When I was growing up, the only times I ever consumed a ‘meatless’ meal was by accident, like cheese pizza or peanut butter sandwiches or that time I ate half a can of chocolate frosting for lunch. I wasn’t consciously foregoing meat for health or ethical reasons, just craving something cheesy or sugary with no discernible nutritional value.
After I started living with my now-husband, he thought it might be a good idea if I stopped doing things like eating a bag of Doritos for dinner, so he taught me the basics of cooking. Cooking and baking have now become two of my favorite things in the world and I could gladly spend all day in the kitchen, stuffing my face with ingredients and deftly ignoring my children.
As I’ve gained confidence as a cook, I’ve tried to become more adventurous and creative with my meal planning. Over the past couple of years, I’ve made it a goal to prepare vegetarian dinners at least two or three times a week, and for those meals to actually contain some kind of nutritious benefit. Today, I’m sharing a couple of our favorites.
Veggie Chili, adapted from Jamie Oliver
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 fresh chili (this is optional; we don’t use this at the moment because it makes it too spicy for the kids. They ruin everything.)
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less, depending how spicy you want it), plus more for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
- 2 medium bell peppers
- 2 cans of diced tomatoes
- 2 cans of beans (black or kidney or both), rinsed and drained
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into chunks. Toss with olive oil and pinches of cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 30 minutes or until tender.
- Peel and roughly chop the onion. Peel and chop or mince the garlic. Halve, de-seed and chop the bell peppers. Chop fresh the chili, if using, you lucky fool.
- Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bell peppers and fresh chili, if using. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the dried spices and cook for another couple of minutes.
- Stir in the canned tomatoes and beans, turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and let cook for 20 to 30 minutes (or if you’re like me and always forget this step, 5 minutes).
- Once sweet potatoes are finished, add to the pot. Taste and season as needed.
Homemade Tortilla Chips
- white or wheat tortillas
- cooking oil (tastes best with canola, but whatever you have on hand)
- salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Cut tortillas into triangles (I usually use a pizza cutter) and lay them out on baking sheet.
- Sprinkle triangles with cooking oil and salt.
- Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until crispy and golden brown (really, however ‘done’ you prefer. I like mine on the chewy side, so I don’t leave them in for long).
- Dip chips into chili and enjoy!
Portobello Mushroom Cheeseburgers, adapted from NY Times Cooking
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
- pepper, to taste
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large Portobello mushrooms, stems removed
- 1 6-oz. bag of baby spinach
- Gruyere cheese (or cheddar or Swiss or whatever floats your boat)
- 4 hamburger buns
- condiments of your choice
- Whisk together the vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil.
- Toss the marinade with mushroom caps in a wide bowl. Place the mushrooms, rounded side up, on a baking sheet for 15 minutes. Don’t discard the marinade or rinse the bowl.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with cold water and plenty of ice cubes. Blanch the baby spinach in the boiling water for 20 seconds and transfer immediately to the ice water. Squeeze dry and coarsely chop. Transfer the chopped spinach to the bowl of marinade and toss.
- Preheat heavy skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and place them in the pan, rounded sound down. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes until lightly browned.
- Flip and cook another six or so minutes. A couple minutes before finishing the second side, place some sliced cheese on top of the rounded side and cover with a large pot lid to help the cheese melt.
- Place a handful of spinach on the bottom bun, cover with a mushroom and top with the condiments of your choice (I like any and all kinds of mustard or even sriracha. My kids like ketchup, but they’d eat ketchup on ice cream, so take that recommendation for what you will).
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and thoroughly dried (they’re going into hot oil, so unless you want burned arms, I mean thoroughly.)
- olive oil
- spices of choice
- Place a skillet or wide pan with high sides over high heat and pour in about half an inch of olive olive. Heat until shimmering.
- Pour your VERY DRY chickpeas into the pan and spread them into a single layer. (Sometimes, despite my vigorous efforts, my chickpeas still aren’t bone dry and the oil spits at me. I always have a large pot lid on hand to put over the pan until it calms down. You can just shake the pan by the handle while it’s covered to move the chickpeas around.)
- Stir the chickpeas around constantly with a wooden spoon while they’re cooking and be careful to avoid burning them. Cook about five minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
- Pick up chickpeas with a slotted spoon and place them into a bowl lined with paper towels. Season and toss while they’re still very hot with salt and whatever spices take your fancy (I usually use paprika, but you could use cumin, garlic, etc. Once I accidentally used cayenne pepper and my kids screamed at me for an hour).
- Serve as a side dish with the burgers or as an excellent anytime snack.