I'm a picky eater. Becoming vegetarian sounded so improbable for someone who dislikes all vegetables, except romaine lettuce. But after hearing my newly-turned vegetarian friends rave about how much it changed their lifestyle, I wanted to try vegetarianism. I knew I could thrive without eating meat, but I didn't like the idea of eating salad bowls with raw, bitter vegetables for every meal. But when pictures of steaming vegetarian meals found their way into my Instagram feed, I was inspired. That's when I realized that vegetarian didn't have to mean salad-based dishes only. The pictures introduced me to new grains and meat alternatives that I could eat under a vegetarian diet.
After learning more about vegetarianism, I challenged myself to go vegetarian for 7 days. I went to the supermarket to pick up the necessary supplies. I gathered vegetable broth, coconut milk, lentils, mushrooms, and tofu. Going on a grocery trip to stock up on those vegetarian pantry staples is a must for anyone living in a meat-eating household. Abstaining from meat during breakfast and lunch was easy since those meals typically don't contain meat, but vegetarian dinners were harder to make. It was important to tell my family (with who I live with) that I was trying a vegetarian diet since I spent some time in the kitchen experimenting with different vegetarian entree recipes.
What resulted from my 7-day Vegetarian challenge was seven vegetarian entree ideas that made the transition so smooth. These meals were satisfying and filling; I didn’t crave meat once throughout the challenge. I even noticed that I felt full, faster. Keep scrolling to read the recipes for each dish.
1. Tofu Veggie Stir Fry
- 1/2 package of 14 oz Extra Firm Tofu, cubed
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1/4 cup onion, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 whole eggplant (2 inches in diameter), cubed
- 1 cup oyster mushrooms
- 1 red mini sweat pepper, sliced
- 1 inch calhorn pepper, sliced thinly
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- green onions to taste
- 4 tbsp coconut oil for frying
- For serving: Steamed Rice
- Drizzle the soy sauce over the tofu, and let it soak for 5 minutes.
- Fry the tofu and eggplant in 4 tbsp oil until light golden brown.
- Remove the tofu and eggplant from the oil. Drain the oil completely.
- Sautee onion and garlic until golden brown.
- Add oyster mushrooms. Sautee for 7 minutes.
- Add bell pepper and calhorn pepper to the aromatics. Sautee for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the fried tofu and fried eggplant to the mix. Sautee for 1 minute.
- Add hoison sauce. Sautee for 2 minutes.
- Remove from the heat. Pour desired amount of stir fry over rice. Top with green onions. Enjoy!
2. Red Lentil Curry Soup
- 1 tablespoon refined or virgin coconut oil, or a neutral-flavored oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh turmeric, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1-2 serrano peppers, diced*
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon Indian red chili powder (if you only have regular chili powder, which is a blend, use 1 teaspoon)
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- Kosher salt or sea salt to taste (I use about 1 tsp kosher salt, and add more at the end)
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 cup (180-190g) red lentils, or split red lentils (the split variety will cook a bit quicker)
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (see notes above for substitutes)
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened creamy almond butter
- 1/2 a small lemon, juiced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- For serving: Basmati or Jasmine rice and Indian flatbread such as roti, paratha, or naan
- Rinse the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear.
- Heat a large, deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the coconut oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric (if using), and Serrano pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent garlic from burning.
- Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, curry powder, garam masala, salt, and black pepper to taste, and cook for 30 to 60 seconds until fragrant, tossing frequently to prevent burning. If using ground turmeric instead of fresh turmeric, add the ground turmeric now, along with the rest of the spices.
- Pour in the vegetable broth, and use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add in the lentils and the crushed tomatoes and mix well. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through and have mostly softened. If you find that the lentils are not quite soft after 25 minutes, add a few spoons more of broth or water and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Remove the lid and stir in the coconut milk, almond butter, along with salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking on low heat, uncovered for 5 to 8 minutes, until the curry has thickened and is creamy. Finally, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro, and turn off the heat.
- Serve the curry with rice and/or flatbread. Store leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days.
This was my tasty rendition of the dish, using yellow lentils instead of red ones.
3. Portobello Mushroom Sandwich
Makes 1 serving
- 1 portobello mushroom caps
- ½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
- ½ tsp low sodium soy sauce
- ½ tsp olive oil
- ½ tsp steak seasoning like Montreal Steak Grill Mates
- 1 slice red onion
- 1 oz reduced-fat Swiss Cheese, sliced thin
- 1 thin slices tomato
- 3 thin avocado slices
- baby spinach
- 1 burger buns
- In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, oil, rosemary, and Montreal steak seasoning.
