The holiday season can be a busy time of year for many people. Preparing nutritious meals ahead of time can be a helpful tool to ensure that there are balanced options on hand after the hustle and bustle of the day. As the seasons change, I tend to prepare more soups and stews for a few reasons. First, they can be made in large amounts and stored in separate containers to be frozen for later. Second, making homemade soup is a perfect opportunity to load up on veggies and plant-based protein options like beans or lentils. Third, soups are a great reason to dust off the crock-pot or instant pot and let the appliances do the work for you.
So what makes a balanced soup? Striving to include protein in any of your soups and stews will ensure that it will keep you satisfied. Some of my favorite proteins to add to soups are legumes, which include beans, peas, and lentils. Canned beans are great for stovetop recipes, while dried beans are a better option for the crockpot or the instant pot. Dried lentils cook faster and are a good option for any method of preparation. Aside from the ease of cooking beans and lentils, there are many benefits to incorporating more plant-based proteins into your meals. Because legumes are a good source of protein, they work as a perfect substitute for meat, which has higher amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol (legumes are cholesterol-free!). Legumes are also very cheap to purchase, so including them as the main protein in your meal can help to save money on the grocery bills.
You might be wondering- what are the other benefits of legumes? Well, let’s not stop here. They are high in fiber, which is necessary for digestive health. Research shows that adults consume about half of the recommended dietary fiber intake so adding legumes to your diet can be a great way to boost your fiber intake. Legumes are higher in soluble fiber, which helps to lower blood cholesterol levels. And lastly, they are a wonderful source of complex carbohydrates and have a low glycemic index, which means they digest more slowly and help you to feel full for longer.
Vegetables are another easy and nutritious addition to comforting soup recipes. Soups and stews are a perfect opportunity to boost nutrition by adding fresh or frozen vegetables. I love to keep frozen vegetables on hand because they are more affordable and they are often times more fresh than fresh vegetables, especially this time of year.
I have two recipes for you today- one with lentils and one with black beans. If you are new to cooking and preparing meals with these ingredients, these recipes are a great place to start. I hope you find the recipes to be warm and comforting!
Spiced Vegan Lentil Curry
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh or frozen collard greens, kale, or spinach
- Juice of ½ to 1 medium lemon, to taste
- Warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Pour in the drained diced tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often.
- Pour in the lentils, broth and the water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
- Transfer 2 cups of the soup to a blender. Securely fasten the lid, protect your hand from steam with a tea towel placed over the lid, and purée the soup until smooth. Pour the puréed soup back into the pot. (Or, use an immersion blender to blend a portion of the soup.)
- Add fresh or frozen greens and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the greens have softened to your liking. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the juice of half of a lemon. Serve immediately. Leftovers will keep well for about 4 days in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for several months (defrost before serving).
Recipe inspired by: https://cookieandkate.com/2015/vegan-lentil-soup-recipe/
Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion
- 2 stalks celery
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 lb dry uncooked black beans
- 1 cup salsa
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 Tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- Mince the garlic, dice the onion and celery, and grate the carrots on a large holed cheese grater. Rinse the black beans in a colander under cool running water and pick out any stones or debris.
- Combine the garlic, onion, celery, carrots, black beans, salsa, chili powder, cumin, oregano, vegetable broth, and water in a 5-7 quart slow cooker. Stir well.
- Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 6-8 hours (you want the beans to get VERY soft). Once the beans are very soft, use an immersion blender to blend the soup until it is thick and creamy (leave some beans whole if desired). Taste the soup and add salt if needed.
Recipe inspired by: https://www.budgetbytes.com/slow-cooker-black-bean-soup/