How to Make Vegan Minestrone: Easy and Pantry-Friendly!

A quiet sort of chaos reigns in my household these days. We’ve been fostering a super sweet hound mix named Margaret for four (!) months, and she’s got all sorts of fun little health issues that keep cropping up. The latest? Polyps in both ears, requiring an expensive, complex surgery. As the rescue tries to find a surgeon who’ll offer a discount, they’re fundraising to mitigate the (substantial!) cost of the surgery. (Margaret isn’t in pain, by the way, but the polyps are causing chronic ear infections and could become malignant. She is truly the gentlest, sweetest little girl, though, and I hope an adopter steps up soon.)

For the last two weeks, we’ve also been dealing with a (human) health crisis on Steven’s side of the family. The details aren’t mine to share, but we (mostly Steven!) have been making lots of long trips to the hospital and dealing with the uncertainty of a potentially serious affliction. It’s been draining and scary and exhausting.

And on top of all that, our beloved Prius started making some seriously odd noises — like a prop plane taking off. Our mechanic thinks it’s caused by low tire treads and hasn’t been able to find anything more serious, but as someone who deals with car-related anxiety, the noises leave me discomfited.

Basically, we’ve got a lot of ongoing, unresolved issues. For two chronic worriers prone to anxiety, it’s… stressful.

In times like these, healthy eating tends to fall by the wayside, even for the best of us. We haven’t meal-planned in weeks, grocery trips have taken a backseat to hospital trips, and we’ve been relying on a combination of leftovers, whatever we can scrounge (hey-o, random pot of black-eyed peas, kale, and pizza sauce!), and the occasional dinner shared by our super thoughtful friends who happen to be vegan and live just down the street. Things are finally getting back to normal, but we’re not quite back in our regular meal-planning mode yet.

Collard leaves from the gardenI have managed to make one solid meal in the past couple weeks, though: minestrone. A steaming hot, big ol’ pot of veggie-laden soup, perfect for delivering a dose of the nutrients we’re sorely lacking. I put it together with all sorts of scraps found in the fridge — half a jar of canned tomato sauce from god knows when, baby carrots, a jar of roasted red peppers, some sad little garlic cloves beginning to shrivel and sprout. I didn’t have celery, so I forewent the traditional mirepoix base. I added some little collard leaves picked from the garden; thank goodness for cold-hardy vegetables! Green beans and broccoli — the only fresh veggies in the fridge — went into the pot, along with a small can of diced tomatoes and a big can of cannellini beans. A liberal dusting of herbs, plenty of nooch, and some veggie bouillon rounded out the flavors, and elbow macaroni provided the pasta component. A nice long simmer while Steven drove home from his hospital visit helped meld all the flavors, and we sat down to big bowls of surprisingly delicious soup two Sundays back. A brief moment to catch our breaths, and much appreciated.

So, today, in the style of my template for making lentil soup, a template for making minestrone with whatever you’ve got on hand. Start with these five tips for homemade minestrone, and then read on for more detailed instructions

Cook your pasta separately.

My texture issues might be speaking here, but who wants to eat leftover soup laden with soggy, bloated pasta? Avoid that nastiness by cooking your pasta separately (in bulk) and adding individual portions to each serving of minestrone.

Embrace liberalism (with your seasonings).

Do not skimp on the herbs! Big scoops of dried basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme make all the difference. I’d opt for at least one teaspoon of each herb per 3-4 cups of liquid, but don’t sweat the measurements.

Say yes to yeast.

A big scoop of nutritional yeast adds a funky kick you’d get from parmesan in a non-vegan minestrone. Don’t skip it!

Get creative with your veggies.

Do not feel beholden to traditional minestrone recipes that “suggest” a very particular blend of vegetables! Instead, feel free to add whatever’s in your fridge or freezer. Aim for a blend of veggies with different sizes and shapes to keep things interesting.

Take your time.

Tempting thought you might find it to dig in to your minestrone as soon as you’ve dumped all the ingredients in the pot, give it some time to rest! Simmer your soup for at least an hour to build and deepen your flavors. (If you’re using any veggies that are prone to sogginess, feel free to add them closer to serving time.)

