Vegetarian and vegan food is a lot more mainstream than it used to be. Even people who eat meat have started including more meat-free meals in their diet for health, environmental, or ethical reasons. Whether you’re a committed vegetarian or vegan or just want to change up your dinner ideas once in a while, here are some top vegetarian dinner ideas that banish the idea that vegetables are boring.
Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
There are many benefits to adopting a vegetarian diet, or even just reducing your meat consumption.
From a health perspective, studies have shown that vegetarians are significantly less likely to be afflicted by heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other chronic and acute health issues. Many people have transitioned to a well-balanced vegan diet (one in which no animal-derived products are consumed, including eggs, milk, or honey) for these health reasons, but even a vegetarian diet that includes animal by-products is more beneficial than a diet heavy with meat.
Of course, everyone’s diet is different, and following a vegetarian or vegan diet alone isn’t automatically healthy if you don’t make an effort to include the proteins and minerals that are more easily obtained from meat and animal products. But in general, going easy on the steak and cheese has great health effects.
There are also a host of environmental benefits of vegetarian diets. Even if you’re not swayed by the ethical argument that eating animals is wrong, the environmental argument is persuasive. Meat production uses a large amount of water, land, and other resources and contributes to deforestation and the destruction of the oceans in some areas.
Plus, the animals themselves emit a ton (or, many tons) of methane and other greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Vegetarian diets aren’t environmentally perfect, but the production of vegetarian foods tends to contribute less to environmental damage than the production of meat.
A Healing Diet
Make Food Your Medicine: Meal Planning For Health, Wellbeing, & Training
Roast vegetables don’t have to just be an accompaniment to roast meat. They’re so flavorful and nutritious that they can be the focal point of vegetarian dinners.
1. Seasonal Roast Vegetables
Eating seasonally is ideal for keeping your grocery bills low—plus, it’s more environmentally friendly than eating out of season. It’s also more nutritious, as vegetables retain their nutrients better when they’re fresh and not stored for too long.
For a simple seasonal dish, stop by your local farmers market and pick up any vegetables that look delicious. Chop them so they’re all the same size, toss them with oil, salt, and pepper, and bake them at 425℉ for 20-25 minutes. Serve over rice or with a simple green salad for an easy dinner.
2. Pan Roasted Vegetables
Pan roasting involves cooking the ingredients in a pan on a stove top, either finishing them there or roasting them in an oven. This is most convenient if you have a cast iron skillet or a casserole dish that’s safe to both use on direct heat and to put in the oven (i.e., nothing with a plastic handle!).
This is an ideal method of cooking if you’re preparing something with onions, garlic, or spices (which often taste better if they’re browned first), or mushrooms, which better retain and release their moisture when fried in a pan. Follow along the process with these easy steps.
3. Sheet Pan Vegetables, Indian Style
Oven cooking with a sheet pan is a nearly foolproof method for cooking that—bonus!—doesn’t create a messy pile of dishes.
Indian food often needs to be prepared in a pot over a stovetop, but if you’d prefer the convenience of a cooking method that doesn’t require you to stand there stirring for hours, Twin Civet’s Skillshare class teaches you how to make a couple of great Indian meals in the oven with a sheet pan, like this garlic coconut spinach.
Pan Fried Vegetables
Sometimes a simple fry pan is all you need to prepare a tasty vegetarian dinner. Pan frying is also called sauteeing and stir-frying, so look out for those terms on recipes, too.
4. Sauteed Kale
Kale is often featured on vegetarian menus, but it’s just as easy to make it at home. Try simply sauteeing it with garlic in butter (for vegetarians) or olive oil or coconut oil (for vegans). Serve it as a side dish with other roasted vegetables, as a filling for enchiladas or quesadillas, or tossed with pasta and tomato sauce.
5. Vegetable Stir Fry
Stir frying generally requires a larger pan than regular frying (a rounded wok is ideal) and a higher heat. It’s important to stir continuously so the ingredients don’t burn. Another trick to successful stir frying is to cut your vegetables into thin strips (julienning) so they cook evenly and quickly. Haiying Yang teaches how to make a Chinese-style vegetable stir fry using spring onions, bell peppers, and cabbage.
