How to Cook Easy Meat Free Main Meals: A Week’s Worth of Meatless Recipes
A lot of people think they would stuggle to go meat free – even for one meal – mostly because it’s so easy to plan meals around meat and they can’t even imagine what a meal without it would look like. Sometimes it can also be hard to imagine eating a meal containing only vegetables – I think we’ve been a bit brainwashed to think that we can’t go for more than 6 hours without a protein hit from meat. I am a picky eater, and I’m also gluten intolerant, so you might think meatless meals would be just as hard for me – especially considering I don’t like mushrooms, lentils, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes (fresh ones, I only like sauces), feta, ricotta or goats cheese, plus I can’t eat bread or pastry (I have good gluten free pasta thankfully!).
Cooking meatless meals doesn’t have to mean you need to search for vegetarian recipes for hours on end, trying to find something your family will like. There are so many things you can make where meat goes unnoticed, and that you don’t need a recipe for. Matt Preston recently wrote an article along similar lines and it got me thinking about my favourite throw-together meat free dinners.
Fried Rice All you need to do is cook up some long grain rice (or use leftovers), and gather your vegetables. I always start with a base of grated garlic and ginger in equal amounts, and fry that off in a little peanut oil for 30 seconds before adding my pile of veg. I always just cut everything the same size and throw it in – carrots, corn kernals, celery, onion, capsicum, spinach or bok choy, broccoli and cauliflower. When it’s got a little bit of caramelisation on it I throw in the rice, then add salt, pepper, kecap manis and soy sauce to taste (a little bit at a time). Mix really well, then drop in a lightly whisked egg or two and let it cook as I stir (or you can cook a plain omelette separately and chop into pieces to add at the end). Finally add spring onions if you’ve got them and fry for one more minute, stirring constantly. Serve!
Cheesy Vegetable Bake Who doesn’t love vegetables covered in creamy white sauce? Noone, that’s who. I like to use a mix of cauliflower, broccoli and a leafy green veg like kale or spinach, and cover it with a garlicky, leek bechamel, then top with cheese. The leftovers also reheat well, so I cook double and have the rest for lunch or as a side dish to a meaty meal.
Vegetable Curry Even though most of us are probably used to curries where often there are no vegetables in sight (butter chicken, lamb korma, beef vindaloo, etc), a vegetable curry isn’t a poor man’s version of their regular meaty delight. Although I make a vegetable curry from scratch every now and again, if you want a super fast meal then utilise jarred curry sauces and pastes. If you check the ingredients of a lot of brands these days, many are just spices with a bit of oil, and don’t contain loads of salt, preservatives, fillers or oil as the main ingredient. I absolutely love Yeo’s Mild Malaysian Curry Sauce and use this to make a quick curry. Pop the hard vegies like carrots, pumpkin and potatoes into a pot, add a cup of chicken stock and cover with a lid. As they cook, continue to add your other vegetables in stages depending on how long they take – so next add onions and cauliflower, then broccoli, capsicum and zucchini, followed by any leafy veg. You should maintain about 1-2 inches of stock in the pot to steam the vegetables and eventually help thin the curry sauce. Add 1-2 cans depending on your amount of veg and sauce you want, stir to combine, heat through, then serve with rice.
Stir Fry with Rice or Noodles Often when we cook this dish, I think to myself that it’s going to be boring and disappointing, and I always end up really enjoying it. I am not good at balancing flavours so I just keep throwing sauces in a bowl until I have something I like. Usually I add garlic, ginger, kecap manis, sesame oil, soy and honey to make a standard honey-soy style sauce. The marinade from my satay chicken recipe also works great as a stir fry sauce. If you’re happy to use prepared sauces then it’s even easier – just fry up your vegies, add your noodles, add your sauce and serve. Or serve over rice if not using the noodles. The bigger the variety of vegies you use, the better the dish will be.
Risotto Risotto is a bit like saucy fried rice – you can add anything in to it as long as you follow the basic technique. I always start my risotto with a base of garlic and onions (either leeks, banana or regular shallots, spring onions or brown onions). Add arborio rice to toast, then wine if you are using it. Start adding the stock ladleful by ladleful, then when you’re close to the end, add your vegetables. I have been cooking a lemon, pea and parmesan risotto lately, and the other night swapped the peas for broccoli as we didn’t have any left. All I do is add a tablespoon of lemon zest and lemon thyme after my first ladleful of stock, then when I have 2 ladlefuls of stock left to add, I put the broccoli into my stock and steam it until it’s almost cooked, then add it when I add the rest of the stock to the risotto (you could also just put it in the risotto pot 5 minutes before the end). The peas I add at the last minute when I add my parmesan, as I like them to be quite tendercrisp. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice if it needs extra lift. Yum!
For an extra meal idea, make leftover risotto into arancini.
Rice Soup I can see there is a bit of a theme going on here where everything involves rice, and its because rice is filling, cheap, easy to cook, and goes with almost any kind of cuisine. I cook this rice soup all the time now and I never add chicken, I just don’t see the point. It’s so quick to make, you can make a huge batch, there’s no alchemy to the dish so quantities can be made up on the spot and its very filling considering that it’s both soup and meatless (two things normally associated with snacks or starters, not main meals). It’s perfect for lunch or dinner, and I even eat it for breakfast on the weekends. I don’t always use arborio rice, sometimes I just boil regular basmati rice in the soup. It has so much flavour that you also don’t need to add other vegies; and onions, carrots and celery can usually be found in the house even if the rest of the fridge and pantry are bare.
Pasta Believe it or not, this is the one I struggle with most when I go meatless, as we usually only eat 2 pasta dishes – spaghetti bolognese and Tim’s special pasta carbonara with a twist. I have never liked pasta dishes that have limited sauce and are more like a hot pasta salad, combining vegetables like whole cherry tomatoes, olives, eggplant and zucchini with a light oil or cream sauce. I like my pasta very American – SOAKED in luscious sauce, be it tomato based or creamy. Although I like a regular napolitana sauce, since I can’t eat delicious garlic bread anymore, its rather boring and unexciting for me. (I’m also not one of those people who likes salad with pasta… it breaks the meal up into two separate plates and I just can’t do it.) I do however, like rose sauces and other tomato/cream combos like Penne Alla Vodka or my new favourite, what my friend and I call Spaghetti Portofino, which is what our local Italian cafe calls it. It is simply a blend of store-bought tomato pesto and a bit of cream, loosened and made silky by the pasta cooking water. So easy to make and full of flavour, and it takes all of 10 minutes and 3 ingredients to make. (4 if you count lashings of parmesan cheese on top).
So there you go… a week’s worth of delicious, quick and easy meatless recipes that don’t require much thought, but will give you maximum flavour. Try not to think of Meatless Monday’s or any other meat free meal as a sacrifice where you’re missing out – there are so many dishes that can hold their own without any meat involved.