Vegan minestrone soup // govegga.com
One-Pot Vegan Minestrone

Serves 4-6

The basics

  • 2 T olive oil (you can use more if you prefer, or even just water-sauté the veggies if you want to avoid added oil)
  • Diced onion, carrot, and celery (the amounts don’t really matter, but aim for about 1/2 cup of each)
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • A small shake red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3-4 cups vegetable broth (I like Better than Bouillon)
  • 14 ounces diced canned tomatoes (if using whole, smash them up a bit)
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes (optional but recommended; use 8 ounces tomato sauce and a little extra broth in a pinch)
  • 14 ounces cannellini beans (or other white beans)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 ounces small pasta, like ditalini or elbows

The veggies (choose 2-3)

  • 1/2 to 1 cup green beans, ends trimmed and sliced into 3/4″ inch pieces
  • 1/2 to 1 cup small broccoli florets
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
  • Additional 1/2 cup sliced carrots
  • 2 cups greens, roughly chopped (kale, collards, spinach)
Method

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 spices and give everything a good stir, then add all remaining ingredients except pasta. Bring everything to a boil, give it a good stir, and then turn it down to low. Let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the soup is simmering, cook your pasta according to the package’s instructions, then set aside.

After about 45 minutes, check to ensure that all veggies are nice and tender. Season with salt, pepper, and more nutritional yeast to taste. Serve piping hot, with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cooked pasta per bowl. Top with additional nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan as desired.

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How to make vegan minestrone soup // govegga.com
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Template for an Enticing Salad | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Eight

VeganMoFo 2017

Week One: Changing Vegan Perspectives
You do make friends with salad: A salad to win anyone’s heart.

Colorful rainbow saladEarlier this summer, I had a bit of a salad revelation. It is, perhaps, a bit embarrassing that it took nearly eight years of veganism for me to realize that you can make a salad with LITERALLY ANYTHING YOU WANT. Limiting yourself to raw vegetables only? How provincial. Throw in some roasted veg, some beans, some crispy chickpeas… there are no rules! Limiting yourself to a particular set of flavors is also unnecessary — you can mix and match flavors with abandon. Make every bite a surprise!

So today I present to you an extremely loose template for creating a salad that both empties your fridge and leaves you full. Customize it according to your tastes and available veggies (or… fruits?! Get crazy!) and munch away. Salads aren’t just for bunnies anymore.

Template for a Super-Filling Salad

Serves 2

  • Greens (a few large handfuls): baby spinach, arugula, baby kale, romaine, mesclun… heck, even iceberg if you’re desperate!
  • Raw veggies (choose 2-4): sliced carrots, chopped tomatoes, shredded cabbage, sliced mushrooms, chopped peppers, thinly sliced radishes, diced avocado, edamame, sliced cucumber, chopped celery (not recommended, but acceptable if you’re desperate to get rid of it)
  • Roasted veggies (choose 1-2; optional but recommended): squash (delicata would be lovely), eggplant (I used cute Turkish eggplants in the salad shown above), cauliflower, sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, corn kernels, diced beets
  • Protein (choose 1-2): cubed and marinated tofu, crispy roasted/sauteed chickpeas, crumbled veggie burger, Beyond Meat (or other) chicken shreds, crumbled tempeh, beans
  • Something sweet (choose 1; optional): dried cranberries, dried cherries, candied pecans/walnuts/other nuts, thinly sliced peaches/apples/pears, fresh berries
  • Crunchy topping (choose 1): hemp/sunflower/pumpkin seeds, croutons, extra-crispy roasted chickpeas, chopped nuts
  • Dressing (choose 1): classic olive oil + vinegar/lemon, Green Goddess, spicy almond (or peanut) butterCaesar, lemon-tahini, turmeric-ginger

Basically, do whatever the heck you want when it comes to salad. And let me know your favorite combinations — I’m looking for inspiration!

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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.

lentil_soup_template

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.

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