A friend asked me recently what she should cook for dinner as her vegetarian friend was coming over.
This question is common.
So I thought, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a predominantly plant-based eater if I didn’t provide this handy list for those who aren’t sure where to start.
After all, we ‘are’ your friend. We deserve better than a garden salad – “come on, we’re obviously not that great of friends then”. A garden salad to vegos is like a dried piece of chicken with no marinade.
Now we don’t expect you to whip up a 3 course vegetarian degustation, or try your hand at raw cheesecakes (but if you did we’d be besties forever).
But it’s always nice when we’re catered for.
Top 5 crimes you SHOULDN’T do when having your vegetarian friend round for dinner:
- Make them bring their own food – “oh yeah sure, no I understand that’s fine”, we will politely say anyway. That would be fine to a ‘BYO plate’ backyard barbecue. But if the host is putting on dinner and you’re the only one who has to pay for, and bring your own food, you’d probably rather go out alone to Smith and Daughters or Vegie Bar. Even worse is when you get there, and they say they didn’t get you anything, and you’ve got to go back out… or settle for that damn garden salad.
- Purposely talk about how amazing your steak is and why it’s so vital for your health. Yes, yes we’ve heard it all before – you love your meat! Good for you. We’re not jamming tofu down your throat, so let’s keep that to ourselves.
- Cook your meat in the same pan, or chop on the same board as your friend’s. This is criminal. Just don’t do it.
- Make a dish, and tell them they can pick out the meat – criminal!
- Give us roast vegetables without gravy. Now I can understand why you might think that you can’t get vegan gravy, or cook gravy without the meat juices, but you actually can. At minimum, Gravox gravy powder doesn’t have animal products in one of its products. But even better is this recipe for ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan Gravy”. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve made this now and my meat-eating family and friends always devour it. (You can omit the nutritional/savoury yeast flakes if you don’t have it. This is a cheesy flavoured vegan commodity found in health food stores – also great for white sauces and creamy pastas).
My top 10 dishes you can cook for your vegetarian or vegan friend’s
Time: 30-45 minutes
Soft or hard, tacos are a crowd pleaser easily enjoyed vegetarian or vegan. Try mine here.
Meat substitutes: beans, crumbled tofu, tempeh, faux mince, mushrooms or lentils.
The essentials: chopped lettuce, avocado (or guac), fresh coriander and limes!
Go one better: Toffuti cream cheese or vegan cheese.
- Rice paper rolls
Time: 30-45 minutes
After a couple of goes, rice paper rolls are one of the easiest, yummiest AND healthiest go-to recipes for veggies and carnies (carnivores) alike.
Meat substitutes: marinated tofu, tempeh, or avocado
The essentials: fresh mint and/or coriander and Thai basil, peanut butter or satay sauce (inside the rolls – my specialty), spring onions (scallions) and a good dipping sauce. Get my easy DIY Rice Paper Rolls print out here.
- Pumpkin soup and garlic sourdough
Time: 1.5-2 hours
I bet you completely forgot about the humble Winter warmer as you racked your brains all day on what to make your plant-eating friend. Nothing quite warms the soul like a big bowl of creamy soup and crusty garlic bread.
Tip: use coconut cream instead of dairy cream
Butter substitute for garlic bread: Nuttlex or just good ol’ olive oil
Time: 2-3 hours
While it may take a little bit more love and care to prepare this Mediterranean favourite, this is a comfort food that just warms your insides and leaves you wanting another serve. The overcooked eggplant with creamy mash on top is a dish everyone will love.
Meat substitute: none, simply lots of eggplant, and other desired veggies such as sweet potato and zucchini.
Cheese substitute: you can go without, or hunt down a good melty vegan cheese such as Notzarella, Daiya or Vegusto (my favourite). Or, you could crunch up the top with some bread crumbs and olive oil.
My tip: oven roast the eggplants alone, before layering your moussaka. Jamie Oliver also have a beaut Vegetarian Moussaka recipe.
Similar ideas: a vegie lasagne or Shepherd’s pie give the same comfort feeling as that of moussaka
Time: 45 mins – 1 hour
There are so many ways you can make a good pasta dish and most dried pastas are also egg-free (if vegan).
The absolute essentials: garlic, ALWAYS LOTS of olive oil, onions and fresh herbs (basil or parsley).
