When I first became a vegetarian, I quickly realized that if I wanted to eat well and feel well, I needed to find some smart recipes to keep in my back pocket. Sure, plain pasta with marinara or a simple romaine salad are technically vegetarian, but those meals don’t give me energy or keep me feeling full for very long.
A good vegetarian recipe, in my opinion, has some form of plant-based protein, a serving of vegetables, some whole grains, and lots of fresh herbs and fun sauces to keep things interesting.
Here are five vegetarian recipes that fit my criteria and have a recurring spot on my meal plan. Whether you’re a vegetarian or just want to incorporate more plant-based meals into your routine, you can’t go wrong with any of these.
Lentils are a vegetarian dream come true because they don’t require soaking, they cook up quickly, and they bring a punch of protein to any meal. This dal comes together easily with pantry ingredients (split red lentils, spices, canned diced tomatoes) and a few fresh touches of ginger and cilantro. The thing that really takes this meal over the top, though, is the tadka, which is a combination of cumin seeds, black pepper, and fresh garlic quickly browned in ghee.
This cauliflower cheese sauce is my answer to mac and cheese cravings. By using a whole head of cauliflower — cut into florets and boiled with aromatics before being blitzed in the food processor with olive oil, cheese, and Dijon mustard — I get an extra serving of veggies and avoid the need to add milk or cream because it lends such a luscious, creamy consistency to the sauce.
I’ll usually toss this with some chickpea pasta and steamed broccoli, put it in a casserole dish, top with a little more cheese, and bake until golden-brown and bubbly.
This is my go-to meal on busy weeknights. The recipe really lives up to the title — in 10 minutes I can have hearty black bean tacos on the table! If I have my life together, I’ll cook up a batch of black beans from dried and keep them on hand to use in situations like this; otherwise I’ll open a can from the pantry.
I like to use a green tomatillo salsa here and make guacamole to top the tacos instead of diced avocado. That’s the beauty of tacos — you can make them your own!
At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical vegetarian, I love tofu and would probably eat it for every meal if I could. (Alas, my husband likes tofu but does not share my extreme enthusiasm for it.) The best part of this meal is how easy it is to throw together — especially since it calls for frozen broccoli florets. With a dish as simple as this, I never feel the need to call for Thai takeout.
I selfishly lobbied to get this recipe from one of my favorite restaurants, Central Provisions, when I was producing our bite-sized guide to Portland, Maine. It’s one of the best composed salads I’ve ever had — the warm, crunchy cauliflower and chickpeas, the bright vinaigrette and herbs, the creamy feta, the crisp apple. It’s perfection! If I’m feeling like I need some extra green power, I’ll toss in some arugula too for good measure.
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This content was originally published here.