Vegan Lentil Barley Soup

This a soup that screams winter! Or fallish-winter, which is what we had today in southeastern Wisconsin. Our first surprise snowfall was just enough to provide a sheer blanket of white, a not-so-subtle reminder that winter will be here before we know it. And there’s nothing better than a bowlful of thick, stick-to-your-ribs vegan lentil-barley soup to warm your insides like a toasty blanket as the temperature drops.

vegan lentil-barley soup

Don’t care for lentils, you say? Give them another chance. Vegan lentil-barley soup is comforting, richly flavorful and so delicious that you’ll forget all about your disdain and become a converted lentil lover.

Lentils are full of fiber and readily take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with. Leek, carrot, celery, and parsnip pair nicely with this powerhouse legume and three quarters of a cup of beer adds to the richly flavored broth. Barley adds another layer of substance and together with thyme, bay leaves, and good quality vegetable broth you have one stellar soup.

Organic vegetable broth makes this lentil-barley soup vegan but I’m sure the soup would be equally delicious with reduced sodium chicken broth.

I based my version of vegan lentil-barley soup on the November 2010 Lentil-Barley Soup recipe in Cooking Light, omitting celery leaves and dill, and reducing the chopped celery by half.

cup of vegan lentil barley soup

I wonder if this early snow fall is a sign that we’ll be lambasted this winter – the ardent wish of my resident outdoor enthusiasts (aka Hunky Hubby and youngest Beauty) who are anxious to tackle a few black diamonds. Normally, I’d say bring on the snow and a  part of me is still hoping for a good old fashioned winter as my Gramz used to say. Now that my commute is miles longer than a short walk down the hallway I’m not as  enthusiastic as I used to be. But the call for cold and snow is a call for soup and that’s perfectly fine by me.  Enjoy!

Vegan Lentil-Barley Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 cup sliced leek - white part only
  • 4 cups organic vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup beer
  • 1 cup chopped carrot cut into coins (roughly equivalent to 2 carrots)
  • ½ cup finely diced celery
  • ½ cup chopped parsnip (about 2 small parsnips)
  • ¼ cup pearl barley
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup dried lentils
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven and saute leek for 2 minutes.
  2. Add broth and beer and bring to a boil.
  3. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the lentils and return to a boil. (NOTE: if you are using quick cooking barley, do not add it at this time.)
  4. Cover the pot, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until carrots and parsnip are tender.
  5. Stir in lentils (NOTE: If using quick cooking barley, add it to the pot with the lentils)
  6. Cover and cook 30 minutes or until tender.
  7. Discard bay leaves.
  8. For a thick soup, place 1½ cups of broth mixture in a blender. Be sure to remove the center piece of the lid to allow steam to escape and process until smooth. (For a thinner soup, blend only ¾ - 1 cup.)
  9. Pour blended soup back into the pot, stir in salt and return to a boil.
  10. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Thai butternut squash soup among five courses of love

Prepare to feast your eyes on the feast I savored for dinner.  A five-course fusion of Asian cuisine prepared by my loving Hunky Hubby just because. Not for a birthday or anniversary celebration, just an ordinary Thursday night that became extraordinary. Really, how many guys would spend a good portion of their day off willingly cooking, baking and getting dish pan hands? Makes me love my Love all the more, even with his awful no-shave-November goatee.

Our first course was a delightful bowl of Thai butternut squash soup. Tummy warming and taste bud tantalizing is the best way to sum it up.

thai butternut squash soup

The original recipe, courtesy of, calls for a 13.5 ounce can of coconut milk. Ours purportedly went bad, but I can attest to the deliciousness of Hubby’s substitution: 1 tablespoon of coconut oil mixed with 1 1/2 cups of skim milk. Also, for non-curry lovers like yours truly, 1 teaspoon of Rogan Josh is a tasty substitute for 1 teaspoon of curry powder.

