Winter Warm-Up

Keep the chill at bay with these tasty vegan soups

By Stella Fong, Photography by Daniel Sullivan

At home, my husband and I embrace a vegan style of cooking and eating. We call ourselves “flexitarians” or “convegans” (vegan when it’s convenient) as we cherish sharing a meal with friends and family who do eat meat and products derived from animals. We value and honor their efforts in preparing a meal and bringing together kinship and nurturing.

Our journey began about 10 years ago when my physician husband and I visited one of his medical school professors who shared a book, “The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell. The book provides comprehensive information about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. After reading it, we pursued a major dietary overhaul.

I grew up eating a varied diet, mostly Chinese-inspired dishes with an American twist. Since my father worked in a grocery store, I was occasionally exposed to such delicacies as chicken noodle soup in a can, frozen meatloaf and boxed macaroni and cheese, about as far from Chinese cuisine as one could get. Evening meals were always home-made with fresh fish, poultry or beef and vegetables, so eating a boxed or canned food was considered a treat. We also ate tofu often, and my father made meat substitutes such as gluten (seitan) at least once a year to celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year.

My husband grew up mostly eating meat and potatoes, and only liked a limited number of vegetables. Broccoli was his main go-to when we first met. After making up his mind to pursue a new way of eating, his palate broadened. Herbs and spices come into play as seasonings, in addition to the usual salt and pepper. He now enjoys eating tofu and seitan, traditional Asian vegetable proteins, and he makes his own grain burgers. He always has bottles of hot sauce on hand.

A happy transition to eating vegan does not occur overnight. Your palate has to acclimate to the decrease in fat and salt, which need to be dialed down gradually. I believe once the dependency on salt as a flavoring decreases, the palate opens up to other tastes and, perhaps, even craves new flavors.

All these vegan soup recipes can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator or frozen into storage bags. The key to making them fresh in flavor and visually appealing are the garnishes. The core flavors are enhanced and blend over time. All the recipes begin with sautéing onions and garlic, which both provide a savory base for soups and sauces. Browning the onions brings about a richness that no other vegetable can contribute.

My hint is to always keep fresh green onions, cilantro and a container of vegan sour cream in your refrigerator. Having an onion around and a bulb of garlic gives you the base for your cooking.

So jump start the New Year with a few new flavors, a new way of cooking and eating as you warm up with these vegan soups.


Serves 4 to 8

Traditional barley mushroom soup is made with a rich beef stock.  By browning onions, adding bouillon and white miso, this bowl of warmth is filled with savor. Though I recommend sliced green onions and spinach as a garnish, try adding fried onions and kale to mix things up a bit.

1 T. olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
8 ounces brown mushrooms, sliced
½ c. pearled barley
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ t. dried thyme
4 c. mushroom broth
1 mushroom bouillon cube or 1 t. of mushroom stock concentrate
1 T. tomato paste
1 t. balsamic vinegar
1 t. white miso
Salt, to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste


Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes until lightly browned. Add barley, garlic and thyme and sauté for 2 minutes. Add broth, 1 cup water, bouillon, tomato paste, vinegar and miso. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for at least 45 minutes or until barley is tender. Adjust to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve hot with garnishes.


Serves 4 to 6

The secret to this soup is in the garnishes. Because there are so many different beans available in cans, there is nothing wrong with substituting the black beans with navy beans, pinto or red beans. Make this soup ahead as the flavors meld and become more robust the next day.

1 T. olive oil|
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
½ t. ground cumin
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. smoked paprika
Salt, to taste
4 c. vegetable broth
14½ ounce canned diced tomatoes
4 c. cooked black beans or 2 15-ounce canned black beans, rinsed and drained
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

GARNISHES: Diced avocado, sliced green onions, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, lime juice, hot sauce, sliced jalapeños, crushed tortilla chips, vegan sour cream

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and bell pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Add cumin, oregano, smoked paprika and salt, to taste and sauté for another minute. Add vegetable broth, tomatoes and black beans. Bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve hot with garnishes.


Serves 4 to 6

Curry and coconut cream make for the third “c” — comfort. This soup swaddles in richness while exhilarates with flavor and spice. Without the addition of extra water to thin the soup, it can be left thicker and used as a sauce over basmati rice or fried tofu.

2 T. coconut oil or vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 T. curry powder
½ t. turmeric
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced, about 3 tablespoons
¾ c. dried red lentils, rinsed and drained
14½ ounce canned diced tomatoes
19 ounce canned coconut cream
½ bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt, to taste

GARNISHES: Chopped cilantro, coconut cream


Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder, turmeric, garlic and ginger and sauté for one minute. Add lentils and sauté for another minute. Add tomatoes, 3 cups water and coconut cream, reserving several tablespoons for garnish. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Add salt to taste. Stir in cilantro, reserving some for garnish. Serve hot with garnishes.


Serves 4 to 6

Soaked cashews, when pureed, have a rich, creamy texture that is a good substitute for cream. Do note that it does have a nutty flavor where cow’s cream is more neutral. Nuts do contribute an undertone of sweetness and soy has its own distinctive flavor. I use macadamia milk because I find it has a richer texture than almond milk.  Nutritional yeast is sold in flakes, granules or powder and gives food a cheesy, nutty and savory flavor. Be sure to use the lemon juice as the acid balances out the soup’s flavors.

½ c. raw cashew, soaked in water 2 to 4 hours
¾ c. macadamia milk or soy milk
2 T. vegan butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks, about 2 pounds
1 t. smoked paprika
½ t. dried thyme
Salt, to taste
Fresh black pepper, to taste
2 t. nutritional yeast
4 c. vegetable broth
1 T. lemon juice

GARNISHES: Crumbled vegan bacon, chopped green onions, vegan sour cream

Drain cashews. Blend with macadamia milk in a blender until smooth. Set aside. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add potatoes, smoked paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Sauté for 3 minutes. Add yeast and vegetable broth to cover potatoes. If necessary, add more water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Remove from heat and stir in cashew cream. Add salt and pepper to taste and lemon juice. Serve hot with garnishes.


The spices and ingredients that make vegan fare delicious

Curry powder is usually a combination of coriander, turmeric, chili flakes, mustard seeds, dried ginger, cumin and fenugreek in the hot form. The milder version does not have the chili flakes. Find a powder you like as each concoction has a variation of the spices.

Dairy-Free Sour Cream satisfies the creaminess and sour needed in foods. It can be made with a nondairy base such as oats, beans or nuts with an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice.

Macadamia milk is thick and smooth, thicker than almond milk. There are a variety of nut milks on the market with soy milk as one of the most popular. Almond milk is the other alternative which imparts more of a neutral flavor. Using coconut milk will bring a more distinct coconut taste.

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermenting soybeans with salt and sometimes rice, barley and other ingredients. The paste gives dishes a rich, savory flavor.

Mushroom Concentrate or Bouillon gives soups or sauces a savory intensity that meat imparts.

Nutritional Yeast is sold as flakes, granules or powder. It is a food product with a cheesy, nutty and savory flavor and usually found in health food stores.

Tomato paste in a tube is a great alternative to opening a whole can when all you need is a little bit to enrich a soup or sauce.  If you do open up a can and have leftovers, dollop tablespoons into a small container and freeze. Once frozen, break into chunks and put in freezer bags in the freezer.

Vegan Bacon supplies the idea of real bacon but do not expect an exact replica of what Mother Nature has created!  Vegan bacon comes in various renditions from tempeh bacon to seitan bacon to tofu bacon. Smoke and salt combined with crunch should satisfy the key essences of bacon.


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