janet @ the taste space

Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary (and How to Save Money as a Vegan)

In Mains (Vegetarian), Soups on September 21, 2012 at 6:19 AM

After boldly stating that I can easily munch through a weekly food budget of $15, I had a few people suggesting I share my tips. I have been meaning to write this post for a while, so I apologize for its delay.

It may not seem like it at first glance, but it is possible to eat well on a vegan whole-foods diet without breaking the budget. In fact, moving towards a whole foods diet will keep you away from spending the big bucks on processed food. All that processing costs the consumer more money. You do not need to eat cheaply, but rather buy good food that costs cheap. 🙂

Without further adieu, here are my tips.

1. Waste not
First of all, my biggest tip is do not waste any food. I try really hard not to waste any produce. I make weekly meal plans incorporating the ingredients I already have and what I want to buy.  Know was needs to be consumed quickly (strawberries!) and what can wait (sweet potatoes!). Know what needs to be refrigerated (greens!) and what does not (tomatoes!).

2. Store surplus properly – freezers are your friends
Freeze leftover veggies and meals. When red peppers go on sale, I stock up because they can be easily frozen. No need to blanch or cook beforehand, just chop and freeze. Afterwards, they are also easy to throw into whatever dish you end up using them in – they’ve already been pre-cut! Soups and stews can easily be frozen and reheated when you want to eat them again.

3. Eat beans and cook them from scratch
Beans are cheap, healthy and store well. I routinely make a big batch of beans and freeze them with their stock in containers in 2 cup measurements so it is just like pulling out a can of beans. Quick cooking beans like red lentils are also great for easy soups and curries.

4. Buy in bulk, when it makes sense
My Mom calls me a hoarder. I think of myself as buying in bulk. This technique doesn’t work for everyone, but if you have the space, definitely consider it. When certain staples go on sale, I stock up. 2 kg of red lentils for $2? Yes please. That will likely only last 2 months anyhow. Steel cut oats, same thing… Cans of coconut milk and tomatoes will also always find a use.

5. Grow your own food
If possible, grow your own food. I have been dabbling in gardening, focusing on higher yielding vegetables (beans, zucchini) and greens such as kale and collards since they do not need to be harvested immediately. However, even for those without much space, my herb garden has been the most prolific and rewarding, both in the garden and in my kitchen. Being able to snip off a handful of fresh herbs for your meal makes your meal go a long way. Even if you are hard-pressed for sun, you can grow your own sprouts.

6. Cook at home
I almost didn’t include this tip since it is pretty obvious. Save money by cooking for yourself. Don’t eat out at restaurants. Don’t buy premade seitan. Pack your own lunch and cook things yourself.

7. Know where to shop for good prices
The above tips are more general but I wanted the heart of this post to be about my favourite local stores. I currently live in an area that has plentiful options for groceries, so every week I scour the flyers and figure out what I need to buy based on my meal plan. Ethnic grocers are usually a great place for reasonably priced ingredients. Sales often vary, but there are stores that I know I will usually find great prices.

Here are my favourite places in Toronto:

Sunny’s Supermarket – I don’t live close to Sunny’s anymore, but it has an awesome selection of nearly every ethnic cuisine, except the standard North American diet. Milk and cereal might be there, but it isn’t as cheap as the red lentils and tofu. It has a very extensive spice collection with high turnover for its produce, beans and grains. Weekly sales are great and they often have random produce on sale, too. It is not uncommon for red lentils, chickpeas and split peas to sell for cheap ($2 for 2 kg). Bestwin is a similar supermarket, not too far away, but it is more dingy and not as big as Sunny’s.

Lucky Moose in Chinatown – I have started to bike past Chinatown when I come home from work. I think this is one of the better priced grocers with good quality produce. I never know what I will find on sale though… bananas for 29c/lb, zucchini for 39c/lb or young Thai coconuts ($2/2). Like most Asian grocers, “exotic” mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, shiitake and enoki are always reasonably priced. Snow peas and snap peas, too ($2/lb).

Welcome Food Mart – This is my neighbourhood ethnic grocer. A transplanted Chinatown grocer with oftentimes questionable produce but there are some good deals to be had. They have a weekly flyer and they constantly seem to sell 10 limes for $1 which suits me perfectly.

Tutti Fruiti in Kensington Market – Kensington Market is our local stop for bulk items, like nuts when they aren’t on sale elsewhere. I have started to use more Brazil nuts in recipes because they are cheaper here than walnuts and pecans! Protein powders are also very reasonably priced (Hemp Pro 70 is $19) and tempeh is the best price in town. Don’t like Tutti Fruiti? Try the neighboring Essence of Life instead.

Ambrosia – My favourite health food isn’t that close to me, but when we are in the area, we stock up at Ambrosia. Monthly specials can be great on top of great regular prices. Quinoa for $2.44/lb? Yes please! They also seem to stock the majority of all my wacky kitchen needs (I buy my nutritional yeast and vital wheat gluten here).

