Mid-century Meatless Recipes

This Lenten season, make over some classic 1950s recipes with a vegetarian twist.

Various meat-based lunch items

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Looking for a way to lighten up your dinners? These recipes, inspired by childhood classics, are simple to prepare and don’t sacrifice the flavor of the original version — only the meat.

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes
“Meat” loaf as it’s meant to be eaten: with mashed potatoes, greens, and a biscuit (Shutterstock)



  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 diced yellow onion (small)
  • 1 cup instant oats
  • ¾ cup cheese, shredded (try Cheddar Jack)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ c spaghetti sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • Small handful basil leaves, minced
  • ¼ tsp dried rosemary
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano or ½ tsp dried marjoram
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a standard loaf pan. Set aside. Simmer lentils in broth, covered, until soft (about 30 minutes). Drain and mash, leaving some lentils whole. Transfer to bowl. Let cool. Add onion, oats, cheese, egg, spaghetti sauce, and spices, and mix well. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes. The loaf should feel firm. Cool slightly before serving.

Serve with: mashed potatoes, green beans or broccoli, a buttermilk biscuit, and lots of mushroom gravy.

Vegan Shepard's Pie
Load your shepherd’s pie with veggies and cheese, and you won’t even miss the meat. (Shutterstock)

Shepherd’s Pie


  • 2 lbs potatoes (try Yukon gold)
  • ½ stick butter
  • Splash half-and-half
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 c brown lentils
  • 2 c vegetable broth
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 tsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup peas, shelled
  • ½ cup carrots, diced large
  • ½ cup corn kernels
  • ½ cup grated cheddar cheese


Preheat oven to 375. Grease a large casserole dish. Set aside. Cube and boil potatoes until tender. Drain. Combine with next four ingredients and mash until smooth. Set aside. Simmer lentils for about 30 minutes, covered, in vegetable broth. They should absorb all the broth. Let cool. Meanwhile, cook the onion over medium-low heat in an oiled pan, stirring constantly until transparent. Add garlic and stir. Combine lentils, onions and garlic in a large bowl with spices, sauces, and vegetables. Stir well until combined. Pour into casserole dish and top with even layer of mashed potatoes, then sprinkle with cheese. Cook covered with tinfoil about 20 minutes, then remove foil and allow cheese to brown, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Serve with: green salad with goat cheese and pears, glazed carrots, and roasted cauliflower.

Stir Fry vegetables
Tofu is a natural partner to this stir fry’s tangy sauce and veggies. (Shutterstock)

Stir Fry



  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup broth
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp honey, warmed in microwave*
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
  • ½ tsp rice vinegar (optional)

Stir Fry

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick coins
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 bell pepper (yellow, orange, or red), sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ cup snow peas
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Flour


A few hours before preparing, set tofu on a plate with a second plate on top. Stack a large book or several more plates on top to squeeze out excess water. When ready to cook, drain tofu and cube into bite-size pieces. Combine all sauce ingredients in a jar and shake until smooth. (If needed, you can whisk to remove cornstarch lumps.) Set aside. Take prepared tofu cubes and sprinkle lightly with flour. This helps tofu to form a good crust. Heat approximately 1 tbsp oil in large pan over medium heat and add tofu when oil is hot. Fry tofu until golden, flipping occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside. Add a little more oil to pan if needed and add vegetables in order listed, cooking each slightly (but not completely) before adding the next. Add sauce with garlic and stir until sauce is thickened. Add tofu and warm through. Remove from heat. Serve hot.

*When heating honey, do not put plastic bottle in microwave. Transfer honey into a glass or ceramic dish before heating.

Serve with: white or brown rice, garlic green beans, and spring rolls.

1936 meatloaf recipe
Some more Lenten meals from the late 1930s (Click to enlarge)

Any one of these dishes is best enjoyed around the dinner table with the whole family. And, of course, with a big glass of plain whole milk.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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