When it comes to cooking at home, there are occasions when all we want to do is dig our heels in and spend an entire Sunday perfecting our homemade pasta game or meal prepping for the week ahead. But let's be honest: Most days, time is of the essence, and the planning, prepping, and preparing process that goes into making dinner is something we wouldn't mind streamlining.
This sentiment hits hard for everyone short on time, but it likely resonates with vegetarians in particular. Why? Because slicing, dicing, spicing, searing, and dressing a pile of produce can be a serious time suck. Not that there isn't joy to be sparked in this ritual, but it's a general statement of fact to point out that many veggie-centric meals—even the most basic, easy vegetarian dinners—often require more elbow grease than sautéing a salmon filet or roasting a chicken.
- Dana Hunnes, RD, PhD, senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center
Of course, the vegetarian diet—which is followed by roughly 5 percent of U.S. adults—does vary among diners. Generally it means avoiding meat, fish, and poultry, but there are a number of types of vegetarians. For instance, lacto-ovo-vegetarian eat both eggs and dairy products, but say no to red meat, poultry, fish, and other animals; lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs. And while vegans are considered vegetarians, they don't eat any animal products, which includes dairy, eggs, honey, fish oils, and so on.
The point? Your food choices and restrictions are your own, and regardless of the type of vegetarian meal regime you follow (including none of the above—also cool), this list is meant to help you get delicious, veggie-packed meals on the table when you're short on time. Here, a roundup of some of our favorite easy vegetarian dinners from the Cook With Us video archives. All of them are vegetable forward, and quite a few are vegan-friendly, too (either as is or with a few easy modifications). Next time you're in a dinner rut, you know where to turn.
Keep reading for delicious, easy vegetarian dinners to try at home, straight from top chefs:
1. Kelly LeVeque's vegan Italian meatball soup
This Italian meatball soup dupe from celebrity nutritionist Kelly Leveque uses protein-packed lentil meatballs in place of traditional animal protein-based 'balls. It also swaps noodles for zoodles (aka zucchini noodles) to up the ante on fiber and antioxidant content. Add parmesan or omit it if you're vegan—either way, this is a surprisingly robust yet summer-friendly soup fixable in 30-minutes flat.
2. Dale Talde's vegetarian cauliflower fried rice
No list of easy vegetarian dinners would be complete without some form of fried rice. This nutrient-dense take from Dale Talde, chef and partner at Goosefeather restaurant, is officially the most delicious way to use up all of your leftover vegetables. It's also packed with an array of antioxidant-rich aromatics (e.g. ginger, garlic, onions) to create a robust flavor profile that packs every bite with delight. It's super quick to make, too, especially if you use pre-chopped veggies (frozen or not).
3. Lukas Volger's vegan beef Bourguignon
Traditional French food isn't noted for being vegetarian- or vegan-friendly, but this bourguignon from Start Simple author Lukas Vulger is both. To accomplish this, he's replaced beef with beets and utilized a veggie bouillon. (But don't worry, it still has red wine in it for an incredibly rich flavor.) Watch the video for additional produce hacks to pepper into your easy vegetarian dinners and your snack prep throughout the week.
4. Sam Kass's 2-in-1 anti-inflammatory salad
I know what you're thinking: "Salad for dinner, yawn.'" But this recipe from former Obama chef Sam Kass is actually two recipes in one, and neither is a bore. The first is a cold, kale-based salad featuring his go-to nutrient-dense homemade dressing, and the second is a warm salad made from roasted vegetables. Not convinced this will be enough to excite those seated around your table? Watch Well+Good's former senior food editor taste test in the video above.
5. Tanya Zuckerbrot's veggie-packed cauliflower Bolognese
In this recipe, Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, utilizes an ingenious means for sneaking more veggies into her favorite comfort food. For starters, she replaces animal protein with mushrooms and then tosses in cauliflower rice for added volume and fiber. Her big secret, however, is almond milk, which gives the sauce a creamy texture. And while the demonstrated version calls for traditional noodles, you can use gluten-free varieties or even zoodles instead if you so choose.
6. Emily Yuen's pickled chickpea Tsukemen
As far as easy vegetarian dinners go, this pick is a bit more complex than some of the others on this list—but it is absolutely worth the effort (and still clocks in at 30 minutes from start to finish). Emily Yuen, Executive Chef at Bessou, specializes in Japanese comfort food, and her cozy Tsukemen (aka Japanese dish where ramen is dipped into a separate sauce bowl) features protein-packed, high-fiber chickpeas as well as a rainbow assortment of veggies. While Yuen uses a non-vegetarian ingredient made from bonito flakes in the above demonstration, she describes how to sub it out if you're not keen on fish. Either way, the resulting dish is high in fiber, antioxidants, and flavor.
7. Klancy Miller's gluten-free pasta salad
Pasta can sometimes feel either boring or overly complicated, but this version from Cooking Solo author and For the Culture founder Klancy Miller is neither. It's packed with a surprising and inventive array of ingredients—from red lentil quinoa pasta to pomegranate seeds—that combine for a pleasantly textured dish high in healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
8. Rachel Mansfield's garlicky kale Caesar salad
This 20-minute salad is a perfect idea when it comes easy vegetarian dinners, but it's far from basic. For the recipe, Just the Good Stuff author Rachel Mansfield tosses homemade croutons with kale and a simple vegan, tamari-based caesar dressing and then tops it with a quick-fried brown rice and quinoa mixture for added fiber, volume, and crunch. The result is flavorful, satisfying, and good for your body, mind, and sanity.
9. Palak Patel's easy summer spring rolls
What makes this spring rolls recipe such a standout is that they’re loaded with protein, fiber, and tons of fresh summer produce. Chef Patel makes them with Indian spices and serves them alongside a peanut chutney for dipping. Oh, and to drink while you nosh? A lemon spritzer that tastes just as refreshing as the veggies inside the rolls. The best part is that they'll take you around 20 minutes to make, which means more time to sit back and enjoy eating them up.
10. Palak Patel's green goddess harvest bowl
Another surefire summer dinner win from Chef Patel, this vibrant grain bowl combines lentils, asparagus, carrots, and fresh peas and tops them with a flavor-packed homemade green goddess dressing that takes (literally) 30 seconds to make. Don't sleep on the toasted sunflower seeds for nutty, earthy flavor that balances out the zingy, herbal flavor of the mint, cilantro, and garlic in the dressing.
The benefits of following a vegetarian diet
While your reason for following a vegetarian diet is deeply personal—avoiding meat and animal-derived ingredients has a culturally-diverse history, ethical and environmental implications, may be tied to food allergies or aversions, and so much more—it goes without saying that following a meal regime that involves eating many plant-based foods has a bounty of health benefits to offer. Here are a couple of the key benefits of the vegetarian diet.
1. Eating less meat is associated with positive health outcomes and better gut health.
“Health-wise, most people would be much healthier to eat a plant-based diet, including vegetarian or vegan,” dietitian Dana Hunnes, RD, PhD, adjunct professor at the University of California Los Angeles, told Well+Good. “Most diseases that people die from in the United States are chronic nutrition-related diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Eating a standard American diet puts you at four times the risk of dying from cancer than eating a vegan, whole-foods diet.” In addition, vegetarian diets focusing primarily on whole, non-processed foods encourage you to eat a diverse array of plants, which researchers have linked with better overall gut health.
2. The vegetarian diet puts less strain on the environment.
“From an environmental standpoint, eating a vegetarian or better vegan diet is one of the most impactful things you can do to lower your personal greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment,” says Dr. Hunnes.
Originally published July 11, 2020; with additional reporting from Betty Gold.
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