Slim Pickins Lentil Veggie Soup

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Posted on Apr 16, 2014 in Food

lentil soup

I’m usually pretty good about menu planning, which means that we almost always have something yummy on the docket for dinner throughout the week. And usually, before we run really low on groceries, I make another menu and head out to the store. But every now and again, life gets in the way (for all of us, right?), and I don’t end up getting to the store before our menu is “out”.  And that’s when I hit up some of my favorite pantry recipes. And this soup is one of those staples—even if our fridge is almost empty and the pantry is looking sad, we almost always can scrape together enough stuff to make a big pot of this vegetarian soup.

lentil soup

I love this soup because it’s kinda impossible to mess up. I have a basic combo of spices and veggies down in the recipe, but really, you can experiment, add and change this recipe without worry of messing it up. And that’s what makes it such a good recipe for when the groceries are dwindling. Add more peppers, put in beans, add some spinach, throw in a handful of rice, add some sliced mushrooms, toss in a bag of mixed veggies—it’s pretty much always going to turn out. Which makes this not only a great dish for when your kitchen isn’t full-stocked, but also for cleaning out a fridge that is stocked with some not-so-perfect produce. In fact, I save our sad little baby celery stalks (you know, the ones from the middle of the bunch that are mostly leaves) just for using in soups like these.

lentil soup

If you haven’t done a lot of cooking with lentils, I highly recommend stocking them in your pantry. They are a cheap and healthy source of protein that work really well in soups like this because they have such a mild-flavor. Depending on the type of lentils you buy and how long you cook them, they can either completely dissolve into a creamy, mashed consistency, or, like these brown lentils I use here, keep their shape a little bit. They have a really nice “chew” that I think us carnivores can appreciate in vegetarian dishes. You can leave this soup in tact, or do what I did, and blend up a few cups of it to make the base creamy and thick.

Yum! Enjoy. I promise I’m going to the grocery store today.

Slim Pickins Lentil Veggie Soup

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

This hearty, flavorful vegetarian soup is a great option for when there are slim pickins in the pantry. Serve it with a big hunk of whole grain bread and you've got a dinner that is full of a complete vegetarian protein (and darn delicious)!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 large stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1-14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1-7 ounce can mild diced chiles
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add in the red pepper flakes, onion and garlic, and cook until tender and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add in the celery, carrots, and bell pepper. Continue cooking until vegetables begin to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add in the vegetable broth, diced tomatoes, diced chiles, lentils, cumin, oregano, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender and the veggies are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaves, and serve.
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Notes

  • Feel free to adjust and change the recipe to fit with whatever veggies you have kicking around. It’s really hard to mess this one up!
  • I almost always try to keep canned diced tomatoes and canned diced green chiles in my pantry. They’re a great addition to soups and casseroles to add flavor.
  • We always have big zip-top freezer bags full of diced bell peppers in the freezer from our garden. But even if you don’t have a garden, freezing peppers in the summer (when they are cheap at the store or farmer’s market) is a great way to save some cash on winter and early spring produce—and it means you always have something to put into a veggie soup when your pantry is empty.
  • If you want a thicker, creamier soup, remove two cups of the soup after cooking, puree until smooth and the stir back into the soup.

What are your go to recipes when the pickins are slim?

Our Grocery Budget is $800 (and Why We’re Okay With It)

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Posted on Apr 15, 2014 in Food

groceries

For years, I’ve been trying to squeeze dollars and cents out of our grocery budget. I’ve seen all the super saver blogs out there where dedicated couponers feed their families of six for $200 a month (and a lot of them even do it with relatively healthy foods). For the longest time, I beat myself up about not being able to hit a lower total at the end of the month. I tried different challenges and tricks and coupons to hit a lower monthly grocery bill. And while it would work for short term, we always bounced back eventually to our big, hefty grocery budget once our pantry was bare and our palates were bored.

