Thursday, February 7, 2013

Getting Started- Vegetarian Dinner Ideas

Spinach and mushroom tortellini in alfredo sauce.  (Personal Photo)
My mom often said she didn’t mind cooking dinner.  The problem was deciding what to cook for dinner.  When getting started on a plan where you are trying to eat more vegetarian food and less meat, you might have the same problem.  Hopefully my list of vegetarian dinner ideas will inspire you. 

Veggie burgers:  There are scores of recipes for homemade veggie burgers.  Beans, such as garbanzo beans, black beans, and lentils are a common base.  Brown rice and oatmeal are also fairly common, and chopped mushrooms.  Check out my article on vegetarian burgers for summaries of over 30 homemade veggie burger recipes. 

Blue Plate Diner Classic Veggie Burger. (Personal Photo)

Entrees with eggplant:  Eggplant is great base for a meatless meal.  My best eggplant dish is eggplant ravioli, made from Rachael Ray’s recipe using wonton wrappers.  Another great vegetarian eggplant dinner is Greek moussaka without meat.  Just layer slices of potato and eggplant, top with a béchamel sauce, and bake. 

Homemade Wonton Eggplant Parmesan Ravioli from
Rachael Ray's Recipe. (Personal Photo)

I probably have eggplant more often from restaurants than from my kitchen. My Chinese delivery standby is eggplant in garlic sauce. I’ve had eggplant parmesan from several Italian restaurants, but my favorite is from Olive Garden. 

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce (Personal Photo)

Eggplant Parmesan from Olive Garden (Personal Photo)
Entrées with potatoes:  I love potatoes and find them very satisfying.  A great dish that incorporates potatoes keeps me from feeling deprived (of meat).  A baked potato sure makes a satisfying meal.  There are lots of choices of toppings such as the classic butter, sour cream, and cheese, or broccoli and cheese.  Jason’s Deli has the most enormous baked potatoes I have ever seen.  Another favorite meal of mine is green beans with potatoes, and cucumber salad.  I also like okra, fire roasted tomatoes, and potatoes over rice. 

 Tomatoes, okra, and potatoes, which I serve over rice. 
(Personal Photo)

Entrées with ancient grains:  Plan a meal with ancient grains like millet, amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat as the centerpiece.  Visit my article with links to many recipes, or check out my Pinterest board. 

Beans and peas:  When I was growing up, one of our favorite meals was a pot of beans, like pintos, with potato salad and cornbread.  I think baked beans would go well with potato salad too.  I like to cook lentils with a can of diced tomatoes.  This would be good with couscous or millet.  Beans and rice, or beans and dark leafy greens make a great meal too. 
Black-eyed Peas, Collard Greens, and Rice, served with
cornbread and raw onion (Personal Photo)

Pizza:  When I was a daily meat eater, I never considered having a veggie pizza, just like I would never go to Baskin & Robbins and have vanilla ice cream.  In the last year or so, I have had some surprisingly good veggie pizzas.  My favorite is spinach, mushroom, and onion, with either tomato or white sauce.  The Dominos Artisan spinach and feta is fantastic, as is the spinach cheesy bread. 

Domino's Artisan pizza with spinach, onions, and feta cheese. 
 (Personal Photo) 

Chicken-less Classics:  Many classic chicken dishes adapt well into vegetarian versions.  I especially like vegetable pot pie, and chicken-less noodle soup with vegetables.  Why not make a Chicken Divan without the chicken? 

Vegetarian Pot Pie.  (Personal Photo)

Breakfast for Dinner:  From time to time, we have breakfast for dinner at our house.  This usually means cheese grits and scrambled eggs.  Sometimes I make a strata, which is casserole of leftover bread, vegetables like mushrooms and onions, milk, eggs, and cheese.  Another great treat is to mix in pureed pumpkin or sweet potato into pancake batter. 

 Strata made with broccoli, mushrooms, onions,
and cheese.  (Personal Photo)

Traditional Italian pasta dishes:  I’ve always loved spaghetti and other pasta dishes.  Vegetarian spaghetti is my “go to” vegetarian meal.  My favorite is sautéed purple onion, mushrooms, and baby spinach in Arrabbiata sauce with vermicelli pasta.  I also like spinach and mushrooms with tortellini or gnocchi.  When we have fresh basil from our organic vegetable program, I enjoy lots of pesto with pasta.

 Vermicelli with spinach and mushrooms.  (Personal Photo)

Meatless Versions of Classic Casseroles:  Make a veggie Shepherd’s Pie.  Make a loaf of beans, chopped mushrooms, and oatmeal, or just fill the bottom of your baking dish with a mixture of chopped vegetables, such as root vegetables.  Top with peas, corn, and mashed potatoes. 

Make a vegetarian lasagna with zucchini or spinach and ricotta.  Tomato sauce or cream sauce both work well with lasagna. 
Zucchini lasagna (Personal Photo)

Make a vegetarian moussaka.  To make Greek moussaka without the meat, layer eggplant and potatoes, and top with a béchamel. 

Make a vegetarian pot pie.  Use the classic combo of green beans, peas, carrots, potatoes and corn, or try vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. 


Stir Fry with Rice or Noodles:  We do a super simple stir fry at our house.  We just fry off cabbage, onions, and mushrooms in the wok.  We serve over rice or vermicelli noodles with soy sauce.  You could get creative and add vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, snow peas, bamboo shoots, or water chestnuts. 

 Vegetable stir fry with rice (Personal Photo)

Mexican Food:  Enjoy vegetarian Mexican food selections such as cheese enchiladas, chile rellenos, spinach and cheese quesadillas, and grilled vegetable fajitas.  Don’t forget the guacamole, beans, and rice, but be aware many Mexican restaurants put pork lard in their refried beans. 

Grilled Vegetable Fajita (Personal Photo)

Indian Food:  There are loads of vegetarian choices in Indian cuisine.  My favorites are Saag Paneer, or spinach and cheese, potato curry with peas and carrots, and finally cabbage.  There are also tasty dishes made with chickpeas, lentils, and eggplant, as well as vegetable dumplings, fried vegetable balls, and samosas stuffed with vegetables. 

Potato curry, lentil dal, zucchini, spinach (saag paneer), chickpeas,
and cabbage.  (Personal Photo)
Baked Macaroni & Cheese:  I grew up with homemade baked macaroni and cheese.  No packaged product with cheese powder.  “Real” mac & cheese is made with milk and eggs and has a soufflé texture when it’s fresh and hot out of the oven. 

My homemade baked macaroni and cheese (Personal Photo)

Vegetable Casseroles:  One of my cousins always makes “veggie casserole” for family dinners, with cream soup, mixed vegetables and mayonnaise.  Squash casserole made with zucchini or yellow squash are also popular, as well as broccoli casserole.  These are usually made with cream soup, sour cream, cheese, and stuffing mix. 

Squash casserole (Personal Photo)

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