- Place the mushroom caps in the bowl and toss with sauce, using a spoon to evenly coat. Let stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, turning a few times.
- Heat the grill or indoor grill pan over medium heat. When hot, brush the grate with oil or lightly spray the grill pan.
- Place the mushrooms on the grill, reserving marinade for basting. Grill for 5 to 7 minutes on each side, or until tender, brushing with marinade frequently.
- Top the mushrooms with cheese during the last minute of cooking.
- While the mushrooms cook, grill the onions for about 1 minute on each side and grill the buns until toasted.
- To finish, place the spinach and grilled portobello mushrooms on the buns and top with the grilled onions, sliced tomato, and avocado. Enjoy!
4. Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese
- 20g dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 large red onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 carrots
- 2 sticks of celery
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- olive oil
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 100ml Chianti
- 1 x 400g tin of green lentils
- 2 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes
- 450g dried wholewheat spaghetti
- 1⁄2 a bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley (15g)
- 100g Parmesan cheese
- In a small bowl, just cover the porcini with boiling kettle water to rehydrate them. Peel the onions, garlic and carrots, trim the celery and finely chop it all with the rosemary leaves. Place a large casserole pan on a medium-low heat with 1 tablespoon of oil, then add the chopped veg, rosemary and the bay. Cook with a lid on for 20 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally.
- Scoop out and finely chop the porcini and add to the pan with the soaking water, leaving any gritty bits behind. Turn the heat up to medium-high, pour in the Chianti, then leave to cook away. Tip in the lentils (juice and all), and the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Half-fill each tomato tin with water, swirl around and pour into the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a medium-low heat and simmer for 35 minutes, or until thick and delicious. Taste and season to perfection.
- Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, then drain, reserving a mugful of cooking water. Toss the spaghetti through the Bolognese, loosening with a little reserved water, if needed. Finely chop the top leafy half of the parsley, finely grate over most of the Parmesan and stir both through the pasta, then divide between your plates, grate over the rest of the Parmesan and tuck in.
5. Quinoa Salad Bowl
This was my first time trying quinoa. I’m obsessed with the texture. It's so fluffy, and feels like it's popping in your mouth. A sprinkle of Santa Fe style toppings brings the quinoa bowl to life.
- ½ cup multicolored quinoa (any should work!)
- 1 cup of water
- ⅛ cup of canned corn
- 2-3 garden tomatoes, sliced
- 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
- ½ small avocado, sliced
- Few pieces of romaine lettuce, chopped
- A drizzle of olive oil to taste
- Preferred Dressing, if desired
- Rinse and drain the quinoa. Add rinsed quinoa and water to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for approx. 15 minutes.
- Plate in a bowl with corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, and lettuce.
- Drizzle with olive oil or preferred dressing, to taste.
6. Pesto Pasta
I love pesto – it’s garlicky, a bit oily, and the subtle basil flavor comes through perfectly. Nothing can go wrong when you combine pesto and pasta.
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion
- 1 3/4 teaspoons pesto
- 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 1/4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 (16 ounce) package pasta
- salt to taste
- ground black pepper to taste
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until done. Drain.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. Add pesto, onion, and salt and pepper. Cook about five minutes, or until onions are soft.
- In a large bowl, mix pesto mixture into pasta. Stir in grated cheese. Serve.
7. Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas
A tortilla-and-cheddar cheese quesadilla used to be my go-to lunch on a busy day. But, I wanted to step it up and try a more nutritious version of my favorite lunch. In this recipe, the cheese blends with the spinach and mushrooms to create a savory combination. It brought me the satisfaction of eating a Taco Bell quesadilla, without the meat.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 cups fresh spinach
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- 2 large flour tortillas
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Avocado, Salsa, Sour Cream, or any preferred quesadilla garnishes
- Let the oil heat up in the skillet and add the garlic followed by the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms have softened and caramelized a bit.
- Add the spinach and cook until spinach has wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Place the tortilla in the skillet and add a layer of both cheeses on half of the tortilla.
- Add the spinach and mushrooms, top with more cheese and fold the tortilla in half.
- Cook for 6 minutes over medium heat, flipping halfway.
- Serve with preferred quesadilla garnish. Enjoy!