Katie’s Tomato Basil Soup

It’s a cold, dreary day.  My favorite kind of day if I’m at home and hungry.  Usually on days like this I want one of two dishes:  curry or tomato basil soup.  There’s something about the flavors in those dishes that makes me feel warm and satisfied and ready for a nap.

This tomato basil soup recipe has a little back story.  It’s adapted from the Nordstrom cookbook, which I don’t own.  But my friend Katie had them all, and when i was in college, she had me over at her house every week and cooked dinner and mentored me.  The older I get, the more I realize what a labor of love that was.

Typically I would help her with dinner when I got to her house–which I am so grateful for now because I credit those nights for helping me learn how to cook–and then we’d prepare cookies to bake while we ate dinner.  My favorite dishes from her include her lime cilantro tacos, pecan and apple over greens salad, and the tomato basil soup.  I still have all of those recipes (and one for muesli) in my cookbook written in her handwriting.

After dinner, we’d scoop some vanilla ice cream onto a warm cookie and head out to her porch to talk about my life.  She listened to me talk about that Hungarian guy I really liked, but I didn’t know if he liked me back.  She helped me find some of the roots of my performance-based perfectionism while making me laugh at some of her teenage stories.  Most importantly, she invited me into her home week after week and let me see her marriage with Ryan, let me help tuck her daughter Kyla in, and let me see what a Christian woman who is not afraid to own up to her vulnerabilities was like.

I credit Katie for helping me see myself and God more honestly.  She and Ryan helped JD and me in ways that we are still realizing, and I will always be grateful for those weekly dinners and cookies on her porch.

Below is a plant-based-ified version of Nordstrom’s tomato basil soup, and it is my favorite soup of all time.  It’s simple, easy, and fairly quick.  You can make it smoky by adding some smoked paprika.  You can put some Italian sausage (or Italian tofurky) for the meat-eaters in your family.  You can pour it over rice or toast some french bread for dipping.  Or pour some pumpkin cornbread croutons on it like I did. It’s really hard to ruin the soup.

So good luck!  Whip up some of this soup and perhaps invite a college student over for dinner.  They need someone to talk to.

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Tomato Basil Soup
Makes 6-8 bowls of soup.

1 tbs. coconut oil (or vegetable broth if you don’t use oil)
5 carrots, peeled and chopped (I run these through my Vitamix for like 10 seconds to chop them)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 tbs. dried basil
3 cans (28-oz. each) whole tomatoes* with puree
1 can (15-oz.) tomato sauce
2 cups cashew cream (2 cups raw cashews and 1/2 cup of water)
2 tbs. honey (this is to combat bitterness)
Salt and peper to taste

*You can use whole tomatoes with basil, whole Roma tomatoes (my favorite), or Italian-style whole tomatoes.  They are all slightly different, but good options.

1. In a big pot, warm the oil.  Then add carrots, onion, and dried basil and saute until softened (about 10 minutes).
2. Add the tomatoes with puree and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes to blend the flavors.
4. While the soup is simmering, pour 2 cups of raw cashews and 1/2 cup of water into your blender and blend.  It is much better to start out with not enough water than too much–trust me, you do not want cashew water in your soup!  If the cream is too thick to naturally pour out of the blender, add water by tablespoons until it’s the consistency of melted ice cream.
5. Remove soup from heat and puree the soup with an immersion hand blender.  You can also do this by blending the whole tomatoes and some of the soup in a regular blender, but it’s much more cumbersome.  Get an immersion blender–it will change your life.
6. Once the soup is pureed, add cashew cream and heat through.  Add salt, pepper, and honey to taste.  If it’s too bitter, add some more honey.
7. Enjoy!


Mean Green Enchiladas

I can’t tell you the last time I took TUMS. To truly understand how remarkable this is, you have to know that JD and I used to take TUMS nearly every night in our pre-plant-strong days. Meat is naturally very acidic, and on top of the processed, oily meals we were eating, our stomachs were battlefields.

I took TUMS for heartburn, acid reflux, and sour stomach regularly–even when we were eating “healthy.” In addition to TUMS, JD was on medication for acid reflux and couldn’t drink coffee or eat anything with tomatoes in it.

Do you know how hard it is to make chili, tacos, pasta, curry, etc. without tomatoes? We actually had arguments about adding tomatoes to a meal. But that’s not relevant to my story.

Since completely transitioning to a plant-strong diet, our life is vastly different. JD and I are completely off medication, and we haven’t had to worry about acid reflux for nearly a year. I literally cannot remember the last time I had a stomachache. I mean, I grew up thinking stomachaches were a normal part of your day. And now I can’t remember the last time I had one. That is crazy!

