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Vegetarian recipes that don’t assume you’re a rabbit

The Takeout logo The Takeout 8/15/2020 The Takeout
a bunch of different types of food on a plate © Photo: Allison Robicelli

It’s the 21st century. We’re well past the era of bland, boring vegetarian food—or rather, the widespread assumption that all vegetarian food must be bland and boring. Gone are the days of herbivores being forced to subsist on wet, lifeless iceberg house salads at restaurants and struggling to find items like lentils and tofu at the grocery store. We’re living in an enlightened age in which flexitarians, vegetarians, and vegans are all invited to the party, and the spread is colorful, flavorful, and satisfying. It’s a good time to eat plants.

The following are some of The Takeout’s best vegetarian recipes, from salads to sides to entrees. Of course, you don’t have to observe a plant-based diet to find them hearty and delicious, and you can add meat directly to these dishes or serve them alongside a nicely grilled chicken thigh, if that’s your thing. In any case, they’re a solid body of evidence that “vegetarian food” doesn’t have to be a category unto itself. It can simply be the very best stuff you cook and eat.

Step out of your comfort zone with grilled fruit

a close up of a sandwich on a plate: Grilled Watermelon Burgers with Goat Cheese and Charred Orange-Fennel Gremolata © Photo: Allison Robicelli Grilled Watermelon Burgers with Goat Cheese and Charred Orange-Fennel Gremolata

As watermelon sits directly over an open flame, the most miraculous things happen to its flavor and texture. When placed on a ciabatta bun, a thick slice of grilled watermelon can absolutely function as a burger, skeptics be damned. And just like beef burgers, grilled watermelon is delicious on its own but becomes even more exciting when you play around with toppings. Get the recipe for Grilled Watermelon Burgers with Goat Cheese and Charred Orange-Fennel Gremolata here.

Swap mushrooms for beef in this Nebraska classic

a sandwich on a plate: Mushroom and Beer Runzas © Photo: Allison Robicelli Mushroom and Beer Runzas

Ever heard of a runza? It’s Nebraska’s answer to a Hot Pocket, a baked yeast dough surrounding a savory filling for maximum portability. This runza recipe removes the traditional beef filling and replaces it with cooked mushrooms, cabbage, and a can of beer, among other things. The result is a baseball-sized snack that freezes and reheats exceptionally well. Get our recipe for Mushroom and Beer Runzas here.

Capture the magic of McNuggets with crispy tofu

a plate of food: Lemon Pepper Tofu © Photo: Allison Robicelli Lemon Pepper Tofu

Not all great vegetarian recipes are a one-to-one substitution for meat—in fact, it’s usually better if they’re not—but this appetizer swaps out chicken wings for tofu and uses a magical microwave method to give the tofu an overall meatier texture. The resulting “nuggets” are cooked with hot sauce and coated in lemon butter, and if all of that sounds as enticing as we’re hoping it does, then you can find the recipe for Lemon Pepper Tofu here.

Grilled cauliflower: much more exciting than it sounds

a plate of food with a fork: Carolina-Style BBQ Cauliflower © Photo: Allison Robicelli Carolina-Style BBQ Cauliflower

Carolina-style barbecue works exceptionally well with vegetables—particularly cauliflower, since its many nooks and crannies are perfect for holding on to smoke, spices, and lots of vinegary, mustardy mop sauce. This can be served as a main course with cole slaw and warm bread on the side, but it also makes for a unique side dish if you’re not yet ready to embrace a completely meat-free cookout. Of course, once you taste this cauliflower, you might very well change your mind about what a backyard barbecue menu can be. Get our recipe for Carolina-Style BBQ Cauliflower here.

Summer pasta is all about summer squash 

a bowl of food on a plate: Zucchini Pesto Pasta © Photo: Allison Robicelli Zucchini Pesto Pasta

Whenever you’re craving pasta, it’s actual pasta you want—not zoodles. There are better ways to incorporate vegetables into your dinner. And if you want to eat pasta while also eating a whole bunch of zucchini, this is the way to do it. Summer squash has a ridiculously high water content, which makes it the perfect summer sauce when steamed and pureed. Throw in a bit of basil, cheese, and toasted nuts, and you’ve got a thick pesto “cream” sauce without the need to spend $60 on groceries to make a small pint of pesto. Get our recipe for Zucchini Pesto Pasta here.

Have an air fryer? We have ideas

a plate of food with broccoli: Sichuan Cumin Asparagus © Photo: Allison Robicelli Sichuan Cumin Asparagus

Cooking vegetables in an air fryer is a truly transformative experience, one that will put an end to your struggles of figuring out what to do with your produce at dinnertime. Even when your veggies are simply prepared, the air fryer turns them into something worth snacking on. Get our recipe for Sichuan Cumin Asparagus here.

Mix fried pasta and fresh veggies for textural contrast

a bowl of food on a plate: Crispy Gnocchi and Raw Tomato Sauce © Photo: Allison Robicelli Crispy Gnocchi and Raw Tomato Sauce

Just as you can air-fry vegetables themselves to create crispy new possibilities, you can also air-fry other components of your meal to pair with fresh vegetables, which creates a unique and exciting textural contrast. The air fryer does something wonderful to gnocchi, and that something is “evolves them into crispy little potato nuggets.” Paired with fresh cherry tomatoes, it’s a combination you’ll want for lunch, dinner, and second dinner. Get the recipe for Crispy Gnocchi and Raw Tomato Sauce here.