Soups can be prepared as starters to a main meal or eaten alone or with bread as the star of the show. They’re convenient if you’re looking for a set-and-forget meal—simply stick all the ingredients into a slow cooker or Crock-Pot and come back to a warm, wonderful soup at dinnertime.
6. Sweet Potato Cream Soup
Sweet potatoes are the perfect ingredient for hearty winter soups. Despite its name, this sweet potato cream soup is vegan because there’s no actual cream; the combination of vegetables just gives it a creamy texture. It’s filling enough to be eaten as a main course with a slice of crusty bread.
7. Watercress Soup
This flavorful watercress soup recipe is perfect for a light dinner or an appetizer for a heartier meal. The basil adds a warm flavor, while the peppery watercress packs a punch.
Vegetable Stews and Curries
Stews are often associated with slow-cooked meat. But if you look to international cuisine, you’ll find many vegetarian and vegan stews in the form of curries—a combination of solid ingredients cooked and served in a sauce or gravy.
8. Chickpea Curry
Indian cuisine is full of tasty vegetarian dishes, chickpea curry among them. Chickpeas are a vegetarian’s dream ingredient—full of fiber and minerals, protein-packed, and incredibly filling. Almond Tree Kitchen’s chickpea curry recipe includes a number of other vegetables for extra nutritional value.
9. Sweet Potato and Eggplant Thai Green Curry
Thai cuisine is another regional cuisine that’s full of tasty curries. While many do contain meat or fish, there are plenty of vegetarian versions, like Katrina Brown’s sweet potato and eggplant Thai green curry. It requires quite a few ingredients and preparation steps, so it’s better suited to a lazy weekend dinner than a hurried weeknight one.
Casseroles are the epitome of winter comfort foods. And while plenty of them involve meat, a casserole simply means a dish that’s baked slowly in the oven. These tasty opinions include all sorts of nutritious vegetables.
10. Cheesy Broccoli and Rice Casserole
Adding rice to a vegetable and cheese casserole makes it a hearty, filling one-dish meal. You don’t need to pre-cook the rice, but make sure it’s fully cooked through before serving. Find a tasty Southern-style recipe here.
11. Italian Pasta Bake
Whether you make tomato sauce from scratch or add a jar of your favorite grocery store version, pasta bakes like lasagna and baked ziti are dinnertime crowd-pleasers. You can pre-cook the pasta to speed up the baking time or add it to the dish dry—just be prepared to wait a bit longer for it to fully cook through.
Vegetarian food isn’t just about vegetables. Protein-rich meat substitutes like tofu (Japanese soy bean curd), jackfruit (a tropical fruit), and tempeh (Indonesian fermented soybeans) are often used in international cuisine, and they’ve made their way into modern Western dishes, too. Sometimes they closely mimic the taste of meat (great if you’ve given up meat for ethical or dietary reasons but miss the taste), whereas other meat substitutes taste have a flavor that’s completely unique.
12. BBQ Seitan
Seitan is an east Asian meat substitute made from wheat gluten (so it isn’t suitable if you’re on a gluten-free diet). It’s been prepared and eaten for centuries by Buddhists in China and Japan and has spread in popularity around the world in recent years. High in protein and delicious with many different flavors, seitan goes particularly well with roasted or pan fried vegetables and a salad. It can be hard to find in stores, but you can make it yourself at home from scratch. Dr. Rahul teaches how to make BBQ seitan “ribs”.
13. Tofu Steak With Mushroom Stir Fry
Tofu is one of the most commonly available meat substitutes out there. Alone, it doesn’t have a strong flavor, so it’s perfect to add to stronger-tasting ingredients and sauces. Tofu steak with mushroom stir fry is a filling, Japanese-inspired vegan meal.
What’s for Dinner?
Whether you have meatless dinners on Mondays, abstain on Fridays or Saturdays for religious reasons, or are plant-based every day of the week, these vegetarian dinner ideas should give you some food for thought. Variety is a key part of a healthy diet, so try adding some of these meals into your weekly rotation for a mix of flavors and nutrients. Have fun!
Eat Better with a Bit of Planning
JUST Eats: Meal Planning Made Easy- Five Healthy & Delicious Breakfasts in 10 Minutes