Nick's Thai Butternut Squash Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-4
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Rogan Josh seasoning (Penzy's is our preferred brand)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1½ cups skim milk
  • 1 pint vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  1. In a heavy pot, heat oil and cook onion until soft.
  2. Add stock, squash and Rogan Josh and bring to boil. Cover and simmer until the squash is tender.
  3. Stir in the coconut oil and skim milk. Process with hand blender until smooth.
  4. Return to pot and stir in black pepper.
  5. To serve, top with chopped green onion.
  6. Serves 4 appetizer-sized portions or 2 dinner portions.


Vietnamese Meatball Lollipops with Dipping Sauce was our next course. Who doesn’t like eating anything from a stick let alone meatballs?

Vietnamese Meatball lollipops

This recipe was from, with one exception: the dipping sauce. I can’t give you a recipe because, as in true foodie fashion, it was a little-this-and-that creation that Hubby whipped up. His version was much lower in sodium and had a drop of Siracha gave a nice kick.

Third course: Spicy Japanese Cucumber Salad

Japenese spicy cucumber salad

I was told we were having a salad-less salad course but what with being in a fog from a 10 hour day it never occurred to me that we’d be enjoying an Asian cucumber salad. Especially one that looked like a flower and tasted spicy and delicate at the same time.

To make this delight, simply peel the cucumber and after discarding the skins keep peeling – in essence you’re creating cucumber shavings. For a serving of four, use 1 1/2 cucumbers. Prepare a simple dressing by mixing a splash of rice wine vinegar, crushed red pepper to desired heat, a bit of freshly grated ginger (again, to taste) and salt to taste (careful with the shaker). Let the cucumbers marinade for several hours. Arrange the shavings in twists to resemble a flower when you’re ready to serve. This salad is so light and refreshing I could eat the entire bowlful by myself!

Fourth course: Chicken Stir Fry

chicken stir fry

Our fourth course and entree was a sesame topped stir fry with vegetables and chicken in a light Asian sauce. I gave up on the chopsticks and dove in with a fork. Sorry, folks – no recipe. Hubby created as he cooked and ooh I just love it when he does that.

And now, for the sweet finale: Bibingka.  This Filipino coconut cake tastes like a cross between angel food cake and a pineapple-coconut flavored pound cake. A perfect ending to such a special meal.

Filipino coconut cake

It was one of those nights when my heart swelled with gratitude as I cherished family time and all the love that my Hubby put into every bite.

Happy Thursday!

Vegan Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Hey all! It has been quite a week. Actually two weeks. After a decade of working from home as a self-employed SEO/SEM professional, I re-entered the corporate world in a new realm: higher education. Doing good work for my clients has always been and continues to be very gratifying but being part of an organization that impacts people’s lives in a profound way is gratification to the nth degree.

My first two weeks have been a whirlwind of people and information.  A combination of equal parts stress and exhilaration.  Call me an enigma, a paradox, an odd ball, but I find that I have become more organized than I have ever been.  I’m finding ways to minimize task time to optimize family time and I’m also embracing my foodie in a new way.  I’ll be sharing that with you and passing the relish beginning with this recipe for vegan roasted red pepper soup.
roasted red peppers for soup

Next to opening a can or pouring soup from a carton, vegan roasted red pepper soup is by and large the quickest and easiest soup there is to prepare. As for taste, it’s over the moon deeeelicious. As for health benefits, red peppers are loaded in antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, K, and  B6, and plenty of phytochemicals. All of that in a pepper!

Tip #1: Roast red peppers in bulk to do the work once and to have roasted peppers at the ready for many tasty uses. I try to grill a bushel every fall but you can easily roast peppers in the oven.

To oven roast, place whole (washed) peppers on a baking sheet and broil until the skins are wrinkly and charred (turn the peppers to ensure even roasting); remove the pan from the oven and cover with aluminum foil or place in a paper bag and seal until the peppers are cool. Peel the skins, remove the core and seeds, and place roasted pepper strips in air tight freezer bags.

