp I always like to bring a few sauces that I can use in many different ways. I always bring a salad dressing(pomegranate molasses dressing is my current fave) and I just discovered the wonders of romesco sauce on this site. I love it on frittatas, tortilla espagnole, grilled cheese sandwich etc..I think it would be delicious with crab cakes, salt cod fritters etc...I would go french onion soup or savoury pie(mushroom, butternut squash& goat cheese) but not both for dinner.
                            How about mushroom bourguignon with egg noodles a la smitten kitchen or Alton Browns mushroom and goat cheese stroganoff?

                            1. How about a fancy mushroom bread pudding? You have eggs and milk at the cabin, the mushrooms will be fine purchased in advance, and you actually want the bread a little stale . . .

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: momnivore

                                This reminded me of Mushroom Bourguignon. With noodles or polenta.


                                1. re: valerie

                                  Just made this last night. I put a little on pizza instead of sauce. It was delicious, didn't have pearl onions though.

                              2. Eggplant, spinach and mushroom lasagna with no-boil noodles is a nice vegetarian main dish.

                                1. In addition to the great ideas here, make sure you have plenty of red wine/Champagne.

                                  Since you are veg, I'd make sure to have a good supply of cheese, and crusty French bread.

                                  If you ate anything especially memorable on your Wedding Day or on your honeymoon it might be fun to replicate those.

                                  Spice things up with some some GREAT new lingerie.

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: pedalfaster

                                    lol...plenty of champagne/wine is a given:-). Unfortunately, a mountain cabin in the middle of nowhere just doesn't seem to be the right ambiance for lingerie....long johns, maybe:-). I do like the risotto idea, as well as the stroganoffs.

                                    But here's what I'm thinking: A starter of crudités and marinated vegetables (my husband loves those), perhaps with a home-made hummus. Maybe some stuffed mushrooms (?). Champagne with the nibbles.. He doesn't like to eat much cheese, so I'll save it for the French Onion Soup (well, maybe a little good cheese for me....). A good salad. Some red wine. And for desert: DH's favorite: bread pudding (someone inspired me by mentioning a savory pudding above)..... Some fine chocolates and cognac later in the evening......Maybe it isn't totally elegant, but it will please DH...and that sounds like plenty of food to me. After all, we don't want to fall asleep right after dinner:-) Remember, we've been married 29 years, so we are not all that young:-)

                                    PS: thanks for the help, you have inspired me! And I am keeping all of your ideas in mind for his birthday dinner, which will only be a month or so after the anniversary:-)

                                    1. re: janetofreno

                                      With a mountain cabin in the winter, my brain went to Raclette with boiled fingerling potatoes, marinated mushrooms, pickled onions and gherkins, maybe some smoked trout, with a nice loaf of bread. Start with a tomato based soup and crudites. Serve berries and chocolates for dessert.

                                      Now, I see that your husband is not a big fan of cheese, but I still wanted to throw it out there. The Raclette can be melted in the oven, all of the other ingredients are shelf stable, easy to transport. Another thought would be some kind of fondue. Sometimes the simplest foods are the most elegant. For special occasions, my husband and I prefer to eat small bites and/or interactive type dishes, that we can share and spend time over as we laugh, talk and reminisce.

                                      Congratulations on 29 years of marriage!

                                      1. re: Springhaze2

                                        I was going to suggest fondue or raclette, too, but saw about the cheese/dairy. (Though a broth or choc fondue could be fun.) My SO and I took our fondue pot on vacation a while back, and it was so fun we did it two nights in a row.

                                      2. re: janetofreno

                                        I link to this hearty salad allllll the time- its better the next day! What's important is to rub/massage the dressing into the greens which the instructions don't say. Just skip the cheese if he's not into it. You can make the whole recipe before you leave.

                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                          Care to share where y'all are headed? Might be something for OUR anniversary :)

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            A place wayyy up in northeastern California, between Cedarville and Ft. Bidwell. Sort of the end of the road. Google "Cottage at Winje Farm." BTW, if you go in any season other than winter (we've been there for them all), you have unlimited access to their wonderful organic garden.

                                            1. re: janetofreno

                                              Thanks a lot! Sounds like a wonderful getaway. I hope y'all have a great time and eat lots of good food.

