The Vegan Budget Diaries & That Yellow Soup [Recipe]


This winter, I’ve been undergoing a pantry-challenge. Never ever, ever before, did I think my life would include oh, so many bowls of lentil soup. I’ve never minded it, and do dig this one, but it’s rarely a well-thought out intention.

It really boils down (soup humor coming) to making sure that my meals use a base of dried legumes, grains, pasta and spices that are already on-hand and in my well-stocked pantry, and that sure includes a lot of various lentils and split peas. Thinking this way, I know just what’s available and stop ignoring what’s hiding behind the jar of polenta. I take stock (almost a decent pun) of what may be expiring and what spices deserve more time to shine. It means finally opening and soaking that bag of dried fava beans I picked up in Brooklyn last year and that half-bag of Israeli cous cous that’s just sitting there. And it lets me restock on spices and contemplate what else I can do with fenugreek, which is always fun.

In any case, my pantry’s seemingly never-ending supply of lentils and split peas makes me feel a) super vegan and b) like I’m in my own little soup challenge. And pretending I’m in cooking competition is always something I can get down with. Drama! Lights! Chickpeas! Cast iron! I don’t mean to brag, but give me some lentils, and just like a creative home cook should, I’ve got at least five or six soup notions ready to go. At first, I was pretty stuck on the Syrian Red Lentil from Bean by Bean mentioned above, and then it became Indian and Ethiopian flavors that moved me. Once again, a big shout out to fenugreek.  A few weeks ago, I was playing another round of Operation: Clean-Out-The-Fridge and seeing what’s for dinner, and then for lunch, and I was looking at acorn squash, carrots, parsley (which never gets enough credit) and half a leftover bulb of roasted garlic. Reaching for spices, I went with a Northern African vibe and really, the color yellow, a nice coincidence and thematic here. True, the lentils are red, but we all know their story. The consequent bowl sums up my Portland kitchen in the early winter pretty well: full of squash, garlic and carrots. No matter what, I always seem to have at least half a carrot hanging around behind an old jar of jam.

The on-a-whim soup was such a hit that J. Legume took all of the leftovers to work, and with her raves and the same exact ingredients on hand, I ended up making it again less than two days later.

And bonus points for utilizing acorn squash, which remains the surprisingly least-used squash in my life.

That Yellow Soup

Makes 4 large servings

A hot bowl of this warming, sunny soup on a cold and rainy day helps one forget about a tight budget and lack of more whimsical ingredients. It’s definitely a soup I’d buy a bowl of around town — accompanying a smoked tofu & spinach panini would be nice — but that’s a future paycheck talking.


  • 1 cup peeled & diced acorn squash
  • ½ cup diced carrot
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, roasted
  • 1 tablespoon coconut or other cooking oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • splash white wine, beer or broth (real talk)
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley, more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar


  1. Saute the minced garlic in oil for 3-4 minutes over medium heat, until golden.
  2. Add the spices and stir until fragrant, another minute or so.
  3. Add the squash, carrots and roasted garlic, stirring a couple of times more.
  4. Quickly add a splash of white wine (or whatever, really), the lentils, broth and water.
  5. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.
  6. Carefully remove half, and puree with the three tablespoons of fresh parsley to really incorporate.
  7. Pour the pureed mixture back into the pot, add the white balsamic vinegar, stir, and taste for salt & pepper or even some sweetener, adjusting as desired.
  8. Serve warm, with minced parsley on individual bowls.

I’ll leave the split pea lore for another time.

As for those Vegan Budget Diaries…

For some time now, my best friend Maeve and I have been tossing around the idea of compiling our budget-friendly (and dependent, welcoming & badass) tips, recipes, bulk deals and secrets in some type of project. We’re not quite sure what yet, but we’re two women who’ve had varying degrees of tight budget the past few years, yet who try to make the majority of their meals at home, from scratch (even when it was a grand choice) and want to share what we’ve learned. We’re forever exchanging tips and ridiculous stories and ‘recipes’ between the two of us (which BTW, also includes the cheapest happy hours in town) while we ponder life, and how to go about bringing these things from a Google Doc into the real world. That and planning the next eventual Heartichoke, of course.

Trust me, Maeve and I have enjoyed many vibrant rants on the big ‘food stamp’ challenge articles, which typically forget to stress the importance of leftovers, bulk cooking, farmers market options, and buying beans and grains in bulk whenever possible. Like I said, this soup is one that my partner and I gladly eat for multiple meals and will totally double the next go. Flour + water + yeast could mean a nice little loaf of homemade bread on the side. And of course, the stock is usually homemade from bags of veggie odds and ends hanging out in my freezer. I wish I thought to cook this well during my college years!

The point is, we both agree that a tight budget and even sheer desperation can inspire some ridiculous creativity.  That, and recognizing green cabbage as your attempt at a new kale.

For now, the project lies in our conversations, a scattering of notepads and a little hashtag. It happens.


  1. The soup looks tasty! It’s affirming to read about your experience eating healthy while spending far less than the average on groceries. I also rant about “food stamp challenge” coverage in the media. There are workable options for a lot of people; it’s not hopeless. A bag of brown rice, a bag of lentils, a bag of carrots, and a bag of onions (and some assorted inexpensive produce/homemade veg broth/canned tomatoes) will get you through a good amount of dinners.

  2. Oh, yes. We have way too many lentils and peas and whatever legumes in our pantry, too. Sometimes I manage to eat them all up only to buy a ton of new bags!
    The soup looks amazing and green cabbage has long been my new kale. I am an early adopter, I guess 😉

  3. I’ve been trying too to cook from my pantry, with more or less success. I always end up buying new stuff, but I think the only dried bean I have right know is Lima… but I have tons of grains (millet, farro, spelt, kamut, etc.).

    I think I’m going to try your soup.

    Can’t wait to see where your budget diaries project goes.

  4. I’m not as crafty as you, so I scour my cookbooks for the best recipes to utilize what I have on hand at any given time. I’ve been addicted to the squash soup from VEW of late, but I’m anxiously awaiting the soup chapter in the upcoming Cinnamon Snail Cookbook.

  5. Your commitment to cooking from scratch is so inspirational Jess, I think you’ve even convinced me to make lentil soup. I have all of the ingredients for the first one you linked to in my pantry and everything!

  6. I for one would buy your budget diary cookbook! I’m a student living in Sydney, again voted one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sad face. I’ll be adding this tasty recipe to my bookmarks list – I have a whole folder of cheap recipes.

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