Essential Foods for Vegetarian
Healthy Cooking, Healthy Eating

The Essential Foods for Vegetarians

Vegetarians fall into four main groups:

  • Vegans: Strict vegetarians who eat fruit, vegetables, and cereals. They eat no food from an animal source such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, or cheese.
  • Lacto-vegetarians: Include milk and milk products such as cheese in their diet.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: Include milk, milk products, and eggs in their diet.
  • Ovo-vegetarians: Include eggs, or sometimes just egg-yolks, but no milk products in their diet.

It is the intention of this article to not only inform and enlighten those interested in vegetarian cooking but also to provide tips and information to those interested generally in eating good, well-prepared foods.

Probably the first important aspect of food and eating is its preparation. We need to consider the type of utensils used and the method of cooking employed to prepare food in its most appetizing and more importantly most nutritionally beneficial form.

Essential cooking utensils

Cooking utensils, among other considerations, should be sturdy i.e. not break or chip easily, resistant to rust and corrosion, be good heat conductors, and what is most importantly easy to clean. Stainless steel utensils seem to be recommended by most nutrition experts.

Essentials to any vegetarian kitchen (or for that matter any kitchen) are a pressure cooker and a wok.

Too often people cook the goodness out of their vegetables by boiling them in the traditional way. This happens by excessive heat, oxidation with the air, and dissolving of essential vitamins and minerals in water which is inevitably drained off and poured down the sink.

Using a pressure cooker one is able to heat and cook the vegetables to the extent that the food is softened and made more digestible, but prevents vitamin and mineral loss caused by excess heat, oxidation with air, and dissolving in water. We obtain vegetables that not only retain the bulk of their nutritive value but also taste much better!

Other advantages of the pressure cooker are its speed, the economy of space, and versatility you can cook anything from soybeans to steamed pudding in it.

The Chinese dome-shaped pan, the Wok, with its excellent heat conducting properties, is the ultimate utensil to saute vegetables, and frying generally particularly for rice which should be very clear to the vegetarian stomach.

Quite often difficulties may be had with woks rusting it is best to “cure” them when new by washing in hot soapy water and then heating vegetable oil in it repeat this procedure a number of times and keep a spread of oil on the wok when not in use. (Also don’t wash it too hard in full-on detergents).

Remember always that pressure cooking, frying and baking are all preferable ways for the preparation of vegetables and grains to boiling.

If it is necessary to boil rice do so for no longer than 25 minutes in a covered saucepan by trial and error attempt to work out the exact amount of water, so that the water boils off completely, after 25 minutes.

When preparing vegetables to be cooked (especially when sauteed) cut into fine small pieces, also it is not necessary to peel such vegetables as carrots and pumpkin disposing of the outer skin is mere waste and often the skin of vegetables is helpful in their digestion.

Probably of greatest necessity in preparing any fruit and vegetables is to wash them thoroughly in hot water so that all the cancer-forming waxes and insecticides can be thoroughly removed.

Essential vegetarian foods

Let us now turn to some of the essential foods for vegetarians (these of course are not restricted to this class of people).

Firstly one must keep in mind that the transformation to a vegetarian diet is a slow process taking something like about four years for the body to adapt fully to the diet. Hence one cannot expect to make a complete overnight change and it is best to stick to a few animal-derived proteins e.g. fish, dairy products eggs.

Personally I wouldn’t recommend eggs because of the cholesterol content, however, even with fish and dairy products (I still have a strong affection for good cheese), it is good to supplement the diet with lecithin the number one cholesterol destroyer.

Just where do vegetarians obtain their protein? Well, it is present in many vegetable and grain forms. Nuts immediately spring to mind as an important source of protein but also are high in oil and carbohydrate content. However, just the same, they are a good source of protein and useful and versatile in cooking vegetarian loaves and casseroles.

Soybeans are often seen as the protein “panacea” for vegetarians and though certainly, they are a good source other leguminous plants should not be neglected, such as brown and red lentils, garbanzos, chickpeas, mung beans, lima beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and butter beans. What is important to remember is that when these beans are served with grains (particularly rice) they provide the correct protein balance of methionine and lysine.

Beans on their own are not terribly exciting so it is best to serve them either with fried rice and vegetables or baked in a vegetable and rice casserole and served with a good combination of vegetables.

Cottage cheese or shredded yellow cheese can quite often be implemented in many bean casseroles.