Whether you grill or oven roast, the process of roasting red peppers is worth the time. You’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor for months to come both figuratively and literally (yep, peppers are a fruit). Moreover, you’ll have plain ol’ roasted red peppers and not oil-packed peppers as those sold commercially.

roasted red pepper soup

For a speedy supper, thaw 6 peppers and cook with finely chopped onion or shallot, a generous dash of thyme and broth. Use a good quality vegetable broth to keep the soup vegan (my favorite is Trader Joe’s), but know that this soup is just as tasty when prepared with low sodium chicken broth. Blend until smooth and whisk in 1/4 cup soy or reduced fat milk.

Richly colored, deeply flavored and incredibly satisfying, vegan roasted red pepper soup is ready in under 30 minutes. Now that’s my kind of healthy weeknight dinner!  Enjoy!

Vegan Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 roasted red bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (can substitute reduced sodium chicken broth)
  • ¼ cup soy milk (can substitute low fat milk)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat tablespoon of oil in a heavy saucepan and cook onion/shallot until soft.
  2. Add chopped roasted red bell peppers and 1½ cups of broth and cook until peppers are very soft - about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Using a standard blender, puree in batches or use a hand blender and blend until smooth.
  4. Add remaining ½ cup of broth and milk; season to taste.


Broccoli Cheese Soup – lightened

How can it already be Halloween weekend? The month of October breezed by about as fast as the wind has been whipping these past few nights. It crept up so quickly that I didn’t even finish buying pumpkins. This is the first year that neither of my Beauties carved a pumpkin and while I was a bit bummed, they didn’t give it a second thought what with three parties between this weekend and next. So it was just me and the Hubby who turned pumpkins into works of art this year — all freehand, thank you very much. We hung out at the end of the driveway, stayed toasty by the fire pit, and passed out candy to all of the princesses, cowboys, monsters, super heroes, ladybugs and one particularly adorable little grandpa who was at most 4 years old. Just goes to show that looks can be deceiving.

Our pumpkins, for example, looked like this…

halloween pumpkins

But come dark, they turned into this:

halloween pumpkins

Just as my week #3 soup -a lightened broccoli cheese soup – might have looked rather questionable as I was cooking the other night.

preparing lightened broccoli cheese soup

Broccoli, onion, carrots and a bit of garlic simmering in chicken broth would make a delicious soup on its own. The magical transformation of this soup, however, comes after preparing a small bit of roux and adding one cup of 1% milk, thus making a light white cream sauce. Adding the white sauce to the pot and tossing in a cupful of shredded Monterrey jack/cheddar blend transformed what was a brothy broccoli soup into a light and creamy broccoli cheese soup.

light broccoli cheese soup

Divine I tell you. Not a drop of  leftovers was a sure sign that my Loves agreed. We all enjoy cream soups and I hope I am teaching my girls that reducing fat grams does not equate to reducing flavor.

For all of you broccoli cheese soup lovers out there, do give this light version a try. No trick, it’s all treat. Enjoy!

Broccoli Cheese Soup - lightened
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic, or 2 cloves
  • 1 (12-ounce) package broccoli florets
  • 1 large carrot, sliced thinly into coins
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I prefer Trader Joe's)
  • 1 cup 1% reduced-fat milk
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack / Cheddar Cheese blend
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and carrot and sauté 3 minutes; add garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add broccoli and saute for another minute.
  4. Add broth and black pepper; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until broccoli is tender.
  5. In a small sauté pan, heat remaining tablespoon of oil; add flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually add 1 cup of milk, continuing to whisk constantly; cook until thickened. Remove from heat and add to soup pot. Stir well; add cup of cheese and stir until melted.
  6. Using a hand blender, blend to desired consistency. (Or carefully pour into blender and process until smooth.)
  7. Adjust seasoning to taste.


Serbian Cauliflower Soup aka Corba

A big pot of Serbian cauliflower corba (pronounced chore-bah) graced my family table the other night for Week #2 of our weekly soup/stew/stoup night. The timing for this heart-warming soup couldn’t have better what with the rainy, chilly days we had. The ease of preparation was also spot on as I was playing beat the clock. Sooo glad I had a head of cauliflower in the fridge — this meal came together in 40 minutes, start to finish.