Some of my favourite variations:
- ‘Al funghi’ – several types of mushrooms all sautéed down with garlic, parsley olive oil, sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Puttanesca – parsley, tomatoes, olives, capers and of course garlic – a dish for the salty lovers
- Roast vegetables: sweet tender roasted sweet potato or pumpkin, charred eggplant, spinach, sautéed onion, artichokes, olives and chopped basil or dill.
Time: 45mins – 2.5 hours (depending on if you make your own dough)
At minimum, all you need to do is buy some pre-made pizza bases, lather with a base and top with veggies. But if you’ve got some flour and yeast laying around I strongly recommend giving your-own-dough-a-go. You can also add herbs, wholegrains, and spices to it. It’s rather satisfying.
My favourite variations:
- Baby spinach, pine nuts, chilli, garlic, red capsicum, onion and tomato base
- Barbecue base with mushrooms, onion, garlic, basil, spring onions, olives and capers
- Load it up with anything you’ve got like capsicum, olives, pineapple, eggplant, baked sweet potato, onions, and pine nuts
- Olive oil, garlic, rosemary, sea salt and olives
TOP TIPS: if going vegan and you don’t have vegan cheese, just drizzle with a good lug of olive oil before and after baking, for a full mouth feel. Trust me, we still love a good cheese-less pizza.
Veggie burger and homemade fries
Time: 45 minutes
If it’s an easy going night with friends and laughs, you can’t go past a good veggie burger. But please, not the cheap kind. Splurge a little on a good one if you’re buying pre-made, or easily make your own. Make it fun by laying out all the chopped fillings so you can load ‘em up as you go.
Pre-bought patty variations: chickpea/bean, lentil, veggies, faux meat or falafel
Be careful to: check ingredients for egg, casein or other dairy products if your friend’s vegan.
Homemade base ingredients: mashed potato, beans, veggies (grated carrot, spinach or corn), bread crumbs (as a binder) and herbs and spices (curry powder is also a good one).
Sweet potato salad with honey mustard dressing
Time: 45 minutes
Okay so I said a salad was off the cards. But that’s when it’s just lettuce, tomato and cucumber. A good salad can be as satisfying as comfort food. Plus, this one might be good for the gluten free or health conscious. Honestly, this is one of my partner’s favourite dishes.
Combine: baby spinach leaves, roasted sweet potato, roasted pine nuts or cashews, and other salad ingredients.
Dressing: vinegar, olive oil, wholegrain dressing and honey/maple or rice malt syrup.
Thai or Indian curries
Time: 45 mins-1.5 hours
There are so many curries that provide an abundance of flavour that make you feel like you’re not missing out if you don’t have meat. Potatoes, green beans, carrot, broccoli, corn, cauliflower, peas… the options are endless. Keeping it easy; use jarred curry paste. Feeling creative; make it from scratch.
Curries to search for: vegetable korma, massaman (rich Thai curry with peanuts), palak paneer (spinach and Indian cheese), chana masala (chickpeas), aloo goi (potatoes and cauliflower), dahl (lentils), green, red or yellow curry. Try my ‘Quick Thai Yellow Curry’ here.
Note: ask if they like tofu or faux meats as some do and some don’t.
Time: 30-45 minutes
Vermicelli, flat rice, hokkein or glass. There are so many types of noodles that don’t take much to dress up and can make a cost-effective yet tasty meal. Try mine here.
Look for inspiration: Pad Thai, Bun Cha, Hokkein stir-fry.
Sauces and flavours to use: soy (or gluten free tamari), kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), honey, sesame oil, sweet chilli, and hoisin sauce.
Ingredients: sliced carrot, buk choy, cabbage, zucchini, spring onions, garlic, chilli, ginger, and lemongrass.
Garnishes: crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, coriander leaves and fresh limes.
Extra things to always check:
- Do they eat honey? (if vegan)
- Are they gluten free?
- Does the smell of cooking meat bother them?
- Do they have a FODMAP intolerance?
- Do they avoid certain alcohols? Some beers and wine use egg, fish bladders (isinglass) or dairy to filter their product.
So there you have it, a comprehensive list of some favourite delicious vego dishes that you will BOTH love and enjoy making. Did I miss one of your favourites? Eave a suggestion in the comments below!