Last week I gave you guys a list of pantry staples for vegetarians. Of course, after I posted it I thought of a million little things that I like to have in the pantry, but I forced myself not to edit the post because the idea of a “staple” is that it’s something you really must have, not an “extra.”
In that blog post, I promised you a list of quick, easy meals you can make with said staples, as well as the recipe for my own quick vegetable soup. But after writing down some of my favorite throw-together meals, I decided to hold off on the soup recipe. I’ll give it to you next week instead because there’s already a lot to work with here.
Here I go! Vegetarian meals you can make with pantry staples;
Saute veggies with olive oil and garlic, toss with pasta, and throw in some Parmesan (or not)
Toss pasta with canned or fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil
Think outside the traditionally-Italian pasta dish by mixing up the ingredients and spices, i.e. toss penne with corn, black beans and tomatoes and toss with olive oil, chili powder, and cumin for a Mexican-based dish. Toss linguini with peanut butter and a little chili oil or red pepper flakes for an Asian or Thai flavor (you can also use a little sesame or peanut oil).
Brown rice is overlooked as a base for meals, but it can be used much the same as pasta. In the colder months, you can saute it in olive oil or butter and then add stuff to it in the water for a kind of homemade Rice-a-Roni/healthier risotto. This works great with a little vegetable based Better Than Bouillon added to the water and some spices (use something that works with your ingredients, as with the pasta above) or even something like coconut milk, which will give it a more exotic flavor (I toss rice or quinoa cooked with coconut milk with pineapple and cilantro and it’s amazing).
In the hot summer months, cold rice can be tossed with virtually anything. Add flavor with rice vinegars, fruit-based vinegars, flavored olive oils, and spices or fresh herbs. In vegetarian cooking, especially, herbs and spices are king. A rice-based dish with curry powder will taste completely different than one with oregano or one with chili powder. Vary other ingredients accordingly.
Quinoa is a miracle ingredient for vegetarians. Packed with fiber and high in protein, you can use it almost interchangeably with rice. Use the above ideas with quinoa to mix up the texture and vitamin/mineral content of your meals or just to boost your intake of protein.
Eggs are another overlooked ingredient. You can make a quick easy frittata with the vegetables you have in your refrigerator. Just saute them a bit and pour beaten egg over the mixture in the pan. Use a rubber spatula to separate the egg from the edge of the pan every couple of minutes until the eggs mixture is almost set in the center. Sprinkle with cheese (any kind will do, goat cheese is a favorite in our house) and put under the broiler for a few minutes and voila! Perfect with a salad and it takes about 20 minutes to make. You can also add chunks of wheat bread to the veggie saute to boost the fiber content (this is a good way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread). As with the other dishes, vary ingredients and herbs and spices to mix up the flavor. A Mexican-based frittata is great with some warmed tortillas and a nice salad. Frittatas are a great way to use up odds and ends at the end of the week (or beginning of a new one). Almost anything works!
And speaking of tortillas, they come in handy! You can use the big ones as wrap holders by spreading them with hummus and layering anything and everything inside. Use goat cheese or feta with lettuce, olives, tomato, and pepperoncini for a Greek vibe. Mozzarella, basil, and roasted red peppers drizzled with a little olive oil are great if you want an Italian sandwich fix. And of course, they can still be used for burritos and tacos. I love the burritos from Chipotle Grill, but making them at home is so quick and easy, especially with leftover brown rice and canned black beans (I saute mine with minced onions). Slice up some avocado and/or make guacamole, add salsa, and you’re good to go. Small tortillas can be used for vegetarian tacos. It’s a little known secret that virtually anything seasoned with chili powder and cumin and placed in a taco shell will send “taco” messages to the brain. For example, a mixture of sauteed chopped zucchini, corn, and black beans with said seasonings are DELICIOUS as a taco. Even my teens don’t miss the meat AT ALL.
And as with frittatas, wraps are a good way to use leftovers. One night’s leftover rice dish can seem entirely different wrapped in a tortilla with hummus, salad dressing, salsa, etc.
Bread can be used to make panini or cold sandwiches. I make a great vegan sub with avocado, shredded lettuce, red onion, tomato, olives, pepperoncini, oil and vinegar and salt and pepper. We started out making them with cheese to replace meat, but honestly, I don’t miss the cheese with the avocado in there. Think outside the box with grilled sandwiches. Grilled cheese can be modified to include any kind of cheese and fruit like pears and apples, etc. Use mozzarella and layer with roasted red pepper and basil for an Italian panini or spread sun-dried tomato paste (not in staples but readily available) on bread and layer with thinly sliced veggies for a cold sandwich.
Soups are my go-to meal in the winter. I make at least one giant pot of soup every week and sometimes two or three. It makes for a comforting snack and is a cheap, nutritious between-meal boost for my busy, active teenagers. And you can make anything with vegetable based Better Than Bouillon. Saute veggies for vegetable soup. Throw in some leftover rice, corn, black beans, and tomatoes with chili peppers (or Rotel) and add some lime, chili powder, and cumin for a Mexican soup. Saute potatoes with leek and puree with beans to make my famous Potato Leek soup. Add elbow macaroni, two kinds of bean, canned tomatoes, and chopped fresh parsley for a vegetarian pasta fagioli.Serve with bread and/or a salad for a meal and store the rest in the refrigerator for snacks.
In the summer, salads take over for soup. We throw everything in them and vary the kind of vinegar for different flavors.You can make salads without lettuce, using rice or quinoa ad/or canned beans as the basis for a hot-weather salad that’s super nutritious AND tasty. No need to be fancy! Just throw in some other ingredients and toss with olive oil and/or flavored or rice vinegar.
There are tons of ways to mix up basic vegetarian staples for easy meals. Most of the meals above can be made in thirty minute or less. The soups, which take more like 45 minutes, allow for some simmer time, so you can do other things while its cooking. And one of the unexpected bonuses of vegetarian meals is that I don’t feel like I have to make side dishes. In the past, I’d have to add a grain and vegetable to meat to feel like my family was getting a well-rounded meal. But with vegetarian dishes, the meal itself is generally packed with nutrition, rendering side dishes almost obsolete. Nutrition-packed vegetarian dishes are also surprisingly filling. Because your body is getting what it needs in terms of vitamins and minerals – and because vegetarian meals are often packed with fiber – everyone needs a lot less food to feel satisfied. It’s an amazing phenomena!
The biggest thing it to have staples in your pantry and get cooking. It’s not hard once you’ve logged some time in the kitchen. Make it a goal to make one or two new recipes a week (Pinterest and Epicurious are my favorite sources for new recipes), and before you know it, you’ll find that being in the kitchen is second-nature. Then you’ll begin to get your own ideas, i.e. “You know what would probably be good? THIS with THAT!” Enlist the help of your spouse and kids, too. It is good for kids to learn to prepare healthful meals fro themselves, and time spent in the kitchen totally counts as quality time. At a loss for what to make at the last minute? Ask THEM to look in the pantry and refrigerator and see what they can come up with.
You might be surprised – in a GOOD way.
Plus, you can use the money save not eating out to do something fun!