                                          2. re: janetofreno

                                            And a PS: DH was just watching a Chopped episode and asked me about risotto: "Is it hard to make? I would like to learn to make it..." So since we are definitely "go nowhere for New Year's Eve" types, we decided that the NYE evening entertainment would be that we would make mushroom risotto together......So he'll get that dish too! yum!

                                            1. re: janetofreno

                                              You will love it and there are so many variations. It can come together when you think you have absolutely no food in the house. To fancy it up, you could roast halved and emptied acorn squash and spoon the risotto in the shell? I love the combo of squash and mushrooms.

                                              1. re: janetofreno

                                                Risotto's not really difficult, just requires attention and can be a bit time intensive and takes some practice to get the texture just right. Since I don't see a recipe above I will just say what may be obvious, but just in case: use arborio rice. If you don't have homemade veggie or mushroom stock on hand you might want to make some between now and NYE as a cold-day-at-home project....

                                                1. re: susancinsf

                                                  Yes, I know we need Arborio rice.....I had to explain that to hubby, as he was ready to make it that day and all we had was basmati:-). And I think your idea of the homemade veggie stock is a good one....we seem to have a lot of veggies in the fridge right now...

                                                2. re: janetofreno

                                                  Alton Brown has a fantastic foolproof recipe.

                                            2. How about a polenta cake with roasted veggies and goat cheese?

                                              something similar to this.....

                                              You could probably make it up until the roasting part, wrap then pop in the oven at the cabin.

                                              1. A hearty soup, small salad and goat cheese and spinach lasagna. with bread and wine. You could even make the lasagna ahead of time.

                                                or a mushroom and cheese ravioli

                                                Eggplant parmigiana
                                                a vegetarian green curry with a thai salad or tom yum soup.

                                                anything warm since it will be cold. and anything that can be paired well with wine. :P

                                                1. I'm more of a peasant cook, so feel a bit awkward chiming in on a thread looking for elegance, so take this with a grain of salt.

                                                  I love these twice baked goat cheese souffles from epi: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                                  They're simple to make, delicious, light and fancy (in my book).

                                                  I'm sure your dinner will be fab no matter what you decide.

                                                  1. How about some home made manicotti? The crepes are simple enough to make with just flour, egg, milk and salt and pepper. The filling is just egg, parmesan, ricotta, and herbs. Then just top it all with your favorite jarred sauce and some more parmesan and bake it. Serve it with some garlic bread and a salad.

                                                    Or a mushroom marsala pasta, think chicken marsala minus the chicken, and just use more mushrooms - or perhaps a blend of wild mushrooms. I've seen a similar recipe that even includes artichoke in place of the chicken.

                                                    If you want to fancy up a salad, perhaps a Salad Nicoise, with some freshly seared tuna that is still pink in the middle.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Atomic76

                                                      Vegetarian = no fish = no salad nicoise

                                                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                                                        But the OP said the DH would occasionally eat fish...

                                                    2. Here's another suggestion- a family classic, and perhaps my favorite casserole of all time... Sort of halfway between a soufflé and a risotto. Simple and absolutely delicious!

                                                      Brown Rice & Cheese Casserole

                                                      2 eggs, lightly beaten
                                                      1/2 cup heavy cream
                                                      1/3 cup water
                                                      1½ cup cooked brown rice (3/4 cup uncooked) [can use a bit more than this]
                                                      1¼ cup freshly grated Cheddar (10oz bar = 2½ c)
                                                      salt to taste (I prefer Herbamare seasoned salt...)
                                                      1/4 cup chopped bell pepper (½ med. pepper, can be green, red, or both)
                                                      2 Tb grated onion {or a little more}

                                                      Preheat oven to 350°. Beat eggs together with cream and water. Stir into cooked rice. Add cheese, salt, green pepper & onion. Mix well. Turn into an oiled casserole
                                                      dish and bake 45 minutes or until set.

                                                      serves 2

                                                      1. Quiche? Sounds like you will have the main ingredients on hand.

                                                        1. This strata is so easy, will hold up to transport, and is so tasty! All of the ingredients will hold up for a few days, also tastes great reheated, and nothing is that hard to find in a well stocked grocery store. Springing for local cream and eggs does put this over the moon though.