The Easy, Hearty Vegan Dinner I've Been Making for a Decade

It'll change the way you think about potatoes.

November 27, 2018

We've partnered with Bosch, makers of high quality home appliances like the induction slide-in range, to share recipes, tips, and videos that highlight the little details that make a dish truly delicious.

Here’s a confession: I’d be perfectly happy to eat a baked potato, a pile of steamed greens, and some beans every night. Possibly not forever, but for a very long time.

I proved this to myself in my early twenties, when I was working as an editorial assistant at a publishing company and perpetually struggling to keep up with the cost of living in New York City. It didn’t take long for me to realize that lentils, rice, and potatoes could easily stretch over a month’s worth of dinners. If I bought everything at the bulk bin at my local health food store, I’d save enough to treat myself to unnecessarily expensive nut butters and chocolate.

Photo by Ty Mecham

My meals weren’t often sexy. They looked nothing like the restaurant meals that many of my friends, who were busy building successful careers and simultaneously availing themselves of the city’s restaurant scene, would compare notes on. The color palate was usually a dull spectrum of beige and brown. But these earthy dinners were cheap, filling, and good. They encouraged me to be creative, too; I can’t count the number of sauces and salsas and condiments I came up with in that time, all for the purpose of dressing up baked potatoes.

I wrote my cookbook, Power Plates, in my mid-thirties, a decade after those publishing years. A lot had changed: new career, bigger kitchen (by New York standards, anyway), and a lot more cooking experience. In many ways, though, I was grappling with some of the same growing pains I’d felt as an early twenty-something. Whereas back then I’d been navigating the space between college and something resembling adulthood, now I was coming to terms with the fact that adulthood, such as it is, would be nothing like what I’d imagined.

I was one year into a graduate program that was a lot more than I’d bargained for, and I was watching helplessly as a long-term relationship came undone. Nothing was going as planned. I spent most of my time feeling scared and disappointed. It’s no surprise that I started to crave the same food I’d eaten night after night as an editorial assistant, also during a time of life in which I was trying to reconcile the gap between expectation and reality.

I treated Power Plates differently than I had other cookbooks. Instead of orienting it around what I thought would be appealing, or different, or challenging to me as a recipe developer, I filled it up with the foods that comforted and sustained me through periods of transition and loss. These meals, I was quickly learning, will always feel like home to me, even when life itself feels foreign.

They’re simple meals, homey and earthy. They owe a lot to vegetarianism as I’d learned it about fifteen years ago, from macrobiotics and the Moosewood cookbooks and writers like Peter Berley. They involve a lot of beans, rice, tofu, and greens. And, of course, stuffed potatoes.

For the record, I realize that naked lentils and steamed greens aren’t everyone's idea of a cookbook-worthy meal. So, when testing a stuffed sweet potato dish for Power Plates, I dressed up my usual sweet potato/lentil/green combination. I seasoned the lentils with onions, tomato, and Moroccan-inspired spices (a favorite flavor profile of mine) so that the dish would smell heavenly and taste bold. I topped it with my favorite lemon tahini dressing, which is another recipe that has stood the test of a decade or more.

The recipe is far more flavorful than many potato dinners I eat at home, but it’s the sort of dish I would always make if I had a little time to plan and execute. Things change, and a lot remains the same.

The Difference is in the Details

There are a few things that make this dish different from stuffed potatoes as usual. Here’s what you need to know:

Go Ahead, Batch Cook

Balancing graduate school and working life has meant saying goodbye to spontaneous or leisurely weeknight cooking. I make most of what I eat during the week over the weekend, and I choose recipes that can be prepared that way. Nearly everything here can be: The tahini dressing will keep for nearly a week in the fridge; the potatoes can be baked ahead of time; the lentil mixture is easy to make ahead, too; and the lentils themselves can be cooked in advance (or you can use canned lentils). Do as much or as little ahead of time as you like, so that mealtime feels more like assembly and less like cooking when you need to get dinner on the table.

Swaps and Substitutions

The bones of this meal are legumes, potatoes, and greens. Any one of the particular types I’ve chosen can be swapped for another. If you don’t have or like lentils, try white beans or chickpeas instead. Trade kale or chard for spinach. And while regular potatoes hold up slightly less well to batch cooking than sweet potatoes, in my experience, they work nicely in the recipe, too. If you don’t have any potatoes, you can roast up a tray of butternut squash or other root vegetables, and spoon the lentil filling over those.

These easy stuffed sweet potatoes come together seamlessly with some help from Bosch's convection oven. Photo by Tim Morrish

Tahini on Everything

A tahini dressing might seem like an odd choice for stuffed potatoes—aren’t they supposed to be topped with gravy, or cheese? But this recipe proves that tahini dressing can enhance just about any dish, potatoes included. It offers an acidic counterpart (along with the pomegranate molasses, which is optional but highly recommended) to all of the earthiness of potatoes, lentils, and onions. I recommend using a heavy hand when you drizzle it over the final dish!

Lentil Mastery

Cooking lentils properly seems like it should be easy, but it’s taken me a long time to get it right. Part of the reason is that lentils, like all legumes, can vary in age and dryness, so one batch could take 20 minutes to cook, while another could take 30 minutes. Different varieties of lentils also require different cooking times.

My rule of thumb for cooking brown or green lentils, which is what I use in the recipe, is to taste them for doneness as I cook them. The lentils should hold their shape well, but be tender. (I like brown and green lentils slightly on the al dente side—in my opinion, that’s a lot more appetizing than mushy lentils.)

My go-to method for cooking lentils is to put them in a pot and add water to cover by three to four inches. I bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer them until tender. Before adding them to a recipe, I drain and rinse them under cool, running water.

We're firm believers in the fact that little things can make a big impact. The quality and freshness of ingredients can take a simple dish from good to great. Sharing a treasured recipe with friends can creating lasting memories around the dinner table. And home appliances that are reliable and intuitive—like the induction slide-in range we used to make this recipe—can streamline getting dinner on the table, making your entire week less stressful. We've partnered with Bosch to celebrate these small but vital boosts in our day-to-day lives, with recipes, videos, and more.

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • JulieKay
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    Claudia D.
Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


JulieKay December 13, 2018
We purchased the slide in Bosch induction oven 2 years is amazing! Induction is by far the most superior way of cooking I have ever experienced! I was so surprised and please to see this recipe that highlighted this appliance!
Claudia D. November 28, 2018
This is one of my very favorite recipes from Gena's incredible book. So rich and satisfying! Thank you for sharing it.