I’m no vegan. Not even close. But I do make a fair number of vegan dishes by accident.

Because meat and dairy products don’t keep very long, when you’re cooking for one or two, using them requires a level of planning that my life can’t always accommodate. On my Sunday grocery run, I try to under-buy perishable items, based on my schedule, and make sure my pantry’s stocked well enough for a couple extra dinners at home. Those tend to be vegan, typically bean-based soups and tofu curries.

It was some almost-expired tofu (purchased for its relatively long-for-a-protein shelf life) in my refrigerator that led me to flip through “5-Ingredient Vegan: 175 Simple, Plant-Based Recipes For Delicious, Healthy Meals in Minutes,” by Nava Atlas. It was a months-long craving for cream of mushroom soup (the photo of this cookbook’s vegan version is pictured multiple times throughout) that led me to take it home.

But it was the lack of self-righteousness in Atlas’s tone (sorry to stereotype) that helped me realize this could be a useful cookbook for me. Throughout the book, she notes that it was written for “lazy” people like her. I’m sure here it’s a euphemism for “busy,” but I appreciated the self-deprecation. I even read with interest where she plainly laid out some reasons for going vegan. One consideration that made me stop and think was “the fact that humans are the only species that drinks the milk of another species and … drinks milk after being weaned.” True. Gross.

Many of the dishes in the book mimic classics that traditionally include meat, eggs or dairy, substituting those ingredients with vegan-friendly ones – liked creamed corn with coconut milk, a tofu scramble and vegan burger sloppy joes. Others are simply vegetable-centric recipes that also tend to be on the lighter side, like baked polenta fries, riced cauliflower with chickpeas and mushrooms, and couscous curry with peas and cashews.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to substitute a meat or dairy product with a vegan version, but it’s good to know all the ways you can use things like tofu and almond or coconut milk – which I had already been buying for their longevity and lack of lactose – when you have them handy. The Creamy Mushroom Soup gives the option of using either a can of cannellini beans, which I always have, or tofu, which I happened to have, as the thickener.

The beans are listed first, which makes me think they are the preferred option. I’m guessing they add some saltiness and flavor that was missing from the tofu and from the fact that the only seasoning instructions were to add salt and pepper to taste at the end. If using tofu, I’d suggest seasoning the ingredients throughout the process and increasing the amount of mushrooms to make up for the soup’s blandness. I put the second half of my batch in a blender, to at least incorporate the mushroom flavor throughout, which worked well and satisfied the craving I’d been having for the soup, with the added benefit of it not being as heavy as cream-based versions.

Despite the flaws I felt the recipe had, I’m glad to have this technique for thickening soup (and using up tofu) at my disposal. And the author makes clear, she’d have no problem with me doing it my own way. She probably wouldn’t even care if I used it to make cream of chicken soup next time.

Creamy Mushroom Soup from “5-Ingredient Vegan,” by Nava Atlas Photo by Hannah Kaminsky

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Recipe from “5-Ingredient Vegan” by Neva Atlas

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or 12.3-ounce container firm silken tofu

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, plus more as needed

10 to 12 ounces crimini or white mushrooms, sliced

(Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste)

1. Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onion is golden.

2. Transfer the onion and garlic mixture to a food processor, along with the cannellini beans or tofu and a little of the broth. Process until smoothly pureed.

3. In the same soup pot, combine the mushrooms with enough water to keep the bottom of the pot moist. Cover and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.

4. Transfer the bean mixture from the food processor to the mushrooms in the soup pot. Add the remaining vegetable broth and stir to combine. If the soup is too thick, add a little more broth.

5. Heat the soup slowly until nicely heated through, but don’t let it boil. Season with salt and pepper, and serve. Or, if time allows, let the soup stand off the heat for an hour or so to develop flavor, then heat through as needed.


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