Serbian cauliflower corba soup

I know there are endless recipes for cauliflower soup floating around cyberspace so you may be asking what makes Serbian cauliflower soup different?

1. The thickening comes from a small bit of roux (that I grew up calling zafrig) as well as a small potato. No heavy cream, no whole milk. My arteries and yours give thanks.

2. This soup is as delicious with chicken stock as it is with vegetable broth.  The latter is the only change necessary to made this creamy cauliflower soup vegan.

3. The addition of one fresh tomato, diced, gives this cauliflower soup the palest of pale pink hues and a barely detectable tomato flavor. Why bother adding it?  It is an opportunity to add another veggie rather stealthily … specifically for fresh tomato haters. The one in my brood never knew it! Ha! I’m such a sneaky mama!

Prijatno, my friends! Enjoy!

Serbian Cauliflower Corba - a thick, creamy soup
Serves: 8
  • 2 tablespoon oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, cut into thin coins
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 1 medium to large head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 quart chicken stock or vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  1. In a soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat.
  2. Fry onion until golden; add carrot and celery and saute 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add the diced potato, cauliflower, tomato, thyme and black pepper. Saute another minute.
  4. Add chicken stock or vegetable broth. If the vegetables are not covered, add 1 cup of water.
  5. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender.
  6. Taste and salt to your liking, but watch that shaker! 🙂
  7. When the vegetables are tender, make a roux by heating 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and stir well. Add 1 ladle of soup broth to the roux and whisk until smooth.
  8. Add the complete roux mixture to the soup pot and stir. Cook for another 5-10 minutes.
  9. To make an even thicker soup, blend half of it using a hand mixer or a blender.
  10. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving.


White Bean, Kale & Sausage Soup

Bowlful of white bean, kale & sausage soup

There’s an old Serbian saying that trumpets the health benefits of eating with a spoon.  A steamy bowlful of white bean, kale & sausage soup counts but, no, sorry, creme brulee does not.

This white bean, kale and sausage soup is probably worth extra credit as it contains the superstar veggie or all veggies. I was floored to learn that just one itty bitty cup of kale contains 206% of the daily value of vitamin A and 134% of the daily value of vitamin C.  I was completely blown away by vitamin K totaling 684%. Six hundred eighty four percent! (Just making sure you caught that. I had to read it a few times myself.)

I used one bunch of kale in this soup and though it didn’t equate to one cup per serving, the kale and white beans contributed to a healthy one pot meal.

soup pot full of white bean, kale & sausage soup

White bean, kale and sausage soup was the kickoff to my family’s new weekly soup/stew/stoup night. We’re all on board to make it a night to enjoy an old favorite every now and then but more as an opportunity to try something new, like kale.

Kale can be a bitter green but I found it to be quite tasty when paired with mild flavored Great Northern beans. Add smoked sausage to the mix and it’s a sure winner. Well, it was for most of us anyway. My eldest hasn’t quite developed her taste for kale in leafy form and preferred to puree the soup and enjoy it as a stoup instead. As for the rest of us, we enjoyed every soupy spoonful and the sample I sent over to my sister’s house scored positive reviews.

soup pot full of white bean, kale & sausage soup

As one who tries to eat healthy, I admit I am a serious underachiever when it comes to eating leafy cruciferous greens, but what better place to hide them than in soup? There really is something to be said about healthy eating with a spoon.


White Bean, Kale & Sausage Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
  • 1 bunch kale, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 carrot, sliced into coins
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1-14ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1- 14 ounce can Northern Beans, rinsed well
  • 4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 3-4 small to medium sized potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1-14 ounce smoked sausage, diced
  • ¼ Cup 1% milk
  • ¾ Cup half-half
  1. In a large pot, saute onion and kale in oil until kale has cooked down a bit.
  2. Add carrot and garlic and saute for 2 minutes.
  3. Add remaining ingredients through sausage, cover and cook for 20-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  4. Add milk and half/half and simmer for another 10 minutes.


