20 Dirt-Cheap Vegetarian Meals

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There are so many reasons to incorporate meatless meals into your repertoire. Even the average omnivore should limit meat intake to just a few ounces a day for optimal health. Cutting out the meat often means skipping the most expensive ingredient, making these vegetarian dishes an easy bargain. Regardless of the motivation for cooking with less meat, rest assured that everyone will enjoy these 20 tasty and budget-wise vegetarian recipes, all for less than $3.50 a serving.

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Pizza is one of those super-inexpensive meals that please even finicky eaters. For the pizza dough ($1), mix 1 tablespoon active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in three-quarters cup warm water until frothy and fragrant; add 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt; knead until a smooth ball forms; then let rest covered with a towel in a warm place for one hour. Punch down after the dough has doubled in size and let rise again before rolling out. Top with 1 cup of a favorite marinara ($1) and 1.5 cups shredded low-moisture mozzarella ($3). Bake in a hot oven until bubbly. Yield: one 14-inch pie/two servings.

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Beans provide lots of nutritional punch for pennies. This recipe calls for pinto beans, black beans, and chickpeas, but any combination of beans will do. Start with dried beans for lower cost and better flavor. Soak one-third cup of each type of bean ($1.25) overnight and cook in water until soft. In a slow cooker or heavy pot, combine the cooked beans (3 cups total), a 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes ($1.50), one chopped onion (50 cents), one chopped green bell pepper ($1), a generous pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin powder (50 cents), and enough water to cover. Set on low for 8 hours, check for salt, and top with chopped scallions (75 cents). Yield: four servings.

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Save this recipe for summer when eggplants are large and bountiful and cost about $1.50 apiece. Cut one of these beauties in half; scoop out most of the flesh; boil the meat until soft, about 5 minutes; and squeeze out excess water. Sauté one chopped onion and two cloves of chopped garlic in 2 tablespoons oil with a hit of salt and pepper ($1); add one chopped red bell pepper ($1) and the eggplant flesh. Remove from heat and add one-quarter cup grated parmesan (50 cents). Stuff the eggplant halves, cover with two chopped tomatoes (75 cents) and one-quarter cup grated parmesan (50 cents), and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Yield: two servings.

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This quick and easy recipe works for breakfast and brunch, lunch, or as the star of a classy dinner party. In a hot pan, sauté one chopped onion (50 cents) with a clove of chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and 2 cups chopped fresh broccoli in 2 tablespoons oil ($1.50). In a large bowl, combine four large eggs (50 cents), three-quarters cup milk (30 cents), and a pinch of salt. Combine broccoli mixture, egg mixture, and 6 ounces grated gruyere cheese ($6). Pour into a pie crust ($1.50) and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes, or until knife comes out clean. Let cool before cutting. Yield: six servings.

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Replace your classic meat sauce with one filled with earthy mushrooms ($2) without any loss of flavor or texture. Layer up the sauce ($1), noodles ($2), ricotta ($2), mozzarella ($4), and parmesan ($1), and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until hot and bubbly. Yield: eight servings.

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With a cost of about 30 cents a serving, couscous is a budget-friendly alternative to pasta and rice. Combine 1 cup cooked couscous (start with one-third dry) with one-half cup sautéed red bell pepper and red onion ($1), one-half cup cooked chickpeas (25 cents), fresh or dried oregano, coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and 1 tablespoon high-quality extra virgin olive oil (25 cents). Top with 1 ounce crumbled feta cheese (60 cents) and you have a delicious and filling Mediterranean meal. Yield: one serving.

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This Mexican-American favorite is a fun and nutritious family meal. Sauté 1 cup chopped mushrooms, one chopped onion, and one chopped green bell pepper in 2 tablespoons oil ($2.50); season with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder to taste. Pile the filling on chopped romaine hearts (75 cents) and top with a generous tablespoon each of salsa and sour cream (50 cents), one sliced avocado ($2), and a handful of tortilla chips (75 cents). Yield: two servings.

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This hearty stew-like soup is as comforting as it is nutritious, especially during the cooler months. In a slow cooker combine one chopped onion, two chopped carrots, two chopped celery ribs ($1.50), 1 pound sliced mushrooms ($3.50), three cloves crushed garlic, two sprigs fresh thyme (50 cents), one-half cup barley ($1), one vegetable bouillon cube (15 cents), and 9 cups water. Set on low heat for 6 to 8 hours, re-taste for salt, and enjoy. Yield: four servings.

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This rich and festive Greek dish is a vegetarian winner for parties or casual meals. Sauté 2 pounds fresh spinach ($6) and squeeze out moisture. Sauté one onion, garlic, and parsley in 2 tablespoons oil ($1) and combine with spinach. Mix in two eggs (25 cents) and 8 ounces feta cheese ($4.80). Brush melted butter ($2) over eight leaves of packaged filo dough ($3.50) and stack, then place in large baking pan and fill with spinach mixture. Repeat filo-butter layers and set atop filling. Score in several spots and bake at 375 degrees until top is golden brown and filling is hot. Yield: eight servings.

