Checking In

Hello! I am alive!

…which sounds dramatic and/or flippant, but given that my most recent post basically said, “We’re still in the middle of the pandemic, and also I HAVE CANCER,” it is, perhaps, a necessary clarification.

So, yes. I am alive. I am on the other side of two lumpectomy surgeries, one sentinel node biopsy, two mediport placements/removals (because the incision for one of them didn’t heal and I needed to get it replaced), four rounds of T/C chemo, 19 rounds of radiation, and countless blood draws/pokes/proddings/various scans. It sounds like a fucking lot when I list it out like that, and, well it was. It’s been a rough seven months since I last posted. But. I am alive.

We got a cat! We started fostering Mattie in May of 2020 and adopted her earlier this year. She’s been a real light in the middle of so much darkness.

I probably should’ve checked in here sooner, if only to tell y’all that I’ve been blogging my way through my ~cAnCeR jOuRnEy~ over here. I began that blog when I found out I’d need chemo, and it’s been immensely helpful—not only to keep all my family and friends updated from afar, but also to work my way through the complex and often overwhelming thoughts and emotions that come along with a cancer diagnosis.

It’s also become a surprisingly meaningful and evocative chronicle for me; I’ve tried to capture so much of the experience in sensory detail, because I don’t want to forget it. Which maybe sounds counterintuitive—so many people, upon hearing of my diagnosis, would react with something like the following: “My wish for you is that you’ll be able to finish treatment and move on and forget this ever happened.” To which I say: FAT FUCKING CHANCE. This is a huge, massive, unforgettable and ongoing part of my life. Breast cancer is a sneaky beast; even though I have done everything my doctors recommended to remove cancer cells from my body, there is never a guarantee that they’re all gone—which is why I’ll be on hormone therapy for 5-10 years to starve out any remaining microscopic disease that’s hanging out hidden somewhere. Even if I wanted to forget, the daily pills and monthly injections wouldn’t let me. And again… I don’t want to forget. I want to look back and read old posts and think, “Wow, you DID that. You did.”

Anyway. Between the writing I’ve been doing for blog #2 and the writing I do for work, I haven’t really felt like writing for this poor ol’ blog. Plus, this is nominally a food blog, and… I have been doing almost zero cooking. Steven does it all, Earth angel that he is. I didn’t have the energy to review the takeout we ordered during the height of the pandemic; chemo gave me weird food aversions; the list of reasons I didn’t/don’t feel like blogging here goes on. (I still can’t eat broccoli or homemade seitan, even two months post-chemo. I also cannot stand the smell of a certain style of freshly baked bread. Thinking about all three of those food items still makes me queasy. THANKS, CHEMO.)

Food blogging just doesn’t appeal to me the way it did once upon a time. I still read lots of food blogs, but I just don’t have the energy for it myself. So, realistically, it’s gonna stay quiet around here. But! I post on Instagram pretty frequently, and I’ll probably be writing over at the new blog every so often. Follow along there—I’d love to have you.

So, farewell for now. Wishing y’all safe, happy, and healthy months to come. :)


Dispatches from Lockdown, Part Two: 2020 Strikes Again

Hey, hi, hello. I last wrote in July, four months into Ye Olde Pandemicke, with a little 30,000-foot overview of my life at that point. Five months later, and what has changed? Well… not very much. And also, a whole freaking lot.

Literally the only place I go these days, other than doctor’s offices and my backyard.

We are still working from home. We are still hardcore isolating. We are still watching as selfish jerks at every level of normal society and government screw things up for the rest of us by pretending things are hunky-dory and they can hang out with friends and not wear a mask and go to bars and have big ol’ holiday parties and also not provide any consistent guidance or stimulus money or rent relief or eviction protection (or, I don’t know, literally any kind of intervention) to the millions of struggling Americans who are barely keeping it together. So here we are in December, cases are spiking, and we’ve collectively decided, Oh well, nothing to be done now. Let them eat cake (maskless, of course). The most we can do is hold on and hope that come inauguration day, we’ll swear in a new president who will display some leadership and accountability, two concepts that have utterly disappeared from the federal government (and many state governments!) in the past four years.