For so many reasons we are plant-strong, but this a big reason. Food is not a point of contention in our lives. It doesn’t cause turmoil inside our intestines, we don’t lay around feeling miserable, and we are not longer dependent on medication. It’s liberating.

I preface this recipe with that story because I still have some tricks up my sleeve from those no-tomato days, including these Mean Green Enchiladas. You can check out my Kale and Sweet Potato Enchiladas here, but if you’re wanting some green goodness for dinner, this is a simple, mouth-watering recipe.

Don’t be deterred by the amount of ingredients–you probably have quite a few of these in your pantry already. With prep and cook time, it takes about 45-50 minutes to make, which makes for a great weekday meal.

The sauce is what makes this recipe, so make it your own with extra cilantro, more lime, or less salt.  You can substitute ingredients to fit your needs and preferences such as spinach for kale, wheat tortillas for corn tortillas, kidney beans for black beans, etc.

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Mean Green Enchiladas
Serves 6-8 (1 serving is 3-4 enchiladas!)

Sauce ingredients:
1/2 c. water
3 avocadoes
28-oz. can tomatillos, drained
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
Juice from 1/2 a lime
Handful of pickled jalapenos
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. pepper

Filling ingredients:
1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced
2 cans black beans, drained
1 c. sweet corn
2 c. kale (I used frozen), chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1/4 c. tomatillo salsa
Juice from 1/2 lime
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder

Small tortillas (I used white corn this time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend all sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth. Add avocadoes if it’s too liquid-y, water if it’s too thick. Set aside.

Add all filling ingredients except salt, cilantro, and salsa to a skillet with a little bit of vegetable broth and saute until mushrooms and kale are wilted. Then add salt, cilantro, and salsa.

Scoop about 1/4 c. filling mixture in a tortilla and roll up, placing the two flaps on the bottom into a 13×9 pan. Continue until pan is filled up.  I used two large pans for this recipe.

Pour green sauce generously over tortillas and use a spoon to spread sauce over edges of tortilla. The sauce keeps the tortillas from getting hard and chewy.

Bake for 25 minutes.


How do you fight acid reflux?

Avocado Basil Pasta–The Magical Dish


This dish has magical powers. I know what you might be thinking: “How can a pasta dish have powers? There’s no such thing as magic!”

I get it. It’s hard to believe in magic when you haven’t tasted this dish. I understand. I was once a skeptic too. It’s okay. Just hear me out.

JD used to hate all things avocadoes. He would refuse any avocado on a sandwich or in a salad, and he would turn his nose up at guacamole. Guacamole! Imagine my distress as a native Texan who practically sweats guacamole. It was a very sad time in our marriage.

But then one day, I ran into a friend at Walmart and we chatted a bit. You have no idea how common this is in small-town Arkansas, and I fought it my first 2 years there. But then I accepted it as a way of life, and now I kind of miss it in big-city Austin. But I digress.

Anyway, she started telling me of how she got her husband to eat avocadoes by sneaking it into pasta dishes. I was intrigued, yet skeptical. JD is very smart. Surely he would realize what I was trying to do and thwart my plans. But what if it worked? As I laid in bed late at night, I went back and forth. The possibilities! The risks! What could I do?

I was hesitant to try this trickery, but then I thought, “What’s the worst that could happen? JD could end up not liking it and that means more avocado for me. Win-win.” I knew I had to do it soon or my courage would fail.

So one Sunday afternoon as JD was sleeping off a night-shift, I stealthily started mixing some of my favorite ingredients: avocadoes, basil, lemon, garlic, and spinach. I could live on that combination. I seriously have a dopamine reaction when I smell those things together. What could go wrong?

When JD woke up, I urged him to just try it. Just one bite. And he did. Then he had another bite. Before I knew it, he had finished the bowl. And he liked it! After various other CIA-worthy acts with avocadoes (I have this secret dream of being a CIA agent), JD is on the avocado team now. And it all started with that dish. Pure magic.

This meal is one of my very favorite dishes. It takes the amount of time that pasta needs to boil (we’re talking 15 minutes!). It’s packed with nutrition and freshness. It will make your taste buds explode.

It’s also incredibly filling because of the fiber and protein, but I cannot stop myself from getting a second bowl. Every. Time. I always have to change into stretchy pants after eating those two bowls. But all the cells in my body are holding hands and taking those girly jump pictures because they’re so happy.

So take a deep breath and believe in the magic.