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One of the cheapest and most satisfying foods, the potato is also culinary magic. It adds satisfying bulk and nutrition to many recipes and keeps for weeks in a cool cupboard. Making a meal of a russet potato (75 cents) is as simple as baking it in the oven and then topping it with salsa (30 cents), sour cream (20 cents), chopped scallions (30 cents), chopped onion and peppers (50 cents), and, of course, a small handful of grated cheese (50 cents). Yield: one serving.

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A big plate of nachos isn't the healthiest of meals, strictly speaking, but this comfort food can do wonders for the soul. The key to perfect nachos is placing an even layer of chips ($1.50) on a baking sheet followed by 1 cup cooked black beans (45 cents), chopped tomato and onion ($1), and grated cheese ($1). Bake in a hot oven until cheese melts and top with a few dollops of salsa and sour cream ($1). Yield: two servings.

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Black beans pack a nutritional wallop and are one of the least expensive sources of vegetarian protein. In a lightly greased skillet heat one flour tortilla (25 cents); sprinkle on one-third cup grated low-moisture cheese (33 cents), one-third cup cooked black beans (15 cents), and chopped onion and bell pepper (50 cents); and top with another flour tortilla (25 cents). Cover and cook on medium high until cheese melts. Serve with salsa and sliced avocado ($1). Yield: one serving.

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This recipe celebrates the fresh vegetables of spring but can be prepared with frozen vegetables any time of year. Set a pot of salted water to boil and add two portions angel hair pasta (50 cents). Sauté one clove chopped garlic, one-half chopped onion (50 cents), one-half chopped bell pepper (50 cents), a handful of halved cherry tomatoes (75 cents), and one sliced yellow summer squash or zucchini (75 cents) in 2 tablespoons oil. Season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and dried chili flakes for a little kick. Toss with the cooked pasta and a splash of pasta water if the mix is too dry. Remove from heat and add one-quarter cup grated parmesan, a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (75 cents). Yield: two servings.

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Lentils are a staple in many cultures because they're easy to grow, nutrient dense, and easy to prepare in a variety of styles. A recipe at Wake Up and Eat calls for a pressure cooker and a few basic ingredients. The spices may seem daunting and expensive but cost just a few cents per tablespoon. The necessary ingredients include cumin, salt, turmeric, coriander, and mustard seed (50 cents), as well as chopped garlic (50 cents), fresh ginger (25 cents), chilies (50 cents), tomatoes ($1), oil (25 cents), and lentils (50 cents). Optional spices such as fenugreek leaves, curry leaves, cloves, hot red pepper, and more exotic varieties such as ajwain seeds and kalonji add flavor and authenticity. Serve with basmati rice ($1) for a complete meal. Yield: six servings.

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With the constant attention and stirring, risotto deters many home cooks. But given the satisfying results and low-cost ingredients, it deserves a spot on a monthly menu plan. Start with a single portion of Arborio rice (40 cents). Plan on adding 1 cup vegetable broth (75 cents; far cheaper if homemade) one-quarter cup at a time as you stir and the liquid is absorbed. Finish with one-half cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (50 cents), a pat of butter, salt, and freshly ground pepper (25 cents). Throw in some roasted onions and squash (75 cents) for extra flavor and veggie goodness. Yield: one serving.

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A great heart warmer when sick or when craving something spicy, this simple noodle soup starts with 2 cups water and a pinch of vegetable bouillon powder or cube (10 cents) on medium heat. Sauté one-half onion and one or two jalapenos (75 cents) and add to broth. When the water hits a low boil, add a large handful of rice noodles (50 cents), a dash of soy sauce, and a handful of fresh spinach (50 cents). The noodles are tender and your hot meal is ready in a few minutes. Yield: one serving.

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Skip the expensive take-out and use the vegetable odds and ends in your fridge for this favorite American-Chinese dish. Carrots, onion, celery, bell peppers, broccoli, frozen peas, and corn all suffice; you'll need about 2 cups total ($1.50). Sauté the vegetables in a hot pan with two tablespoons of oil, a few dashes of soy sauce, and a spoonful of chili sauce (50 cents). Once cooked, add a handful of dry-roasted peanuts (50 cents) and serve over white or brown rice (25 cents). Yield: one serving.

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Vegetarians don't have to miss out on all the kebab fun with this meat-free alternative. Cut a block of extra firm tofu ($1.50) into bite-size cubes the night before and marinate in a mixture of soy sauce, chili paste, sesame oil, and orange juice (50 cents). Skewer the cubes with chunky pieces of red and green bell pepper ($1.50), onion (50 cents), and halved cherry tomatoes ($1). Set on a hot grill until vegetables are cooked and have a slight char. Yield: four servings.

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Finally, this all-American summertime classic is widely available in vegetarian form. With so many brands on the market, the average cost of a veggie hot dog link is around 75 cents. Two links with buns (75 cents) plus all the fixins, such as mustard, kraut, relish, and ketchup (50 cents), make an indulgent, meat-free meal. Yield: one serving.

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This dish combines lots of flavor with refreshing staying power and cost effectiveness. Start with one serving of cooked lo mein or soba noodles (50 cents). Whisk together 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter (40 cents), 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon chili sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and a splash of orange juice (50 cents). Toss with the noodles and top with sliced cucumber and scallions (50 cents). Yield: one serving.