Bulk Barn – I don’t find Bulk Barn to have good prices but if it is your closest bulk store, so be it. Buying only what you need is the way to go. The one time you will find me in Bulk Barn is when their oats are on sale for 79c/lb and I couple that with a $3 off $10 purchase coupon. Cheap oats, please!

J-Town – I don’t find J-Town that inexpensive but it is a nice place to stock up on all your Japanese needs. I am listing it thought because it sells Mori-Nu silken tofu for $1.68. Booyah!

No Frills, FreshCo and Walmart – Of all the big chain grocery stores, these are my favourites even though I don’t shop there that often. No Frills and FreshCo stock ethnic vegetables, depending on their neighbouhood, too. Surprisingly, Walmart has good prices for nuts and dried fruit. It has a reasonable selection of ethnic ingredients. I even spotted my much loved package of peeled garlic at Walmart, too. All three stores also have a nice price matching policy, that includes grocery items. I really like that because I can still go shopping on a Wednesday and know my produce will be in-stock at the grocers that price match.

Do you have any other great tips for eating well as a vegan? Any other places in Toronto that you recommend?

Feel free to peruse my archives for what I actually eat on a day-to-day basis. I have a bad habit of not sharing some of my most easy pantry-friendly meals. Possibly because red lentil soups are not always photogenic. That doesn’t mean they don’t taste as good, so I encourage you to dive past the murkiness of this soup and give it a try.

This Greek red lentil soup is very simple, yet tastes great. The soup stock is based from sauteed onions, garlic, carrots and bay leaves which are simmered with red lentils infused with rosemary and oregano for the touch of Greek. The soup is finished with lemon juice and zest to bring it up a notch and complement the herbs.

The entire recipe makes a big pot of soup, so I encourage you to freeze half for a rainy (or snowy) day.

This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, this week’s Virtual Vegan Potluck Linky, to this week’s Soup Potluck Party, and to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday.

Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary
Adapted from Rebar

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tsp salt, divided
8 garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, diced
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp Aleppo chile flakes
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
8 cups vegetable stock or water
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
pepper to taste

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil. Once hot, add onion and salt and  saute until the onion is translucent, around 10 minutes. Add garlic, carrot, pepper, chile flakes, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Stir well and saute until the carrots are just tender.

2. Add rinsed lentils and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the lentils are soft and falling apart. Remove from heat, discard bay leaves and puree if desired (I don’t puree).

3. Add lemon zest and lemon juice and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Prior to serving, sprinkle with minced rosemary.

Serves 6.

  1. Great tips Janet! I need to go to Tutti Fruitti! It seriously sounds amazing and I need to start finding some savings!

    Soup looks fantastic and so easy, my favourite! Have a great weekend!

  2. Great tips! I’ve become a huge fan of buying dried beans. Thu are so easy! I like to make big batches and freeze what I can’t eat.

    I think you should share all your lentils! Brown food tastes best. 😉

  3. Hi Janet,

    Oh my, your lentil soup looks absolutely delicious! I am a lover of both red lentils and lemons, so this flavor combination is hitting on all cylinders for me. I will make this very soon.

    I also love your ideas for shopping creatively and inexpensively. It sounds like you have really scoured your community to find the best places to shop for specific items.

    However, unlike you, I live in a small college town in rural SW Ohio and have fewer resources. I purchase organic, non-GMO, BPA-free groceries/produce as much as possible, and if they are not available, I more often than not just go to “Plan B” rather than buy conventional alternatives.

    But unless I want to drive an hour to another city (which I do on occasion), I have exactly 4 places to shop: Walmart, Kroger, a new Co-op and a weekly farmers market. Unfortunately, Walmart falls grossly short here, so I end up using them mostly as my paper products/Hanes underwear resource… Kroger has been increasing the amount of organic products they carry, thanks mostly to the avalanche of special requests from me and other health-conscious customers. In their defense, they have done a moderately good job of stocking what I need, but too often, the main warehouse mysteriously “scratches” basic organic items (i.e. mushrooms, tomatoes) from the delivery schedule so too often, I see nothing but an empty shelf or bin. The new Co-op, albeit tiny, carries mostly organic, gluten-free and bulk items, but woohoo, the prices are sky high; I shop there every now and then for bulk spices and those organic mushrooms or limes that are MIA at Kroger…. The farmers market carries an abundance of items that I don’t eat (grass-fed beef, Amish chickens, eggs and goat cheese), a good supply of things I don’t want (homemade jellies, white bread, houseplants, woven baskets), and a moderate amount of produce, some of which is more expensive than the organics at the grocery store. Most weeks, it’s rather disappointing.

    If you don’t mind, I have a couple of questions for you… When you shop, what is most important to you? (1) Will only buy vegan items, but whether the item was organically grown or conventionally ground is not a factor, or (2) Will only buy items that are vegan and organic, and will only purchase conventional if absolutely necessary.

    Thanks for your input and keep those great recipes coming!