Meanwhile—and this is the crappiest meanwhile, so prepare yourself—SOME OF US are staring down unexpected health crises and would RATHER NOT have to face our local hospitals becoming overwhelmed by holiday-induced COVID cases and shutting their doors temporarily.

Because on top of this being a giant flaming turd of a year, my own damn body decided she had to make up for a history of robust health and inflict upon me the big ol’ C-word. Yes, that C-word. I have cancer! At 33! When I am otherwise in possibly the best physical shape of my life! COOL!

It’s breast cancer. I caught it early. My surgeon is hopeful I will avoid chemo and only need surgery and radiation. It still—to put it mildly—sucks.

Cancer in the middle of a pandemic looks like this: Virtual appointments whenever possible. Texting “HERE” to office staff when I’m in the parking lot and waiting to be let in. Providers wearing masks during procedures that normally wouldn’t require masks, so that I can’t see the full faces of the kind nurses and techs who are soothing me when I start shaking so hard toward the end of a procedure they think I might fall off the table. Hard conversations with my surgeon, where she tells me that back in March, local hospitals started canceling all “nonessential” surgeries and she had to fight to get her cancer patients in for surgery. The utter terror that if I catch COVID, I can’t get scheduled for surgery or treatment until I’m good and healthy again. (You know, healthy BESIDES that rogue clump of mutated cells that’s currently Muahahahing inside me…)

Cancer in the middle of a pandemic means not seeing my family for Christmas for the first time in my life. (OK, to be fair, we probably would not have traveled for the holidays anyway, given the rise in cases. But… I can still blame cancer!) It means telling my parents they couldn’t come visit me when I was first diagnosed, because they have some contact with the outside world and I just couldn’t expose myself. It means not seeing anybody at all, ever, for the foreseeable future, even though friends near and far want to shower me with hugs and love and support.

Insert metaphor about friends being like lampposts? guiding my way?!

Cancer in the middle of a pandemic also looks like a huge, immeasurable, beautiful shower of love in the form of home-cooked meals, flowers, cozy socks, maple candies, and bath bombs. It looks like a generous gift card to a meal delivery service from colleagues. It looks like postal workers probably thinking I have a shopping addiction as they drop off package after package of treats and goodies and little gifts from beloved friends and family who want me to know that, even though they’re not here-here, they’re here. It looks like texts and video chats and emails that give me the time and space to say as much or as little as I want, that distract me and allow me the opportunity to vent. It looks like new connections with friends of friends, women who also faced the ol’ C-word too young and are all too familiar with the tough choices you have to make when you’re diagnosed in your 30s.

It looks like Steven becoming, somehow, even more selfless and caring than I already knew he was. It looks like me never having to wash a single goddamn dish or make a single goddamn meal, because he doesn’t mind doing it and he knows it lightens my load. It looks like him whipping up a bathtub tray out of scrap wood because I’ve suddenly discovered baths and I need somewhere to put my book and my candle and my tea while I’m soaking in steaming water for an hour or more in the middle of a Sunday. It looks like us against the world, but not in an adversarial way. (But also totally in an adversarial way if we’re talking about anti-maskers and science-deniers.)

Don’t get me wrong: You will never, ever, ever hear me saying that “everything happens for a reason” or that I’m grateful (???) for my cancer because it realigned my priorities or put things in perspective or taught me courage or whatthefuckever. I mean, it might very well do those things, but that doesn’t mean I have to be thankful for it. Pretty sure I could’ve found perspective without the life-threatening illness, thanks. But what I’m saying here is that while cancer in a pandemic is, like, the ultimate, most craptastic (and somehow most fitting) 2020 surprise I could imagine, I can choose to focus on the little scraps of good it reveals. I’m not searching desperately for a “reason” this happened; I’m not railing at fate for bestowing this unwelcome and unreturnable gift upon me. I’m just saying, hey, this sucks, but at least I’m not in this alone. At least I’ve got my people, and my pets. And that’s something to hold onto, in this utterly unrelenting joke of a year.

Whatever you’re facing, I hope you, too, have something to hold onto.

