Vegetarian main dishes: How to make veggies the hero of your dish
Cook, season, dress and finish everything from asparagus to zucchini, just like the pros.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. For many of us, vegetables are often relegated to the status of ‘side dishes’, and are rarely the star of the plate. And while we could all be eating more vegetables, without the right techniques and taste principles, it can be difficult.
If you're tired of tasteless, mushy vegetables, keep reading. This guide contains everything you need to get excited about cooking and eating vegetables, so your greens can finally take center stage!
Try the spice mixes from our Plant Power Spice Set!
Looking for a shortcut to more flavorful vegetables? Check out our new spice blends.
Choosing your heroes: which vegetables are best suited to vegetarian mains?
When building veg-focussed meals, choose vegetables with both substance and flavor. Root vegetables like carrots and celeriac are delicious and filling. Likewise, eggplant, zucchini and cauliflower are all versatile candidates for a host of dishes, and tend to hold their own on the plate. Mushrooms are a staple in vegetarian cooking, thanks to their earthy flavor and slightly meaty texture.
– Easy Chinese steamed eggplant with spicy garlic sauce
– Baked zucchini with millet filling
– Oyster mushroom satay skewers
– Red lentil and eggplant moussaka
– Roasted eggplant with sesame dip
– Zucchini fritters with creamy roasted pepper dip
– Grilled eggplant Parmesan stacks
– Roasted cauliflower with yogurt dip
– Baked popcorn cauliflower with hot honey
– Eggplant Unagi (Japanese-style glazed eggplant)
– Cauliflower steak with orange-miso sauce
Keep lighter, softer vegetables to supporting roles - cherry tomatoes, celery and leafy greens are all fantastic counterparts, but may leave you wanting more if you rely too heavily on them.
Seasoning and spicing your vegetables
The key to flavorful vegetables is proper seasoning. Begin with salt: it's important to use salt throughout the cooking process. Toss your vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and salt before roasting and make sure to liberally salt your blanching water.
When working with watery vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant, consider salting them 15 minutes before cooking to ensure they are seasoned all the way through. Also consider other salty elements you'll be adding, such as capers, olives and miso, and ensure you don’t over-season your veg.
Once you have your salt game on track, it’s time to turn your attention to spices and flavorings to elevate your dish. If you’re looking for a shortcut (and let’s be honest, who isn’t), our in-house chefs have developed a range of versatile spice blends for every dish.
Used as a dry rub, mixed with oil as a marinade or sprinkled over your dish to finish, you can’t go wrong with these home kitchen powerhouses. We’ve hand-picked four of our favorite vegetable seasonings in the Pflanzen Power set, ready to transform your veggie game for good.
Spice up your veggies with our spice set!
– Mango-avocado salad with lime dressing
– Crispy tofu and broccoli stir-fry
– Sweet and sour tofu
– Sweet potato fritters with guacamole and poached egg
– Roasted vegetable couscous
If you’re starting from scratch, choose a handful of spices and build a flavor profile to suit your tastes. These Bombay Potatoes use earthy cumin and garam masala to pack a punch. Harissa paste combines chili, garlic, citrus and warming spices for a complex, spiced heat; try it out in this Stuffed Bell Pepper recipe. Finally, these Grilled eggplants with herby garlic dressing deliver big on flavor with minimal fuss.
Turning up the heat: grilling, frying and broiling vegetables
Embrace high heat cooking to develop smoky flavors and amp up your veggie dishes. Cooking on a bbq or griddle pan adds flavor and texture to your veggies, as does quick frying vegetables or broiling on a sheet pan.
We suggest leaning into high temperature, hard and fast cooking for big reward with minimal fuss and effort with these dishes:
Low and slow(er): vegetable curries, soups and stews
Veg-packed curries, soups and stews make great use of seasonal vegetables. In comparison to slow braised meat dishes (which often require long cook times to achieve tender meat), veg-forward cooking allows you to develop complex, layered flavors in less than 45 minutes.
Spice blends like Veggie Wunder and Tofu Lover, combined with mixed vegetables, broths and pantry staples (like crushed tomatoes or coconut cream) create homely vegan dishes that are cost effective and freeze well. Be mindful of each vegetable’s cooking time, and add them to your pot accordingly (beginning with hardier veg and finishing with quick-cooking greens).
Veggie-carb swaps: low-carb, vegetable-packed cooking
Switching in fresh vegetables for pasta, rice or noodles is undoubtedly a great way to get more vegetables into your diet. Zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice or baked butternut squash are all great places to start. To make sure you’re left satisfied, load in protein-rich beans, lentils and nuts for a balanced, nutritious meal.
Salads that fill you up
The difference between a good salad and a great salad is texture. Using a handful of simple ingredients, you can easily level up your salad game. In order to break out of the ‘sides’ realm, and become a meal of its own, your salad needs to be both interesting and filling, going beyond chopped and dressed fresh ingredients.
To add body (and calories that will keep you feeling full), look to pantry staples like pasta, noodles, chickpeas and black beans, as well as nuts, seeds, herbs and roasted root vegetables. Choose your own adventure using what you have at home, and tie it all together with your favorite dressing for a nutritious, veg-heavy meal equally worthy of your dinner table or lunch box.
– Roasted beet salad with horseradish and pumpkin seeds
– Pumpkin salad with figs, feta and quinoa
– Cold noodle salad with peanut sauce
– Summer pasta salad with zucchini
– Refined chickpea salad
– Kisir – Turkish bulgur salad
– Winter salad with warm goat cheese
– Glass noodle salad with lemongrass dressing
– Gnocchi pesto salad with snap peas
– Wild rice salad
Pepping things up: restaurant quality vegetable dishes at home
Adding texture and dimension is important not just in salads, but all of your cooking. Crispy fried shallots to top off your noodles, a handful of cashews in your stirfry, or a quick addition of herby bread crumbs to crisp up a cheesy gratin... These are the low-effort-big-reward moves that make all the difference to your vegetarian cooking.
Acidic elements also play a role in pepping things up. If your cooked vegetables are tasting flat, think about hitting them with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a zingy dressing to wake them up. Likewise, a silky yogurt dressing or creamy sauce can do wonders to tie your dish together.
– Charred asparagus salad with creamy basil dressing
– Gado-gado (Indonesian salad with peanut sauce)
– Spelt salad with pumpkin, grapes, and hazelnuts
– Ruby makes rojak (Malaysian-style sweet and sour salad)
– Make bok choy and crispy tofu stir fry with Hanna
– Green risotto with dandelion pesto
Herbs are another underutilized element that will level up your vegetable cooking. Rosemary and thyme are favorites in stews and oven roasts, while soft herbs like parsley, mint, basil and coriander can be torn over your fresh salads or finely chopped and added to marinades.
Salad dressings can also benefit from a sprinkle of dried or fresh herbs, such as our Dressing Up seasoning blend - it works as a one-step solution to hit your dressing with a combination of parsley, chili, onion, salt and pepper for an instant lift.
Dressing up your salad was never this easy!
Dressing Up Spice Mix
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There you have it. The small but mighty moves that will transform your relationship with vegetables, so you can finally join the 5-a-day club.
How do you like to enjoy your veg? Let us know in the comments!
Published on October 17, 2023