Honesty time, for our family of two, we consistently spend around $800 a month on groceries alone, and we live in a very low cost-of-living area of the country. And, often, we spend a bit more than that. In fact, in 2013, we spent exactly $10,951.32 on groceries—just over $912 per month We might eventually be able to lower that budget once our hobby farm is a bit more robust (we’re planning on adding animals next year—bees, goats and chickens!), but for now, we’re hovering around $800 per month—and if we didn’t garden and preserve food, it would be a heck of a lot higher.

pickles

For years, I’ve been ashamed of our total. I know some folks would absolutely have a heart attack if they spent that much money on groceries in a month (although, admittedly, in some areas of the world, it’s a reasonable—or even small—total). It always felt a little dirty to know that we had that big, cushy line in our monthly budget. But over the past year, I’ve come to accept our grocery budget is what is it is. And be okay with it.

From the outside, it can seem like that high of a total is the frivolous spending of two people who are financially blessed (which we are). Or the uneducated spending of two people who don’t menu-plan, buy tons of convenience foods or don’t shop sales (none which are true—we are still definitely aware of which stores are, uh, pricier than others—I’m looking at you Whole Foods). But what that total actually is, is a reflection of the lifestyle of two people who freaking love food.

tomatoes

My grandfather had a lot of good-to-remember catchphrases when he was around, and the one that is the most fitting here is this: If you want to know what’s important to someone, just look at where they spend their money. And the truth is, food is vitally important to Craig and me. Not just from a nourishment standpoint, but as a hobby, a career, a type of health insurance, and a bonding-experience. Sure, we could probably feed our tiny family for a couple hundred bucks a month, and satisfy the basic nourishment category, and we have during tight times in the past, but in doing that, we lose all the other wonderful things that we love about shopping, cooking and eating food. Yes, I could sufficiently feed us healthfully by making beans and rice every day. But it certainly wouldn’t be fun for us. And right now, we are fortunate enough to have the room in our budget to account for fun. And our fun is our food.

tomato ombre bread

It’s taken me years to accept that it’s okay to put money into something that is important to us, even if it means taking money out of areas that aren’t as important to us—and maybe are important to others. Our monthly entertainment budget is a whopping $20 a month (no going out to eat or going to see movies for us). We don’t have cable anymore. We don’t have a gym membership. It takes us years and years to save up to go on vacations. But what we do have? A really healthy, comfortable grocery budget that brings us joy each week. A budget that is cushy enough that we feel like we can buy all the organic, local and healthy food we want. A budget that makes it’s so much fun to go grocery shopping each week (seriously, it’s such a fun outing for us).

This isn’t me saying that food should be that important to you. Maybe it isn’t. And that’s totally cool. Maybe you don’t get giddy when you walk into the local health food store (Craig and I do). Maybe you don’t get excited to plan your menu every week (I do). Maybe going to the farmer’s market isn’t a social event for you (it is for us). Maybe your family celebrations don’t revolve around good food at the dinner table (ours do). Maybe you haven’t watched every single food-related documentary on Netflix (I have). For you, what is important might be a different category in your budget—eating out, traveling, shopping, seeing movies or plays.

But what I am saying is that I’m coming out of hiding. I’m stopping shaming myself for spending so luxuriously on food. Because it’s what’s important to us, and that makes it okay.

lunch egg

In related programming news, I’ve often wanted to (and have a few times) share what I bought when I went grocery shopping. But the few times I did it, I got push-back because of our large budget. And while I hate the idea of making people feel guilty for not having that ability (I never want you to feel like you have to live your life like mine—what works for me may or may not work for you), I always thought it was a fun little look into our everyday lives. And it was something I always loved seeing on other blogs. It’s the foodie equivalent of beauty or fashion haul videos! Would you guys be interested in me bringing that back? I was also thinking about wrapping it into the same post where we share our menu for that week. So you see what we’re going to eat—and the foods we bought to make that happen. You won’t hurt my feelings if you tell me no—it’s entirely possible I’m the only one who is a weird grocery cart voyeur.

And now I’m off to go make a grocery list.

How important is food to you? Do you care to share what your grocery budget is each month? Are there other budget categories (entertainment, shopping, travel, etc.) that are more important to you than food?