Cooking from Cans: Pigeon Peas and Coconut Rice

How often do you use the recipes on the boxes and cans in your pantry? I don’t do it very often. But as I was poking through my stash of canned beans, I noticed an appealing recipe on a can of coconut milk: Gungo (Pigeon) Peas and Rice. I had a can of pigeon peas; I obviously had the coconut milk; I had rice… so why not try it?!

In retrospect, choosing to make this rather heavy dish — which required 45 minutes on the stovetop (with me stirring and testing the rice frequently) and which is best eaten hot — on an 83˚F day was perhaps not my finest move. I blame my caffeine-addled brain; slightly jittery from too much cold brew and too few carbs, I clearly lacked some key critical thinking skills. No matter; a little sweat never hurt anyone. Anyway, this came together relatively easily in one pot and required minimal dishes  for preparation — just a cutting board, a can opener, and a measuring cup for the water/broth and the rice. The result? Not bad! Perhaps a little simplistic in flavor, but it’s probably because I had to make quite a few substitutions. Specifically, I:

  • Used brown rice in place of “Grace Rice,” which I can only assume is white rice.
  • Replaced the escallion (!) with a few rather anemic scallions I’ve been regrowing in water for a few weeks.
  • Opted for dry thyme rather than fresh, because I didn’t have fresh.
  • Used garlic-ginger paste rather than fresh garlic and ginger, because I was lazy.
  • Added a teaspoon of dried allspice rather than pimento berries (!).
  • Used a mysterious hot pepper (grown from seeds my dad bought in India!) rather than the Scotch bonnet.

So, yes. Given that rather extensive list of substitutions — most of which replaced flavorful fresh ingredients with, um, less flavorful and less fresh ingredients — it’s no surprised that my rice wasn’t terrifically flavorful! It was not bad at all, though, especially when I added some lime juice. (It was missing an acidic element, in my opinion!)

For the curious, the recipe is here. I also recommend scrolling through the Grace Foods produce list — I enjoyed seeing all the Jamaican and Caribbean favorites, especially this amusingly-named “Grace Food Drink.”

(If you’re curious, here’s the “chicken” broth I used (affiliate link!). Better than Bouillon is killer!)

Kala Chana Quinoa Sundal | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Six

Week One: Inspiration Week
This week is all about using different things as your inspiration for great food.

I didn’t actually intend to make nearly the entirety of this week’s MoFo posts India-themed. In fact, I have a post inspired by a wholly different country ready to go, but I keep pushing it back because I can’t stop making Indian food!

Thus, tonight’s dinner: sundal. Sundal is a South Indian recipe, though not one we tried during our visit. But Vaishali’s spin on the dish adds North Indian kala chana, or black chickpeas, and a bit of a fusion twist by mixing the kala chana with quinoa. (I recommend reading Vaishali’s blog post about the recipe for a really interesting deep-dive into the dish and the holiday where you’re likely to find it!) I don’t quite remember how I stumbled on the recipe, but it looked like just the thing for an early September dinner. I love big-batch recipes you can then use as leftovers for lunch!

I originally thought I’d use plain old chickpeas rather than the kala chana, but since I needed some other ingredients from the shop, I asked Steven to pick up dried kala chana at Global Foods, our local world cuisine market. Alas, I should’ve also asked him to find fresh curry leaves, but I totally forgot, so this dish is admittedly even less authentic than it should be! I omitted the zucchini and subbed carrots instead, and augmented the green peppers with some purple peppers from the farmers market. I used frozen grated coconut (which is a total beast to handle, let me tell you) and some rogue mint that sprouted in the herb garden. It was filling and quite healthful, but I think I need to make it with the curry leaves; most of the seasonings got lost and all I could really taste were the black chickpeas. Next time!

The Two Leaf-Free Easy Vegan Salads I’m Loving this Summer

I say this every year, but: I can’t get enough summer produce. Warm tomatoes right off the vine, crisp green beans with a satisfying snap, juicy peaches and nectarines and berries… whether it comes from my local farmers market or my own backyard, summer produce is a treat to be savored.