Endive will always love you

a plate of food on a table: Seared Endive and Grapefruit Salad © Photo: Allison Robicelli Seared Endive and Grapefruit Salad

If you’re familiar with endive, you might know it for its strong bitter flavors. But endive can be tamed! The flavor softens quite nicely when grilled—sometimes almost too much. If you want to preserve some of its vegetal bite, this salad balances the equation: sweeten the inner layers of the endive by searing them, while keeping the outermost layer raw. Top the salad with some sweet and jammy cooked grapefruit, and you’ve got a salad that only tastes better and better the longer it sits around. Make this as a work-from-home lunch, then save the leftovers for dinner. Get the recipe for Seared Endive and Grapefruit Salad here.

Lentils are the imagination’s playground

a plate of food on a table: Lentil Rice Balls with Lemon Tahini Sauce © Photo: Allison Robicelli Lentil Rice Balls with Lemon Tahini Sauce

This recipe, adapted from Eddie McNamara’s Toss Your Own Salad, is insanely versatile. Using a mixture of lentils, rice, cheese, and spices, you can fry up some plant-based burger patties, prepare some “meat”loaves with glaze on top, or form “meat”balls that you can deep fry, air fry, or simply bake in the oven. Top them with a lemon tahini sauce for a satisfying meal you’ll want to add to your weekly rotation immediately. Get the recipe for Lentil Rice Balls with Lemon Tahini Sauce here.

No, this Honeydew Salad is not a fruit salad—we’ll explain

a bowl of salad on a plate: Honeydew Salad © Photo: Allison Robicelli Honeydew Salad

Did you know that honeydew is maybe the most divisive fruit in the supermarket? People either love or hate this melon, which has often been dismissed as the saddest part of any fruit salad. Well, no longer. It’s time to showcase honeydew’s best qualities with a stunning and flavorful salad. This recipe combines quick-pickled diced honeydew and thin ribbons of fresh honeydew with lettuce, cheese, and a sweet vinaigrette, and the whole thing is topped with crunchy roasted honeydew seeds (although you can sub in roasted almonds if you prefer). Get the recipe for Honeydew Salad here.

A vegetarian smorgasboard that’ll last all week

a plate of food with broccoli: Beans, Ricotta, And Broccolini © Photo: Allison Robicelli Beans, Ricotta, And Broccolini

Who doesn’t love saving money? This bang-for-your-buck vegetarian dinner is actually three recipes in one, because when you use your Instant Pot to cook both the beans and the ricotta, you’re left with some delicious byproducts: curds that can be strained and made into cheese, and whey that can be mixed with a bit of yeast and flour to make a loaf of bread. You’ll feel like a real homesteader assembling these meals for your family (or just for yourself), and you’ll only end up spending around $15 to do it. Will this be the recipe that turns you vegetarian for good? Get the recipe for Beans, Ricotta, And Broccolini here.

A root vegetable dish for any time of year

a bowl of food sitting on a pan: Melting Glazed Turnips © Photo: Allison Robicelli Melting Glazed Turnips

Turnips get a bad rap. They’ve enjoyed none of the newfound popularity of their fellow cruciferous vegetable, the Brussels sprout. Why not? They’re every bit as tasty, or at least, they can be if you show them some love. This turnip recipe is as simple as they come, and it plays up the very best characteristics of turnips to help you fall in love fast. Acidic balsamic vinegar and sweet honey temper the turnips’ natural bitterness, which is also mellowed by roasting. Every bad turnip-related memory stubbornly lodged in your brain will be jostled free and swept away. Get the recipe for Melting Glazed Turnips here.

Char will change the way you think about cucumbers

a plate of food on a table: Blistered Cucumbers with Cumin Yogurt and Parsley © Photo: Kevin Pang Blistered Cucumbers with Cumin Yogurt and Parsley

Consider charring your cucumbers, like chef Abra Berens. The advantage of this method—which Berens cites as the most surprising technique in her cookbook, Ruffage: A Practical Guide To Vegetables—is that the cucumbers develop a caramelized “crust” on the outside while the inside stays juicy and cool, a contrast not typically associated with the watery vegetable. Combine the smoky and subtly sweet flavors of the charred cucumber with with shallots, parsley, and a sauce of yogurt and cumin, and you’ll be amazed at what this heretofore plain veggie can really bring to the table. Get the recipe for Berens’ Blistered Cucumbers with Cumin Yogurt and Parsley here.

A one-pan wonder curry for Meatless Mondays

a bowl of soup: Easy Potato-Pea Curry © Photo: Karl Gustafson Easy Potato-Pea Curry

This dish is primarily based on two kitchen heavyweights: butter and potatoes. The heat is primarily provided by the red pepper flakes, so you can adjust the spice level at will, and peas lend sweetness and the ability to say you ate a green vegetable with dinner. While this meal is great on its own, you could also serve it over rice—technically it won’t be a one-pan meal that way, but a two-pan meal this good is still a wonder. Get the recipe for Easy Potato-Pea Curry here.

Did you think we’d forget to include cauliflower?

a bowl of food: Cauliflower Cheese “Grits” © Photo: Stacey Ballis Cauliflower Cheese “Grits”

Riced cauliflower is a magical ingredient. It provides a heartiness and mild flavor that allow you to replace the carbs in a dish with zero loss of enjoyment. This recipe uses riced cauliflower to its advantage in an adaptation of that down-home comfort food of the American South, cheese grits. Using riced cauliflower and the technique of cheese grits, this dish comes together in about 15 minutes in one pan with little fuss. You won’t think it’s grits, but you will think it is delicious. Get the recipe for Cauliflower Cheese “Grits” here.

Video: 5 Ways to Turn Instant Rice Into a Quick, Easy Dinner (My Recipes)


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