A Meal Plan So Good You Won't Miss the Meat

Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally-acclaimed budget cooking blog BrokeAssGourmet.com. She is the author of several cookbooks, and the co-producer of "Young & Hungry", a Freeform comedy airing Mondays at 8/7 Central. Now in its fifth season, the show is inspired by her life and writing. She lives in San Francisco.

I was a vegetarian for 20 years, from the time I was seven years old (after a long afternoon spent at the county fair petting zoo) until I was 27 and starting to get serious about food writing. Today, even though I do eat meat sometimes, my tastes still tend to skew toward vegetables, legumes, and whole grains -- the staples of a healthy vegetarian diet. There are many benefits to this, but my favorite is that when I go mostly all-veggie, it makes grocery shopping significantly less expensive than if I were focusing more on meat and/or fish.

So many restaurants phone in the details of their vegetarian items. They see a vegetarian entree as a concession to the rare non-meat-eater who wanders in, so they stir-fry some flavorless tofu or grill a frozen veggie burger and call it a day. But good vegetarian food is all in the details, so that's why I like to take extra steps with my vegetarian cooking, adding as much crunch, flavor, and toothsome intensity as I can to every bite.

This week, I'm going back to my vegetarian roots (ha), and keeping in mind that veggie cooking deserves just as much attention to detail as cooking with more animal products. Read on for what I'm cooking this week, go shopping with the provided grocery list, and cook these dishes along with me!

plaintain tacos
Image Credit: Gabi Moskowitz

Though tacos are synonymous with meat for many people, I think you'll find you won't even notice its lack of presence in these gorgeous spiced plantain tacos. If you haven't had ripe plantains before, this is a great recipe to fall in love with them. Like starchy bananas, but with a flavor that lies somewhere closer to yams when pan-fried, these plantains get caramelized on the outside and soft and tender on the inside, making them a unique taco filling. A simple garnish of chilies, avocado, cilantro, and onion add crunch and freshness. Sour cream is not required, but if you want to gild the lily, it's a good way to do it.

kale spanakopita
Image Credit: Gabi Moskowitz

Here, spanakopita, the Greek phyllo-wrapped spinach and feta pastry, gets a healthful update. I use frozen kale in place of the spinach (though you could still use spinach, or a combination of both), and just 12 thin sheets of whole wheat phyllo in the whole dish (which makes 8-10 servings). Though the spanakopita is outrageously good hot out of the oven, it will keep for days, wrapped tightly in the refrigerator, and the leftovers are crave-worthy.

gnudi
Image Credit: Gabi Moskowitz

Gnudi are delightful Italian dumplings you eat like pasta. Similar to gnocchi, but about 100x easier to make, these pillowy balls come together quickly in a bowl with a touch of flour, ricotta, parmesan cheese, and some flavoring agents like fresh basil and garlic. I love to serve them in this easy roasted red pepper sauce, but if you wanted to skip the homemade sauce and serve them with jarred marinara or prepared pesto, that would be delicious too.

buffalo cauliflower
Image Credit: Gabi Moskowitz

If you've been to a trendy restaurant in the past couple of years, chances are you've seen all kinds of fancy cauliflower preparations. Whether roasted whole, sautéed in a hot wok with Sichuan chilies and peanuts, or my favorite, seasoned like Buffalo wings and served with a creamy dipping sauce, which I've replicated here. These spicy, buttery bites of fiber-packed cauliflower have every bit as much flavor as Buffalo chicken wings, without the deep-frying. Though it may seem like cauliflower isn't hearty enough to be a main course, I think you'll find that, if you add a crisp salad and a cooked grain, like brown rice, quinoa, or farro, you'll have a unique, deeply satisfying dinner.

chiles rellenos
Image Credit: Gabi Moskowitz

Traditional chiles rellenos are stuffed with enough cheese to completely fill them, coated in an egg white batter, and deep fried until the cheese becomes molten. One of the joys of cooking at home is taking liberties with recipes based on what you have on hand, how much time you have, and your desire to avoid deep frying (more for mess reasons than health reasons, honestly). Plus, it's hard to argue with these halved poblano chilies filled with kale, white beans, and cheese that bubbles into a brown crust on top. These come together very quickly, especially if you use canned beans. Vegan? Try using canned, pureed pumpkin in place of the cheese. Serve these with a crisp cabbage slaw and fresh salsa, to contrast the cooked chile and garlic flavors.

Here's your shopping list:

Pantry

chili powder

ground cumin

salt

pepper

extra virgin olive oil

corn tortillas

all-purpose flour

1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers

1 15-ounce can white cannellini or Great Northern beans

1 box frozen phyllo dough

1/4 cup hot sauce, such as Tabasco, Frank's or Crystal

Produce

2 ripe plantains

1 red onion

4 medium white or yellow onions

1 avocado

1 bunch fresh cilantro

1 jalapeño

4 garlic cloves, minced divided

1 bunch fresh basil leaves

2 poblano chiles

1 bunch fresh dinosaur kale

3 16-ounce bags chopped, frozen kale or spinach (or a combination)

fresh dill

1 medium head cauliflower

1 lemon

Eggs/Dairy

1 dozen eggs

½ pint half-and-half

Monterey jack or mozzarella cheese

1 16-oz carton cottage cheese

1 15-oz. container of ricotta

8 oz feta cheese

ranch or blue cheese dressing