Though my husband and I—and our kids—eat mostly grains and vegetables, we somehow become quite the carnivores when we entertain. It’s partially because, though I know better, there’s the perception that vegetarian dishes require more prep work for company. And it’s partially the urge to meet the expectations of our omnivore friends. When close friends who are vegetarians come over, we relish the opportunity to geek out on complex chutneys, tapenades, and purees, working together in our kitchen-cum-lab to churn out handmade pasta, roast chickpeas, or salt-cure tomatoes. But without the specific challenge of hosting herbivores, we tend to lean on the ease and typically glorious outcome of meat-centered meals from the slow cooker.
This past weekend, we had the opportunity to host some really amazing people—who happened to be vegetarians we had never met before. My sister introduced us to Morgan Taylor and Rachel Loshak, the creative forces behind the children’s music group Gustafer Yellowgold, and we offered to make them a homemade meal. Since they travel with their two small children, we had a feeling a home-cooked meal would be welcome. (Take a listen to their music and you’ll know immediately why we wanted to meet them. The music is creatively alive, musically interesting, and funny. Not the wacky, zany, loopy “funny” that characterizes most kids’ music. It goes way beyond the canned “that’s so silly!” line we feed our children in response to typically cheap ways many adults attempt to relate to children. It’s music I enjoy having stuck in my head.)
Back to the afternoon spent with vegetarian strangers. To host someone in your home who you’ve never met before is to leave your comfort zone. I happen to enjoy leaving my comfort zone, but I wasn’t up for turning my kitchen into a working experiment while getting to know new people and watching my wild children. So I rustled up my favorite vegetarian, make-ahead, comfort food recipes of all time and realized I had plenty of options that would prove to be as easy and as good as the dishes I count on from my trusty slow cooker. Take a look at my favorite eight go-to recipes!
1. Tomatillo Sauced Enchiladas
I’ll start with the dish I ended up making. I love the contrast between the tangy tomatillo and the earthy roasted vegetables of these hearty enchiladas. Choose the most traditionally prepared corn tortillas you can find—you won’t be disappointed! Check out this picture of Rachel, Gustafer, and I enjoying the killer enchiladas I made!
2. Kale Pesto Pasta
Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks offers a great way to make a simple healthy pasta dish that lets you do all your prep in advance. Make your pesto in the morning so the flavors meld all day. Then boil some perfect al dente pasta just before mealtime. Because this meal is so filling and incorporates plenty of veggies, you have the option of skipping side dishes and salads to keep it simple.
3. Butternut Squash Lasagna
There’s nothing quite as appealing as a beautiful tray of bubbling lasagna with a crunchy crust. The Creamy Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagna from Would Rather Gather is packed with healthy comfort food ingredients so there’s zero guilt like there is with the typically meat-and-refined-flour-heavy traditional version.
4. Snobby Joes
“Everyone loves Sloppy Joes! This version thinks it’s better than everyone because it contains no meat,” proclaims Isa Chandra Moskowitz of the Post Punk Kitchen, an amazing blog about vegan cooking and what she calls “baketivism”—her efforts to parlay her kitchen for social justice whenever possible.
5. Peruvian Quinoa Stew
Here’s a vegetarian recipe that you can make in your slow cooker! The Spice Garden features one of my favorite recipes from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, Peruvian Quinoa Stew. It’s so delicious that you will want to make it over and over again—which I did for years, which is why I didn’t make it for our guests. Try to make it fewer than 1,000 times, however, and you will never burn out on this satisfying stew. This is the dish I turn to when I want to bring a healthy dish to a friend with a new baby.
6. Chard Masa Crepes
I dream about Deborah Madison’s homemade masa crepes filled with chard, chilies, and queso blanco. It’s one of those dishes that sounds good and tastes ten times better. The contrast of the texturally rich masa harina with smooth filling is pretty awesome. For guests, make the filling in advance and cook the crepes to order.
7. Best Chili
Vegetarian chili with all the toppings—avocado, sour cream, green onions, and a little lime—can be transcendent if it’s made with great ingredients, including a couple secrets. Check out the line-up of surprises in Serious Eats’ Best Vegetarian Bean Chile.
8. Spicy Coconut Soup
Peter Berley is one of those chefs who somehow elevates simple ingredients to heights you can hardly fathom. His recipe for Spicy Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Collard Greens, featured on the Cookbook Cooks blog is amazing—and it tackles that craving for creamy, spicy, and tangy, which is so beautifully expressed in Indonesian cooking.
Hopefully Morgan, Rachel, and the kids were comforted by our homemade enchiladas. Strangers no more, our new friends are back on the road and we’re so happy to have met them.
What’s your favorite vegetarian comfort food? I just polled my friends and couldn’t believe the number of great responses I got. Share yours and I’ll create another post soon that features everyone’s top picks!