Avocado Basil Pasta
Serves 6-8

3 avocadoes, peeled and pitted
2-3 large leaves of fresh basil
2-3 big handfuls of fresh spinach
Juice of 1 lemon
4 cloves garlic
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. salt
8-10 oz. of cooked brown rice macaroni or shells*
Grape tomatoes, sliced for garnish (optional)

*I use brown rice pasta because it has a lighter taste than whole wheat pasta. I’ve had both with the pasta, and they’re both tasty, but I prefer the brown rice pasta. This kind of pasta can be found in any gluten-free section of your grocery store. Walmart even carries it!

Throw everything in a blender except the pasta and blend on medium until spinach is very small. You may need to stir up the mix a few times to get everything evenly blended.

If the mixture is too lemony, add spinach. If it’s too bitter or bland, add lemon and garlic. If it’s too thick, add a little water. If it’s too liquid-y, add spinach or more avocado. It’s a balancing act and up to your preferences!

Once the pasta is cooked, spoon about 1/4 c. over a bowl of pasta. The warm pasta will heat up the avocado mixture to a perfect temperature. Add sliced tomatoes for garnish.

Because of the lemon, the avocado mixture will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. It won’t brown! 🙂

Leftover pasta is tasty warmed up or cold!

What is your all-time favorite pasta dish?

Mushroom Paprika Stew

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Whenever I’m in one of those get-to-know-you situations, and I’m asked to say something interesting about myself, I always say, “My husband is from Hungary.” Then I get to answer questions about how we met and does he speak English and of course he does because I don’t speak Hungarian. It’s quaint and cute, and I love it.

Anyway, Hungarian food is one of those lost little treasures of the world. The flavor is rich and full of paprika and browned onions. Scents of goulash cooked over an open fire in the backyard wafts under my nose as do cherries sold by old ladies on the street, fresh-picked from their garden.

There is a lot of pride that goes into making the food, so don’t be disheartened if a Hungarian tells you that it’s not true Hungarian because you made it this way or that way. They’re right, it’s not. But who cares? It tastes divine. At least that’s what I told myself recently when I made this dish for the Austin Hungarian Christmas party.

A crowd favorite meal among our guests is Gomba Paprikas (gome’-bah pah’-pree-kahsh), or Mushroom Paprika Stew. It’s truly very simple and can be made under an hour, cashew milk and all. Because this dish is traditionally made with sour cream and a lot of oil, I’ve had to modify it to fit our plant-strong diet. Not quite as Hungarian, but still divine.

Because the cashew milk does not have the exact effect on flavor as sour cream does, don’t leave out the vinegar.


Mushroom Paprika Stew
Serves 6-8 people

1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp. coconut oil
2 tbsp. Hungarian paprika (there’s a difference, but Whole Foods sells this Paprika)
2 15-oz. cans chopped tomatoes, drained
2 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 lbs. white or cremini mushrooms, chopped
3 c. water
2 c. cashew cream
3 roma tomatoes, sliced

Cashew Cream:
2 c. cashews
1 1/2 c. water (add more if needed)

1 lb. whole wheat pasta shells (brown rice or quinoa pasta works just as well for the gluten-free)

Boil pasta shells for about 10 minutes.

In a large pan, brown onion in coconut oil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add seasonings and mushrooms. Stir frequently for 5 minutes.

Add water and chopped tomatoes. Cover and let simmer for 5-7 minutes.

While simmering, blend the cashews and the water in a high speed blender until it’s the consistency of yogurt. Add more cashews to thicken it up, more water to thin it down.

Add cashew cream and vinegar and stir until heated through.

Turn off heat, and add cooked pasta shells to sauce and stir until covered in sauce. Add roma tomatoes for garnish.

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What Hungarian dishes have you tried?

Veggie Lettuce Wraps


When JD and I first got married, I barely knew how to stir vegetables in a skillet. I’m fairly certain we ate sticky, burnt vegetables more than once, but we were young and in love.  And poor.  We were lucky to even have vegetables.

After a while, under the tutelage of some cookbooks and experience, I learned more about cooking food and how different flavors go together. I found a decent recipe for lettuce wraps (PF Chang fans know what I’m talking about!), and I might have made it every other week for a few months. It was easy and delicious, and I didn’t have to be very kitchen savvy to make it.

Thankfully, my kitchen skills have improved greatly since then. I’ve modified the recipe a lot and made it my own, plant-based and all. This meal takes about 30 minutes and is packed with flavor and nutrition. Even non-plant-based people rave about it!

