There are innumerable vegetarian cook books.
I think your question is a matter of perception/opinion though -- I'm thinking of a "spinach, corn, and nut raised pie", as an example of big, central (festive) dish; but you might view that as a meat pie with a nut-based substitute.
I became vegetarian as an untaught young adult, so I went though a phase of thinking as you do: i.e. that "a vegetarian diet is a diet without meat", which (attitude) emphasizes the lack of meat and the substitution of meat. Later (e.g. now) I never think of meat except for other people. On the subject of protein, I view any dish with legumes (beans or peas or lentils) as "the central dish" -- i.e. they are "the protein" and never "take a side role when a big protein comes into play".
You might get some satisfaction from regional cuisines of countries with a Buddhist culture (some schools of Buddhism prefer vegetarianism), i.e. East Asia (China, even Thailand, etc.). I think it's a American-Chinese dish (maybe I met it in Singapore too) that's made with tofu and named "Buddha's delight".
Or "falafel" is an example from the middle-east (which I like as a fast food, but too difficult to home-make because they're deep-fried).
Another possibility is South Indian cuisine. I think (perhaps wrongly, I'm no expert) that North Indian cuisine is Muslim-influenced and often includes meat, whereas South India is sort of natively vegetarian (though also including dairy products like yogurt, so not vegan).
Maybe it's like learning a new language. For example, initially I understand French by translating from English (like, you understand vegetarian cuisine from a carnivorous or omnivorous perspective). Later I understand French fluently without translation (without reference to English), like a native. You wrote, "Rice and beans, grilled vegetables, and salads, on the other hand, all take a side role when a big protein comes into play." If I go somewhere and they give me grilled vegetables and salads then I'm grateful that they're trying to "speak vegetarian". If there's a dish with legumes in then I take that as their being fluently vegetarian.
For example ...
"This photo of Le Commensal is courtesy of TripAdvisor"
... above is an example of a restaurant (now closed) which I considered as "natively" vegetarian. It did have meat substitutes (some people/customers like those), it also had for example what's probably a lentil dish in the foreground, next to the carrots (and a chickpea dish two to the left of that, and so on).
Don't be too hard on restaurants. I admit that "eating out" is one of the difficulties of being vegetarian or vegan, depending on the country.
In the UK for example, my memory of it is that it used to be (in the 1970s) that the selection of vegetarian fast food was either "fish-and-chips without the fish", or "rice-and-curry without the curry"! Now there's much more choice. I think, I guess, that about 10% of the population (in the UK) is vegetarian, which is too big for restaurants to ignore.
Consider this scenario: a party of several (family or friends) want to go out to dinner. Only one of them is vegetarian. They stop and look at a menu and, if there isn't even a single vegetarian dish, then the whole party goes somewhere else. I guess it's for this reason that almost every restaurant in the UK now seems to offer at least one vegetarian selection.
Now consider the opposite scenario: a party of vegetarians with one carnivore (a guest) want to go out. If the (vegetarian) restaurant doesn't offer even one thing for the carnivore then the whole party must go elsewhere. I imagine (pure speculation on my part) that this is a reason why even an all-vegetarian restaurant offers a simulated meat dish (a "Boeuf Bourguignon" with fake beef, for example).