    • Wow, what a wonderful comment! I know it can be difficult to get proper food when in small towns, so I applaud you for looking for mail-order items (I plan to stock pile Rancho Gordo beans when I move to the US!) when available. Of course, it is not feasible to do that for produce… and I am so perplexed that staples like mushrooms can be so hard to find! I only ever buy vegan and try to buy organic if it makes sense (ie, the dirty dozen) and available. It isn’t always available so I usually buy the conventional produce. The best local and organic produce, though, comes from my garden! 🙂

      • Hi Janet,

        I am embarrassed to say that I have never heard of Rancho Gordo beans, but I just Googled them and this company looks like a great resource as well — thanks for the tip!

        On a related note, I have also decided to add even more beans, lentils and legumes to my menus than I already do. In order to further the cause, I have decided that a revamp of my kitchen and pantry is probably in order. Ideally, I’d like to eliminate any/all processed foods that I could potentially make myself — even if those processed foods are vegan and organic and make my life a lot easier — and try to substitute beans, lentils and legumes instead.

        To clarify, I do cook better than 95% of our meals from scratch at home, but sometimes, it’s so much easier to come home after a long day at work and open a can of Eden black beans, use a jar of Muir Glen pasta sauce or make soup with Imagine’s organic vegetable broth than it is to plan days ahead to create all of these foods from scratch. But for some reason, I feel convicted that I need to spend the extra time required to do so instead of buying what someone else has made and paying more for it. Admittedly, I do have a bit of a storage problem in that I have a very small freezer, so I have limitations on how much can be frozen (not sure where we would put a free-standing freezer even if we bought one), but maybe this will force me to learn how to can or dehydrate foods.


  4. Great recipe, great tips. Thanks for posting, Janet.

  5. I love your tips! I wish I had more freezer space, but we have to make room for the martini glasses. 😉 Also, this soup looks amazing, but I’m currently in mourning for lentils, beans and legumes. I’m coming to grips with the fact that my body does not digest them. I will miss them probably more than cheese! Eat a double portion for me, please…

    • Man, that sucks… I love beans and they are the center of most of my meals (especially since I am trying to cut down on whole grains and nuts).. Double portion here, for sure!

      (ps. we actaully bought a separate freezer (deep one) so we have more room! I am hoping to stockpile soups with fresh ingredients now so I can eat them in the winter!) 🙂

      • That sounds like a great idea–both the freezer and the stockpile. I bet you have plenty of room for martini glasses! Our home is just too small for that. We have a mini fridge outside, but it’s a dud.

        Had just two bites of a chickpea flour crisp (poppadum) yesterday and felt terrible within minutes. I’m so so sad to say goodbye to beans and legumes! But if it means no bloating, painful nights, I’m in.

  6. Yes, yes, yes. My biggest challenge is not wasting food, because my eyes are often bigger than my stomach–especially at the farmer’s market. The freezer is definitely a lifesaver there! This soup sounds great–easy, tasty, and healthy. 🙂

  7. Mmm…that sounds delicious!

    Comes at the right time, too. I’m on a lentil recipe mission. Only today I have tried out a Red Lentil Soup variation over on my blog 🙂 More of an Indian flavour combo though with ginger, and roasted mustard seeds and cumin seeds…

    The season of heart-warming soups and stews has started, yay…!

  8. I love these tips–lentils and beans are staples here as well and I have a pot of soup around most of the year. I do find that I spend a lot of money on organic fruits and veggies though (I have a family of 5), but I think that money is a good investment. 🙂

    • Ah yes, I am feeding 1.5, so that makes it much more economical. Rob’s employer provides a lot of his lunches and sometimes dinners, so it is mostly me I am feeding. Organic fruits and veggies are definitely a great investment for the dirty dozen. 🙂

  9. Hooray for Greek soup! You are speaking my language.

    And these are fantastic tips, Janet. I have been accused of hoarding, too, but my bulk shopping almost always saves me time and keeps me prepared.

  10. Great post–excellent tips. I need to be better about planning more and wasting less. Love all the herbs and lemon in this lentil soup–so hearty and delicious. Thanks for sharing with Souper Sundays. 😉

  11. […] Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary from Janet @ the taste space […]

  12. […] Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary from Janet @ the taste space […]

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  14. […] Bombay Hummus – Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary – Tomato Tarragon Soup – Smoky Split Pea Soup with Roasted Garlic and Sage – Christmas Eve Borscht […]

  15. […] a few versions at a nearby health food store, Foods for Life. And you know what?  Their tempeh is just as cheap ($3.59) as Tutti […]

  16. This was easy to make and tasty.

  17. […] How to Save Money as a Vegan | Taste Space […]

  18. Great tips! Thanks for sharing it on my post today. I’ve added it to my Complete Guide of Eating Healthy!

  19. […] an eye out for ethnic grocers. They are my favourite for fresh and inexpensive produce and staples (these are my favourite stores in Toronto). If you are familiar with Houston, please let me know of your favourite shops. I am also […]

  20. […] I am lucky, I am able to find my wacky ingredients at one my favourite grocers.  If you want to buy this ingredient at a grocery store, it needs to be an Indian grocer, methinks […]

  21. […] Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary […]

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