I’ve included some variations at the bottom.  I typically make it with whatever mixed vegetable and teriyaki sauce is in my kitchen, so it changes every time.


May your cabbage leaves be as full as your bellies.

Veggie Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4

2 bags stir-fry vegetables, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. teriyaki sauce (I used sesame teriyaki this time)
1/4 c. hoisin sauce
3 tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
Sesame seeds for garnish

Red cabbage leaves

Blend veggies and garlic until they are very finely chopped. Heat chopped veggies with a splash of lemon juice on medium-high. Once heated through, add sauces, peanut butter, vinegar, and ginger. Stir for 5 minutes and then turn off heat. Add sesame seeds.

Scoop a big spoonful onto a cabbage leaf and enjoy!

Variations: Substitute a lb. of ground tofu for a bag of veggies (marinate tofu for a few minutes in teriyaki). Use different types of teriyaki sauces.  Use green cabbage or your favorite green.  You can also wilt your cabbage leaf in a toaster oven for about a minute if you like really soft lettuce.

What are your tried and true recipes?

Sweet Potato and Kale Enchiladas

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I was born on the wrong side of the border. Or maybe I’m just a true Texan. Either way, I love Tex-Mex: tacos, burritos, tamales, enchiladas, salsa.

JD and I spent 3 years in Arkansas together, and extremely disappointed does not even begin to describe how we felt about the Mexican food there. I mean, who doesn’t put cilantro in their salsa? Would like you some more tortilla with that oil?

But now we are back in the motherland of Tex-Mex, and we eat that blessed food weekly in whatever form it takes. Lately, I’ve been including enchiladas in our circulation because they just have a wintery feel to them.

Try not to eat them too fast.


Sweet Potato and Kale Enchiladas
Serves 8

Whole wheat or organic corn tortillas (10)

32 oz crushed tomatoes
15 oz of diced tomatoes (these can be fire-roasted)
3-4 tsp. cumin
3-4 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. Southwestern seasoning
Dash of cayenne

15 oz of black or kidney beans (you could double this)
Bunch of dino kale
4 large sweet potatoes
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tsp. of cumin (to taste)
3-4 tsp. of chili powder (to taste)
3-4 tsp. of sea salt
Dash of liquid smoke
1/4 c. of salsa of your choice (I use a smoky flavor)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together ingredients for sauce in a pot and let simmer covered on medium heat while the rest of the prep takes place. Stir occasionally.

Chop and boil sweet potatoes until soft. Meanwhile, chop veggies for filling and put in a big bowl. Once sweet potatoes are done, mash them in the bowl with the veggies (it’s okay if it’s chunky).

Add 2-3 heaping spoonfuls of filling to a tortilla and roll up. You may also choose to spoon in a little of your sauce in each enchilada. It’s up to you! Place with edges on the bottom in 13×9 pan. Continue doing so until all tortillas or all filling is used up. You may need to use 2 pans.

Pour sauce over enchiladas. It should reach the brim of the pan. Bake enchiladas for 20-30 minutes.

How do you make plant-strong enchiladas?

Extra Chunky Pizza Sauce

See how chunky that is?

Because I teach English, I feel obligated to make a Shakespeare pun with the wordy “Saucy!” in this post, but I will refrain. For now.

I love pizza almost as much I love tacos, but in the past, pizza’s been way more work than tacos. Because I work full-time as a teacher (which everyone knows is like a full-time job and a half), I need quick meals.

Thankfully, this pizza sauce has shortened my time tremendously because it includes the “cheesy” part in the sauce. Add that to the lavash, and you’ve got yourself a very quick pizza. However, if you want to spend just 30 more minutes on pizza for the nut cheese, I will have a post for that soon!

So if you’re feeling saucy, this recipe is for you (it had to happen)!

Extra Chunky Pizza Sauce
Sauces about 2 pizzas

25 oz. jar of tomato sauce of your choice (I use Trader Joe’s Marinara)
15 oz. can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 c. cashews
1/2-3/4 c. of nutritional yeast (to taste)
3 cloves garlic
3 large leaves of fresh basil
1 tbsp. smoked paprika (Trader Joe’s again)
1 tbsp. of oregano
2 tsp. sea salt
Dash of pepper

Blend all ingredients on medium power until it’s about the consistency of oatmeal. Cashew chunks should be fairly small, but not completely obliterated.

Then pour blended sauce in a pot and cover it. Bring to bubbly on medium heat. Then simmer on low covered for about 25 minutes.

Scoop on to your favorite pizza crust or eat straight out of the pot–it’s that good!

What’s your favorite kind of pizza sauce?