Provided the right balance is chosen to give the essential elements the body needs, vegetarian foods can be nutritious, satisfying, and full of variety.

Vegetarians will find the recipes in this feature offer some new food ideas, and hearty casseroles.

For non-vegetarians, an occasional vegetarian meal will be a healthy and pleasant change in the menu.


  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion 250g (8oz) zucchini
  • 1 small swede
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 x 470g (15oz) cans whole tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon vegetable salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat oil in a frying pan, add peeled and chopped onion, sliced zucchini, peeled and chopped swede, and crushed garlic, saute gently until onion is tender. Add undrained tomatoes and salt; mash tomatoes well. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer gently uncovered 15 minutes or until mixture is thick. Put in a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley. Serve as a first course with Crisp Wholemeal Biscuits. Serves 4.


  • 1 cup wholemeal plain flour
  • ½ cup soy flour
  • ½ teaspoon vegetable salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 4 tablespoons water, approx
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • oil for deep-frying

Put unsifted flours, sesame seeds, and salt into a bowl; mix lightly. Add oil, mix until oil is evenly distributed through the flour. Add water, mix to a soft dough. A little extra water may be needed. Turn on to lightly floured surface; knead 5 minutes. Cover, let stand 15 minutes. Knead again for 5 minutes. Roll dough out on a floured surface until paper thin. Cut into 9cm (3½in) rounds. Put in deep hot oil, fry until golden brown. Serve hot, sprinkled with vegetable salt. Makes 25.


  • 500g (1lb) brown rice
  • 8 shallots
  • 1 red pepper
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable salt
  • ½ cup oil
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Gradually add rice to a large quantity of boiling salted water. Boil uncovered 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Drain. When cold, put rice into a large bowl. Add chopped shallots, seeded and finely chopped red pepper, finely chopped celery, parsley and vegetable salt; mix well. Put oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and honey in a screw-top jar; shake well. Pour over salad; mix well. Refrigerate before serving. Serves 6 to 8.


  • half 375g (12oz) pkg wholemeal spaghetti
  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • ½ cup cottage cheese
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 3 tablespoons wholemeal plain flour
  • 1½ cups skim milk
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • vegetable salt
  • 1½ cups wholemeal breadcrumbs

Cook spaghetti in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender (approx 20 minutes), drain. Chop spinach roughly, cook in boiling salted water, drain.

Heat oil in a saucepan, remove from heat, add flour, stir until smooth. Return to heat, cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add milk gradually, stirring until smooth. Return to heat, stir until mixture comes to the boil, reduce heat, simmer 2 minutes.

Add lemon juice, nutmeg, season with salt. Put spaghetti in the base of the casserole dish. Combine spinach with cottage cheese, spread over spaghetti. Spoon over sauce, sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Bake in moderate oven 25 to 30 minutes or until crisp and golden on top. Serves 4.


  • 470g (15oz) can nutmeat
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 small onion
  • 1½ cups wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon basil
  • ¼ cup tomato juice
  • vegetable salt

Combine in a bowl, nutmeat, grated carrot, finely chopped celery, peeled and finely chopped onion, and remaining ingredients; mix well.

Line 25cm x 8cm ( 10in x 3in ) bar tin with aluminium foil. Spread nutmeat mixture evenly into the tin. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in moderate oven 35 minutes. Remove foil, bake further 15 minutes. Cool slightly in the tin before turning out. This loaf can be served hot or cold. Serves 4.


  • 2 x 470g (15oz) cans nutmeat
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tablespoons wholemeal flour
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon yeast extract
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 470g (15oz) can whole tomatoes
  • 315g (l0oz) can baby butter beans

Heat oil in a pan, add peeled and finely chopped onions, cook until golden brown. Stir in flour, cook 1 minute, add milk, soy sauce, yeast extract, mix well. Stir in nutmeat, undrained tomatoes, undrained butter beans, and crushed garlic, mix well. Simmer over low heat 10 minutes. Put mixture into an ovenproof dish. Spread prepared topping over. Bake in hot oven 15 to 20 minutes until topping is golden brown.

Topping: Peel and roughly chop 1.5kg (3lb) potatoes, put in the pan, cover with water, bring to boil, boil 20 minutes, or until cooked; drain. Mash potatoes until smooth, stir in ¼ cup skim milk, 250g (8oz) cottage cheese, and 6 finely chopped shallots; mix well. Serves 6.

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