Cherry tomatoes from the garden in a blue basket

Our farmers market is tiny. But among the three produce vendors, the two bakery stalls (including one with vegan cookies!), the brewer, the vintner, and the coffee roaster, it gets the job done. (We won’t mention the butcher’s stall. I try not to look at it.) The first two summers after we moved into our house, I had a sweet Saturday morning routine of getting up and walking to the market. It’s less than a mile away, so even during the hottest and most humid of summer days, it was manageable. Sometimes I’d treat myself to a cookie and an iced coffee (back when Brewing Good exhibited at the market). This summer, the routine has changed a bit — I visit a hospice patient every Saturday morning, so I just stop by the market on my drive home — but the joy I get in wandering the stalls and watching the offerings change with the season hasn’t diminished.

Nor, of course, has my sheer pleasure in devouring fresh produce. It’s been a hot, hot summer, so Steven and I have enjoyed a fair few stove- and oven-free meals. Simple salads were a staple side dish earlier in the season, but now that lettuce isn’t as readily available from our market vendors, we’ve switched to some lettuce-free summer salads that still make use of all that juicy produce. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed.


Bread in salad: A genius pairing, or the most genius pairing? Plenty of cultures have their own take on transforming stale bread into soup or salad, and I’m here for it! I’ve been making my own bread since I got a sourdough starter from a friend in the spring, and occasionally my loaves get a bit dry before we have time to finish them. (Clearly we’re doing something wrong.) Enter panzanella! We’ve enjoyed a few spins on the dish, but my favorite actually didn’t include regular bread at all.

Falafel Fattoush from Real Food, Really FastInstead, it used… pita bread! This is the Falafel Fattoush (p. 99)  from Real Food, Really Fast, an ingenious cookbook by Hannah Kaminsky of BitterSweet Blog. She’s put together a collection of creative and satisfying dishes you can prepare in 10 minutes or less, with lots of tricks and hacks to allow for these speedy suppers. I keep intending to use Real Food Really Fast as my cookbook of the month, but we’ve been cooking from lots of sources this summer and I haven’t used it exclusively enough to feature. But everything I’ve made from the book has been spot-on, even if it’s taken me more more than 10 minutes to prepare some of them! (I’m not usually in a major rush, so I don’t mind taking my time.)

Hannah describes the Falafel Fattoush as an “herbaceous Middle Eastern panzanella,” but whatever you call it, it’s delightful. Featuring toasted pita shreds, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and herbs along with lemon juice and lots of spices, the dish is an unquestionable winner. It’s surprisingly filling, too — I had to finish Steven’s portion!

No copy of Real Food, Really Fast on your cookbook shelf? No worries. Here are a few other panzanella recipes that have caught my eye this summer. (Although I really do recommend Real Food, Really Fast — I’ve loved everything I’ve made from it!)

  • This Fattoush Lebanese Salad from Kalyn’s Kitchen looks like a decent alternative to Hannah’s recipe, although this one does require lettuce.
  • I looove the idea of including fancy olives in a panzanella, so this recipe looks delightful!
  • Sweet summer corn and juicy summer peaches are two of my favorite farmers market finds, but I have yet to eat them together. Enter this recipe, which makes that combination possible!
Tajín-Spiced Simple Veggie Salads

Do you ever buy a cucumber (or pick one from your garden) and then think, What is even the point of cucumbers, besides putting them in dainty teatime sandwiches? Yes, me too. You can’t really cook with them, so they must be eaten raw. (My old roommate and I once tried braising a cucumber. I do not recommend it.) Yet all too frequently I find myself with a slowly softening cucumber in the produce drawer, its increasingly pockmarked skin an indictment of my rash purchase.

WELL. Imagine my delight when this article from Food52 showed up in my feed, touting the deliciousness of a simple cucumber salad with a “magic spice blend.” And imagine my further delight when I read that the magic spice blend is “not unlike cucumbers with Tajín” and recalled that, just a few months prior, a coworker had returned from a trip to Mexico with small bottles of Tajín and handed them out to us, and that I — sadly ignorant of the magic that is Tajín (and also unable to open the plastic cap) — had stowed the bottle in my spice drawer for future use. So, inspired by the article (and newly able to open the Tajín), I made a super-simple cucumber salad that was, quite literally, just sliced cucumbers and Tajín.


