Anytime is a good time to eat a few more vegetables — we all know that it’s good for our bodies and even better for our planet. But that doesn’t mean we’ve got to nibble on greens like a bunny rabbit or leave behind the comfort-food classics that we grew up with. In fact, with a little creativity, a splash of panache, and an open mind, it’s not all that hard to cook up the type of vegetarian dishes that will please any omnivores in the house.
Whether you’re making the change because your kid’s gone vegetarian or your partner’s climate consciousness has driven them to cut down on meat, we’ve rounded up a few recipes that will help you turn up the vegetables in your meals without turning down the flavor.
1. Egyptian falafel
While we mostly see the blander, more lightly colored Middle-Eastern-style falafel around here — made from chickpeas — this Egyptian version employs the bright green color of herbs and the complex flavors of the fava bean. The resulting balls turn out fluffier, crispier and moister than their garbanzo brethren, and they’re also way more beautiful.
2. Cheese and potato tacos
If Taco Tuesday has always favored beef in your house, take a hint from the women behind the "Muy Bueno Cookbook," a multi-generational tome of Mexican and Mexican-American favorites, and swap the meat for a vegetarian-friendly filling. Fried potato tacos are pretty common for vegetarians south of the border, but this version takes it up a notch, pairing the soft potatoes with a hefty pile of cheese and crispy shells.
3. Spicy cauliflower bites
For people unwilling to give up their takeout Chinese-American cuisine, one way to explore vegetarian versions is to look to its sister-cuisine, Indo-Chinese food, that landed in a heavily vegetarian region. Gobi Manchurian — basically Chinese cauliflower — is one of the most cherished dishes, for its crispy outsides, soft interior and zingy sauce. To make this one kid-friendly, though, leave out the chili powder in the batter and the pepper in the sauce.
4. African peanut soup with sweet potatoes
Hearty stews from around West Africa come reinforced with the thickness and flavor of peanuts. Usually, they come full of meat as well, but this version uses sweet potatoes instead. Even when it hits your table for the first time, the heartiness of this dish will radiate instant comfort — especially great from a dish that takes less than an hour to make.
5. Lentil chili
Think of this dish as kind of an Ethiopian lentil-based version of chili. It serves the same sort of soul-warming texture, like a thick stew, and the same warm spices, but without any of the meat. There are a few special ingredients needed for this one, but its worth a trip to your nearby Ethiopian market to pick up niter kibbeh (spiced butter), berbere (spice mix), and some injera — the fermented sourdough flatbread that you’ll definitely want to use to scoop up your lentils when you serve this.
6. BBQ pulled jackfruit
In case you haven’t heard, the most popular trend in vegan food these days is turning jackfruit, a Southeast Asian fruit, into a meatless version of pulled pork. In this recipe, blogger Good Dinner Mom tells the story of how she and her family were converted by dressing the canned fruit up in a bit of barbecue sauce, a few spices and serving it up like a barbecue sandwich.
7. Meatless meatballs
Wait, what? Doesn’t taking the meat out of meatballs totally detract from the entire point of meatballs? Well, not really, explains Macheesmo. Instead, he posits that you can get all the benefits of a meatball — tasty textures topping your pasta — with none of the meat. His version employs spinach, breadcrumbs, eggs and cheese, along with a few spices, to approximate the meatballs you're used to. Then he tosses them in a tomato sauce and pours them over pasta. Just like a great meatball — minus the meat.
8. Vegetarian Mapo Tofu
The Chinese dish of mapo tofu is usually one of the best examples of how Chinese cooks expertly weave tofu into dishes alongside meat, rather than replace it. So here, the tofu remains just as it would be in the usual ground-pork version of the dish, but the pork gets replaced with a beguiling savory sauce made with mushrooms; their umami goodness provides a more healthful spin on boosting the flavor of the sauce and tofu.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2019, and updated in January 2021.