Never underestimate the power of a slow-roasting oven to get dinner on the table easily and efficiently.
It has taken me years to learn to appreciate my oven. Prior to having children and full-time work, I used to view the oven as a fun tool for baking decadent treats on weekends. Now that has changed. I rarely bake, but the oven is my greatest ally, a true workhorse that allows me to churn out large quantities of delicious food with very little effort.
I use my oven as often as possible, and whenever it's on, I stuff it with all the roast-able ingredients I can find to take advantage of the energy. If I were super organized, I'd roast in the evenings to save on electricity costs, which are 50% less after 7 p.m., but sadly I'm not. I try to bake on weekends, when it's also cheap, but in the meantime, I'm willing to pay higher electricity costs for the ease of knowing dinner is cooking itself.
If you've not yet discovered the wonders of your oven, I highly encourage you to do so. Here is a list of great vegetarian recipes that let your oven do most the work.
1. Baked beans:
This good old Canadian classic is almost no work. Soak navy beans in advance, mix with a sweetish tomato-molasses sauce, and let the magic happen in the oven over several hours. Omit the bacon and salt pork for a vegetarian version.
Rice is easy and delicious to make in the oven. It frees up space on the stove and doesn't burn. The general rule of thumb is to bring the liquid to a boil on the stove, dump in the rice, add a heavy lid or tinfoil, and put in the oven. Basmati bakes for about 15-20 minutes, then let sit for 10 minutes before eating.
I love the Green Rice recipe from Food52's new cookbook, "A New Way to Dinner," which features a pesto of cilantro, parsley, and fresh mint stirred into rice, both prior to and after baking. (I can't find the recipe online, so look for the book at your library.) It makes a big Creuset-pot's-worth that lasts all week and reheats beautifully. Use your oven to make baked risotto and rice pudding.
Whether you eat meat or not, I have no idea why anyone fries meatballs. I suppose it gives a nice crispy crust, but it hardly seems worth the mess and time. Baking is so easy by comparison. Spread parchment on a pan and roast the balls, turning mid-way to brown on all sides. Try this delicious-looking recipe for Lentil & Mushroom Meatballs.
Regular readers may know by now that I'm obsessed with baked oatmeal. To me, it's one of those genius recipes that changed my relationship with oatmeal (I despise porridge) and seems to impress every overnight guest that comes through our house, which is why I keep talking about it! Baking oatmeal turns it into a delicious cake that's still supremely healthy and satisfying. Whip this up in 5 minutes and let the oven make the greatest breakfast you've had on a weekday morning.
Yes, you can bake eggs, and I believe the official name is "shirred eggs." Generously butter a muffin tin and add a dash of milk or non-dairy substitute. Add some steamed spinach or minced green onions if you wish. Crack an egg over top and pop it in the oven until firm.
Nachos aren't just party food. They're perfect for filling up hungry children on a busy school night -- and believe me, they'll be delighted to eat chips for dinner. Top a pan of tortilla chips with refried beans, olives, pickled jalapeños, chopped tomato, green onions, and cheese. Slide it into the oven for 10 minutes. (Your house will smell amazing.) Serve with salsa and guacamole.
7. Bean burgers:
Homemade bean burgers are impossible to grill, as they fall apart, and they can be finicky to flip in a frying pan. The easiest method is to bake them till crispy on both sides.
8. Healthy fish and chips:
If you eat fish, this is the easiest way to recreate the restaurant classic at home. Roast potato wedges in the oven with olive oil, thyme and salt; near the end of the cooking time, add fish fillets that have been pressed all over with fresh bread crumbs. Cook until flaky.
8. Teriyaki tofu and broccoli:
Toss broccoli and tofu squares (you can also use tempeh) with teriyaki sauce and roast in the oven till crispy. Serve with rice or noodles.
Polenta has a reputation for being labor-intensive over the stove, but this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis has you boil the polenta only for 3 minutes before dumping into greased pan and letting the oven do the rest of the work. Serve as a base for tomato sauce and/or roasted vegetables.
10. Vegetables galore:
When in doubt about what to serve for dinner, roast vegetables... heaps and heaps of vegetables! And be sure to treat them like meat for amazing results. Grab whatever you have in the fridge and pantry. Wash, trim, and chop. Toss with olive oil and spices (za'atar, harissa, herbes de provence, garam masala) and lots of salt, and put into a high-heat oven. You can do this for cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, every kind of squash, zucchini, carrots, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, asparagus (layer some lemon slices over top), rapini -- whatever you want. Use these to make a hearty salad with some pre-cooked grains like farro or bulgur (which you can also do in the oven), serve over baked polenta, or transform into soup (squash is good for this). Or just pile on a plate with rice and some form of protein on the side, and you've got a meal.