Vegetarian chili

I’ve been having cravings for meat. Ground meat. It’s funny, because before this diet I never really cared for ground beef as I generally find it too greasy. But now that I’m supposed to eat less meat and more vegetables or vegetarian alternatives, I’ve suddenly started staring at hamburgers and thinking of meatloaf.

One substitute that has worked well in the past is veggie ground round, a soy-based product that has the look and texture of ground beef. Now, it doesn’t taste like ground beef, so it’s best used in dishes where the meat taste isn’t necessarily the star, such as a baked pasta dish.

Last night I deflowered my virgin Le Creuset and made some tricksy vegetarian chili. This stuff looks, tastes and has the texture of regular chili but lets you avoid the grease and fat of red meat. The recipe is a mishmash of various other chili recipes that I’ve found in books and online.

Vegetarian chili

Vegetarian chili in my new Le Creuset

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Vegetable and bean soup

Vegetable and bean soup

Vegetable and bean soup

In my efforts to eat more vegetables and reduce the amount of daily calories, I took my tortellini soup and changed it up. Took out the tortellini, added more vegetables, and added a can of white kidney beans (cannellini beans).

One of the vegetables I added was a bunch of roughly chopped kale. This is the first time I have ever eaten kale, and it worked wonderfully in the soup. The leaves are quite tough, so the first servings of soup had some still crunchy kale in it. The kale softened in subsequent servings of the soup the next day. If I had used spinach on the other hand, it would have been overcooked and wilted if left in the soup, and I would have had to add fresh spinach every time I ate a bowl of the soup.

The beans added some protein and, together with a piece of whole grain toast, made the soup into a healthy meal with few calories.

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Cheese tortellini and vegetable soup

When I first made this dish, I used an Internet recipe that I cannot find anymore despite a thorough search through bookmarks, e-mails, print-outs and Google. While there are many tortellini soup recipes on the Internet, none that I read seemed quite right. I wanted something simple but hearty. And something that didn’t require sausage. For some reason, 70% of the Internet recipies I’ve found include Italian sausage! So when I needed to make this dish again, I used my very flimsy memory and flavour preferences, and made up my own version.

Cheese tortellini and vegetable soup

Cheese tortellini and vegetable soup

Cheese tortellini and vegetable soup

Makes approximately 6-8 servings.

Ingredients
Olive oil
One chopped medium onion
5-8 diced or pressed cloves of garlic
One to two cups chopped celery, including leaves (I find the leaves are a nice substitute for parsley.)
One to two cups chopped carrots
One can diced or crushed tomatoes (796 mL/28 oz)
900 mL/32 oz/4 cups of broth (I used two cartons of low-sodium beef broth but you could use chicken or vegetable broth. And you can use homemade stock of course, but I don’t bother because if I make fresh stock/broth, I’m drinking it as soup right then and there. I don’t necessarily agree that sticking water in with some vegetables for a few minutes will make a better stock than one with flavour already included.)
One package of fresh cheese tortellini (350 g)
Italian seasoning, fresh ground black pepper, and salt to taste

Directions
Heat olive oil in a large stock pot and fry your garlic and onions until the onions start to turn translucent but do not let the garlic burn.

Add your celery, carrots, tomatoes, and soup stock. Add the spices. Let simmer until the vegetables are tender enough for your taste. I would recommend not letting it cook until the vegetables are very soft, as a slight bit of crunch is nice to have when eating the soup.

Add the tortellini and cook until the tortellini float to the top, and add additional spices if needed.

The tortellini will soak up a lot of soup, so you may need to add more stock if you are serving leftovers of this dish the next day. Another option is to cook only part of the tortellini package, and cook the remainder when you heat up the soup leftovers.

Variations: Add chopped parsley to the soup. Add other vegetables like spinach. Top soup with some freshly shredded Parmesan or similar cheese. Try using different tortellini like tri-coloured or herbed pasta.