If you, too, have spent your life devoid of the magic that is Tajín, let me enlighten you. Per the Tajín website, it is a “unique seasoning made with … mild chili peppers, lime, and sea salt.” (You can find a DIY recipe here.) I’m in love with it. It’s the perfect addition to pretty much any vegetable, from simple sliced cucumbers to sweet roasted corn on the cob.

But I digress. My point is to say that chopped veggies + Tajín have become my new favorite leaf-free summer salad. Inspired by this kachumber recipe from Vegan Richa, I used all the veggies plus Tajín and had myself an absolutely delicious spicy summer salad. I cannot recommend this combination highly enough! If you want to incorporate more raw veggies in your summer suppers, adding Tajín is the way to go.


So… what are your favorite lettuce-free summer salads?


Note: This post contains affiliate links, which help me keep the lights on.

A Very Isa Thanksgiving

Happy Tuesday, friends! Before we get too deep into the holiday season, I thought I’d share a quick recap of my very tasty — and shockingly stress-free — Thanksgiving. But first, a few housekeeping notes:

  • A sincere thank you to everyone who commented on my post about losing my cooking mojo. It seemed to resonate with quite a few of you! I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, but I did feel relieved to realize that I’m not the only one who gets worn down with meal prep. On my end, Steven is still going strong with the cooking (and cleaning). A few recent highlights included a creamy tomato-basil bisque with GARLIC BREAD GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES! on the side; tacos with TVP chorizo, spicy black beans, cheese sauce, avocado, and a tangy slaw; and a super comforting samosa soup. I even roused myself to make a mid-afternoon snack on Sunday: poutine! Featuring store-bought waffle fries, Steven’s homemade cheese sauce, and a quick brown gravy I whipped up. I’ve never had poutine — vegan or otherwise — and I suspect a cheese sauce isn’t the best choice, but it was still a decadent delight.
  • Second, a gentle reminder to check out my Q&A with Nancy Lawson, aka the Humane Gardener. The book giveaway closes at the end of this week and is open to everyone!, Thanksgiving! Spoiler: We rocked it! Steven’s mom and stepdad came for dinner, and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy our animal-free spread. In the name of simplicity, I had the genuinely good idea to cook all our sides from a single source: Isa’s fabulous The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook: Entertaining for Absolutely Every Occasion cookbook. I don’t own it, but I do own a library card! Here’s what we made — and how it all turned out.

  • Creamy whipped potatoes, p. 341. This recipe employs an immersion blender to whip up cashew cream with tender russet potatoes for an ultra-rich and creamy side. They were quite tasty, but Steven (who handled this recipe) said that the immersion blender wasn’t quite up to the task. I didn’t notice too many lumps, but the taters also weren’t particularly creamy.
  • Green bean casserole, p. 346. This classic dish was actually never a staple in my family’s Thanksgiving spread, but Steven’s a fan, so we decided to include it. YUM. Mushroom-y, creamy, bean-y goodness, all topped with Trader Joe’s fried onions. Perfection!
  • Caramelized onion and cauliflower casserole, p. 330. Oh dear. This did not turn out. I know my proportions weren’t quite right (my tofu block was a few ounces larger than called for, and I didn’t have quite enough cauli for the topping), but I don’t think that’s entirely to blame. We just didn’t care for the texture of the casserole base, which was kind of mousse-y and unexpected. The flavors were also a bit off, a little too acidic and just generally not enjoyable. Alas!
  • Orange-scented cranberry sauce, p. 344. You cannot go wrong with homemade cranberry sauce. If you’re still eating the jellied stuff from the can, I encourage you to try making it yourself! It’s a no-fail process and the results are so tasty. Isa’s recipe was, of course, delicious. Tangy and zippy and the perfect topping for a plate piled high with savory goodness.

Vegan Thanksgiving plate

We also cooked up a Trader Joe’s vegan roast as the main and found it quite tasty. This roast is, somewhat bizarrely, breaded! I was dubious, but it actually worked quite well. This roast was tasty, juicy, and affordable! We also picked up some store-bought stuffing mix; I think it was Pepperidge Farm. Call me uncultured, but I don’t want fancy homemade stuffing on Thanksgiving: I want the kind that comes in a bag and is salty and savory and comforting. Same goes with the rolls: We got Wegmans-brand crescent rolls and have #noregrets.