Serbian Sataras ~ a tasty way of canning fresh tomatoes

canning sataras

Let’s talk canning fresh tomatoes. So you’ve made oodles of salsa and heaps of spaghetti sauce and slow-simmered marinara. Well, it’s time to break out and try canning fresh tomatoes in a whole new way.

Sataraš, pronounced sah-tah-rah-sh, is the Serbian equivalent of ratatouille and a scrumptious way to use up those last heaping bowlfuls of garden tomatoes. You know, the ones on the counter right next to the mountain of red peppers that you received from your dear ol’ over-achieving hobby gardener of a dad (aka my Tata whom I love dearly).

Between my own garden and his we have armfuls of fresh tomatoes and peppers to share with friends and neighbors. {I won’t even bother mentioning zucchini, though I just did.}

Since I can’t leave a bag of garden produce on your doorstep I’m doing the next best thing and sharing my sister’s wonderfully flavorful sataras recipe instead. Easy preparation with endless possibilities to put your own spin on it … if you happen to be one of those recipe-changer types. {Happy to have you in the club!}

Fresh tomatoes, red peppers and sliced onions are the three traditional and fundamental ingredients of Serbian sataras, though eggplant is a tasty addition. {If only I didn’t live with three eggplant nay sayers.}

The dish is prepared in layers, beginning with sweating onions.

satarash step 1

After these cook down and start to emit liquid, it’s time to add the next layer: sliced red peppers. {Like your food spicy? Go ahead and toss in a few hot peppers. }

sataras step 2

After the peppers have softened, add the diced tomatoes on top of the peppers – the final layer.

sataras - step 3

Let this cook on a low simmer, stirring after the tomatoes have emitted their juices are have began to cook down. Taste as you go and salt as you wish — but be mindful with the shaker. I also add a generous sprinkle of cracked black pepper, though my sister does not.  There are no defined rules here, let your taste buds be your guide. {If you’re planning on canning the sataras, add 1 to 1 -1/2 teaspoons of salt. That’s plenty to preserve it without sending the sodium level to the moon. }

cooking sataras

When the sataras has reduced to a rich ragout-style consistency, you’re ready to prep the canning jars and preserve this tasty garden goodness.

Serbian sataras

Now that you know how to make Serbian sataras, you may be wondering how to serve it. Quite simply, however your little heart desires! Not only is canning Serbian sataras an easy way  of preserving the taste of garden fresh produce, it is a delectable dish with endless uses. Add a generous spoonful to scrambled eggs, serve as a healthy side dish, or use as a topping for fish, chicken or pork.  {My family’s favorite preparation: pour sataras over browned pork chops and bake. Oooh so yummy.}

If canning isn’t your thing, follow my sister’s lead and freeze the sataras in whatever means you choose.  Her method of choice: freezing in 16oz cottage cheese containers. Hubby and I are annual canners and have been in a canning craze since the end of August. The canning kettle is parked on the counter with jars of all sizes covering the dining room table and boxes of lids and bands everywhere. It’s a good thing I’m not an overly obsessive neat freak or I’d be breaking out in hives by now. It’s also good that my Hunky Hubby doesn’t mind getting a steamy facial for weeks straight this time of year just as it is a good thing to have a willing over-achieving gardener at the ready to help peel and chop.  🙂

Happy canning, friends! Prijatno!

Serbian Sataras ~ a tasty way of canning fresh tomatoes
  • ⅓ C canola oil
  • 4-5 onions, sliced
  • 8-10 red peppers, sliced
  • 3-4 lbs tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Add oil to a large shallow pot over medium heat and sweat the onions until translucent (roughly 5-7 minutes).
  2. Add the sliced peppers on top of the onions but do not stir. Cover the pot and let the peppers soften and begin to get tender (roughly 10 minutes).
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pot on top of the peppers.
  4. Cover the pot and let it simmer for about 5-7 minutes. The tomatoes should begin to emit juices.
  5. When the sataras starts to cook down, add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Gently stir only to ensure that the onions are not catching.
  7. Simmer uncovered until the majority of the liquid has evaporated and the sataras has thickened to a rich ragout consistency.
  8. Preserve by canning in a hot bath or freeze.