Photos by (clockwise from top left) voxtheory, fotoosvanrobin, rick, and star5112/Flickr CC

To browse the recipes mentioned in this post, click here.

There's a space at the center of every plate in America where the meat goes. Unless, that is, you're a vegetarian like me or just a health- and ethics-conscious semitarian. What to do at the center of the plate can be challenging for the meat-eschewing food lover and downright intimidating when cooking for others.

The mainstream options for vegetarian entrées just aren't that appealing, and there seem few better ways to disappoint a date or drive down dinner party attendance than by replacing a juicy burger with a soggy portabello mushroom. Sure, there are ways to co-opt traditional meaty fare into meatless, which I've explored, but the recipes are often complex and time-consuming, if delicious.

There's a good reason most people think of tofu the same way they think of a trip to the dentist: healthy but dreaded.

To delight as well as nourish with a simple vegetarian entrée can sometimes feel less like a meal than an act of Spartan self-depravation, as if eating bland bean-based dishes were more about proving dedication to the cause rather than simple gustatory enjoyment. (There's a good reason most people think of tofu the same way they think of a trip to the dentist: healthy but dreaded.) But it doesn't have to be so. Here, I take the Rachel Ray formula for recipes that are delicious but also inexpensive and quick.

I've started with the staples of meatless center dishes--sponge-like portabello, little white cubes of tofu--and spiced them up a bit. Each is simple enough to be a quiet dinner on its own and is flavorful enough to be part of a more elaborate multi-course affair. What I love about these recipes is how easy they are, demonstrating that great vegetarian food doesn't require a lot of hoop-jumping. Click through to see five ways to solve the riddle of casual, interesting, fun vegetarian entrées. You won't even miss the meat.