On the homemade front, I stirred up a big ol’ batch of gravy using a C’est La Vegan recipe that doesn’t appear to be online anymore. (I was working from a printed recipe my mama keeps on hand — she sent me a photo of it.) I added lots of poultry spice and a (not so) secret ingredient for umami deliciousness: Gravy Master! My mom has an ancient bottle of this delightfully retro browning sauce that comes out every Thanksgiving, and to me, gravy just isn’t the same without it. It’s accidentally vegan, so I picked up a little bottle of my own this year.

Vegan Thanksgiving appetizersFor dessert, our guests brought two vegan pies (apple and pumpkin) from Roots, our favorite local/ independent grocer, and I made a cranberry-orange loaf that isn’t worth mentioning — it was too sweet, and the orange was barely detectable. Oh well! Our guests also brought appetizers: samosas, crackers, rolled-up Tofurky slices, and a wheel of Miyoko’s cheese. Perfect for snacking while I wrapped up all the cooking.

In terms of said cooking, everything went eerily smoothly. No burnt roast, no lumpy gravy, no messes. I credit my obsessive levels of preparation: Steven and I chopped, diced, and prepared nearly all our ingredients the night before; I even blended up all the creamy elements for the various dishes (the cashew cream for the potatoes; the creamy sauce for the green bean casserole). That meant all I really had to do was bring it all together on Thanksgiving day. We ate almost exactly at 3:00 pm as planned, everything was hot, and I felt bizarrely relaxed sitting down to dinner. I’m not complaining!

I also had a brilliant idea for holiday breakfast: a massive, protein-rich smoothie that you can drink throughout your entire food prep process! It’s a quick, healthy meal that will keep you full until it’s time to overdose on savory sides. (Although I made a peanut butter-banana-chocolate-oat smoothie, so the “healthy” descriptor is arguable.)

So, all in all, a very successful Thanksgiving with LOTS of leftovers for Steven and me… and a reminder that even omnivores can enjoy a meat-free Thanksgiving. No turkeys need be harmed in the making of your belly-filling dinner!

An Improved Catered Meal | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Four

VeganMoFo 2017

Week One: Changing Vegan Perspectives
Catering: Improve on the worst catered meal (wedding, party, conference, etc)
you’ve been served.

When it comes to catered events, I’ve been pretty lucky: The majority of the weddings, conferences, and other food-featuring events I’ve attended had at least one respectable vegan option on offer. Chalk it up to a combination of thoughtful friends and a real lack of conference-going on my part. (The only conference I’ve been to in recent memory took place in Seattle, and the organizers made sure there were quite a few vegan dishes for lunch. They were tasty, too — see photos below!)

It’s completely possible I’m just blocking out a particularly woeful meal from my memory, but my candidate for worst catered meal is pretty benign: a boring salad, potatoes roasted in margarine, and rolls. Certainly not exciting, but not horrifying. If I had to recreate that meal, I’d make the potatoes my main dish — perhaps as part of my spicy potato and tofu chorizo casserole? Adding tofu would provide protein, making this a filling meal.

Spicy Potato Casserole with Tofu Chorizo

Truthfully, if I were eating this at home, I’d eat it alone. But in this remade catered meal, I suppose I’d have to add a few side dishes. Mirroring the lackluster meal mentioned previously, I’d pair the casserole with some homemade dinner rolls — maybe Vaishali’s pull-apart multigrain rolls? — and a simple side salad. How about a nice hearty kale salad dressed with the the classic lemon-tahini dressing from Oh She Glows?

I guess I’m not too sad I don’t have more to say for this prompt. If I did, it would speak to a sad history of sad catered meals. But I can’t wait to see what everyone else shares!




A Better Batch Winner!

Hello, all! Just popping in to announce the winner of last week’s cookie giveaway. Thanks for all your comments, but alas — there can be only one. The winner of the box of cookies from A Better Batch is A.J., who said:

Mm the chocolate chip cookies look amazing! Great post!

A.J., I’ll be emailing you shortly to get your mailing address.

Thanks for entering, everyone!

Coming soon!

