As a vegetarian for several years, I have found that there is so much wonderful food available from a range of traditions and cultures all across the globe that I really never find myself missing out. Of course the easiest thing to make is a hearty and delicious vegetarian sandwich, using a wide range of spreads, cheeses, and vegetables on fresh or homemade bread. Since there are so many possibilities -- experimentation with different flavors and ingredients is really the key. Here is a list of some of our favorite vegetarian meals for you to try as an experiment in your diet, or as an aspiring veggie foodie.
Because of recent developments with a wider range of meat substitutes, it's also possible to make nearly any original or traditional recipe with some sort of soy or meat-free replacement. But for example, I prefer not to convince myself that veggie meatballs are the real thing (don't really remember the original anyways - it's been so long), I just like the taste of the delicious round things in my spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine. (I do also love veggie burgers as you will see on this list!) The meat alternative soy products are also a good place to start for many Americans... When people ask me if I miss the taste of meat, or chicken -- it's now very easy to say "NO"! There are even better veggie hot dogs and sausages available than even just a few years ago.
Here's my top list of veggie choices at meal time -- I hope it inspires you to make your own vegetarian meals, or at least occasionally incorporate meat-free meals into your diet:
- Veggie Burgers - Seriously with hamburger buns, mustard, ketchup, pickles, onions, and a nice slice of muenster, cheddar, or provolone cheese -- vegetarians choose veggie burgers for the great reminder of the perfect hand-held meal. From store-bought frozen veggie burgers to great restaurant recipes made from rice, grains, and more -- there is a great range of flavors and textures. If you’re not vegan (as in a lacto-ovo vegetarian - one who eats milk, eggs, and chhese) -- a bit of egg in the mix holds these together nicely before pan or grill frying.)
- Veggie Burritos - A great, tasty meal with refried or black beans and all the fixings. I actually like a little extra sour cream INSIDE the burrito. The more overall bulk these have when you hold them in your hand... the better. These are good for lunch or dinner -- or in the famous breakfast burrito version -- first thing in your day. Take a flour tortilla and add sweet onions, varieties of peppers (red and/or green), lettuce or spinach, and diced tomatoes and you'll be knocked out by the flavor. Bean ( and rice burritos are great too, especially with fresh cilantro and chili powder for kick.
- Spinach and Eggplant Lasagna - Forget simple pasta and tomato or mushroom basil sauce (which is nice), but there’s something almost magical about the layers of craftmanship on display in a nice spinach and eggplant lasagna. Other than eggplant, zucchini and olives makes a great alternative here, and I've heard that some people add grated carrot for texture. If you want you can add some wonderful mushrooms and get some veggie crumbles or vegetarian meatballs to add a layer of extra protein.
- Hearty Nachos - This is a simple meal -- especially at home -- but it's so much more than bar food. We use the great blue corn chips (an organic variety, of course) and add fresh salsa, corn, beans, olives, sour cream, and some grated cheese (try mozzarella or cheddar). This can be a very hearty meal, especially with the beans.
- Veggie Quesadillas - Alright so here’s another specialty from Mexican cooking - but veggie quesadillas are great, especially with some fresh spinach inside and a nice homemade salsa for dipping. I guess sour cream is necessary here too... (Put it on the shopping list...) It's possible to make these with a range of green, red, and yellow bell peppers, but I also like the Santa Fe variety with whole kernel corn and black beans, along with some chopped green onion. Sounds good, huh?
- Mushroom Lo Mein with Tofu - The trick to being a vegetarian, if you’re interested, is to explore all of the wonderful food (sans meat) from around the world. We love to sautee some mushrooms, tofu, carrots, peas, mung beans, onions, celery, and more in a large pan -- adding soy sauce and/or peanut sauce to taste. We flash cook some lo mein noodles and then mix it all together. Great for leftovers too...
- Vegetable Pakora - Don’t even get me started on all of the wonderful flavors, tastes, and possibilities for vegetarians in Indian cuisine. It’s a goldmine since so many Indians have made this dietary choice as well. But the Veggie Pakora is one of my favorites. Imagine potato, cauliflower, and zucchni in a nice batter deep fried in flour batter. (Vegetable samosas, vegetable curries, and Palak Paneer (spinach) are highly recommended too!) Since there are so many choices in this cuisine (plus the great naan bread), I could almost eat Indian food every night.
- Hearty Vegetarian Sandwiches - I got this idea from my travels to make a really great sandwich at home. First you use great wheat, rye, or multi-grain bread -- home made using your breadmaker preferably. Then you generously slather hummous on the bread, cover with two slices of your favorite cheese, add sliced cucumber, and some sprouts or fresh lettuce. Amazing! For added flavor, get a jar of your favorite roasted red peppers - and you will be amazed. (You can even use the roasted red peppers IN the hummous!)
It’s a great time to be a vegetarian - but if you want to try it -- even just one day a week, feel free to try one of our top choices above.