It’s a bright new year. After all of the eating too much and spending too much, the lean, bean days of January are here. For the lean part, it’s a fresh start on mindful eating. And for the bean part, it’s economizing on your food spending a bit, too, so your wallet can recover.
If your new year’s food resolutions include eating better and saving money, you can do all that at home. You don’t need to leave the comforts of your cabin to have a delicious and satisfying meal, and you’ll save a bundle, too. Cook at home and you can control the ingredients, portion size, freshness, and the quality of your food, and also limit sodium, sugar and saturated fat. Home cooked meals are just healthier and more economical.
According to Clark Public Utilities, using smaller appliances can help you save money. The more often you use smaller appliances, the more energy you’ll save, and your kitchen-related energy expenses will be lower, too. Air fryers, convection ovens, crockpots, microwaves and even kettles can help reduce energy waste, and sometimes even shorten cooking times.
Standard electric ovens use around 4,500 watts, while larger toaster ovens use only 1,200. Use your toaster oven for 1 hour to bake your favorite dish, and it will cost just 10 cents. Cooking it in your oven for an hour will be 36 cents. If you do this every day, using your toaster oven instead, you can save about $8 a month.
For savory, cost-saving soups, look to your slow-cooker. Typically rated between 180 and 400 watts, they use a fraction of the power that your stove or oven would. You can toss in all of your ingredients in the morning and let your slow-cooker simmer away until dinnertime. To kick off the new year, try this delicious, filling, and meat-free Slow-Cooker Lentil Soup. It’s nutritious, easy to make, and easy on your wallet.
Just like beans, lentils should be rinsed and sorted prior to cooking. To do this, measure your lentils, then spread them out on a clean countertop. Hold a colander in front of you, below the counter’s edge. Swirl the lentils around with the other hand, checking for rocks or anything irregular, then push the sorted lentils into the colander before rinsing well.
Green lentils will hold their shape during cooking, whereas brown lentils break down more easily. Either are fine for this recipe, but I don’t recommend red or yellow, as they will become soft and mushy if overcooked. Cook your soup just until the lentils are tender. I used brown lentils and my soup cooked in 6 hours.
You can combine all of the ingredients in the slow-cooker and let them cook together, but if you sauté the onion, celery and carrot in a little olive oil until they are tender and lightly browned it will add delicious flavor. Keep it plant-based as it is, or feel free to add in a ham bone or sausage. You can also stir in diced or shredded cooked chicken or crumbled bacon when your soup is done cooking.
Blending helps to thicken the soup, but lentils are so thick and hearty you can honestly skip this step and still have a satisfying soup. You can also use an immersion blender to just blend a small portion if you don’t want to dirty your blender.
Remember: soup can be anything. You don’t need to follow a recipe, and when you shop your fridge for ingredients you are guaranteed to end up with something you like because all those “leftovers” you have are small bits of something you already enjoyed. Start with sautéed onions, celery, and carrots, add broth, and go from there.
Slow-Cooker Lentil Soup
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 cups dried green lentils
- 5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth, or water
- 1 14-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Drizzle olive oil into a medium skillet and warm lightly. Add onion, celery, and carrot and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and barely golden. Stir in garlic and thyme and let cook about 1 minute.
Transfer mixture to a 5-quart slow-cooker. Sort and rinse lentils, then add to slow-cooker along with chicken broth, vegetable broth (or water), and diced tomatoes. Cover and cook on low until lentils and vegetables are tender, about 6 to 7 hours.
optional, for thickening:
Transfer 2 cups lentil mixture to a blender. Secure lid and remove center piece to allow steam to escape. Place a clean towel over opening, and process until smooth, about 45 seconds. Stir mixture back into slow-cooker.
Taste and adjust, stirring in a little vinegar, salt and freshly ground black pepper, if needed. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with parsley and cheese.