Hello, lovelies! Just dropping by to let you know what’s in store in the next month. I know I’ve been quiet lately, but I’ve been plotting and planning some great things to share.

Vegan digestive biscuits

+ A brand-new recipe for vegan digestive biscuits (seen above). These are perfect for healthy snacking!
+ An interview and giveaway (!) from A Better Batch, a DC-based vegan bakery run by a super-sweet couple.
+ More vegan travel reviews, tips, and tricks. (I’m heading to Vienna and Prague for the next week and a half, so I’ll be back with lots of goodies to share!)

Thanks for reading!

How to Make Lentil Soup Without a Recipe

lentil soup template

As the DC area grimly prepares for its first blizzard of the season (and, really, our first significant snowfall of the season!), I’m positively gleeful about the impending weather. It weirds me out that we’ve made it halfway through January without snow, and I’m ready to get snowed in. I’ve got good books, good coffee, and good soup to see me through.

Call me plain, but I love a solid lentil soup. I don’t know the last time I’ve used a recipe to make one, though; I usually see what I’ve got in the fridge and the pantry and go from there. And my blizzard batch is no exception. It’s chock-full of add-ins: carrots, celery, potatoes, kale, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, and more. I thought it might be fun to share a modular, customizable template for making lentil soup for those times when you don’t want to follow a recipe but do want a little guidance.

Following this template is pretty simple. I’ve divided the ingredients into different sections and indicated how many items from each section you should choose. You can, of course, add more or less depending on what’s in your pantry — this is just a guide. But by sticking to ingredients from each section, you should end up with a hearty, filling soup with diverse textures and flavors. Note that the white wine is highly recommended but not essential. The same goes for most ingredients. Your soup won’t be ruined if you don’t have celery, and the measurements are just suggestions. Be flexible, play with the template, and enjoy.


One-Pot Lentil Soup (a Template)
Serves 4-6

The basics (use all)

  • 1 T olive oil (you can use more if you prefer, or even just water-sauté the mirepoix if you want to avoid added oil)
  • Mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, and celery — the amounts don’t really matter, but aim for about 1/2 cup of each)
  • 3-5 cloves minced garlic
  • Low-sodium vegetable broth (3-4 cups, depending on how soup-y vs. stew-y you want it to be)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried green or brown lentils
  •  1/3 cup dry white wine

The veggies (choose 2-3)

  • 1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium golden potatoes, diced into 1/2” cubes
  • 1-2 cups canned diced tomatoes (use the juice, too)
  • 2 cups kale, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups baby spinach

The additional protein (choose 1)

  • 1/2 cup Beyond Meat chicken, shredded gently
  • 1/2 cup soy curls
  • 1/2 cup vegan beef chunks, chopped if too large
  • 2 vegan sausages, sliced into rounds and cut in half (sautéed ahead of time, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • Additional 1/2 cup lentils

The spices (choose 1 blend or make your own)

  • Basic blend
    • 1 T nutritional yeast
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp paprika (smoked or sweet)
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • “Beef stew” blend
    • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ginger
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp allspice
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Curry blend
    • 1 T curry powder
    • 1 tsp garam masala
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • Salt and pepper to taste

To start, heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on medium. When it begins to shimmer, add the mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery) and garlic. Heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing burns, until the onion is translucent.

Add your spice blend and give everything a good stir, then add the veggies to the pot UNLESS you’re using kale, spinach, or another green. Hold those till later. Add the lentils (including the additional half cup, if using) and the quinoa, if using. Stir everything again and then add your broth. The broth should cover all your ingredients with about an extra inch of liquid.

Bring everything to a boil, give it a good stir, and then turn it down to low. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Around the 30 minute mark, add your protein (unless you’re using quinoa or additional lentils) and greens, if using. Add more broth or water, if necessary. Give everything a good stir and cook for another 15 minutes.

After 15 more minutes, check the soup to see if the lentils and potatoes (if using) are soft. At this point, you can also taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. You could also add more liquid if you want it soupier. Simmer for longer if necessary.

When all ingredients are cooked to your taste, add the white wine. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and then serve.


What kind of meals do you like to create off the cuff? Would a template for something else be helpful?