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This time of year begs for warm, comforting, hearty dishes that come together quickly.  Who has time to spend in the kitchen when there’s two feet of snow to shovel?  The beauty of minestrone soup is that it’s never the same twice and doesn’t get boring, at least not in our house.  The basic formula does not vary- beans, vegetables, broth.  The specifics, however, tend to change as the wind blows.

Minestrone Revisited

Using the Year of Slow Cooking recipe as my guide, I vary what will go in the soup each time.  Kids can help prep the vegetables, even choosing which to add, and help measure and pour the ingredients.  Even if you put the soup together after your kids have already left for school, they can chop the night before to make your morning smoother.  My kids love peeling and slicing carrots, and who can say no to that?

I love zucchini in minestrone, but it’s not something I tend to have in the refrigerator in the dead of March.  So we did without, and that was fine.  This particular time around, we were shortly post-snowstorm, and I was dipping into the bottom of the crisper and back of the pantry to make dinner happen.  I used red kidney beans, chickpea (garbanzo) beans, a large can of diced tomatoes, lots and lots of chopped carrots and celery, some diced garlic, and dried onion flakes.  Unlike the original recipe, I use chicken broth rather than beef, and canned beans instead of dried.  An hour before serving, I added frozen, thawed green beans, and five minutes before serving, a few cups of fresh baby spinach.  I find the fresh spinach is so much better in the soup that frozen, as called for in the original recipe.  In an effort to keep the carbs lower, we skipped the pasta, but did serve the soup with crusty bread and Parmesan cheese.

We enjoyed the soup after a chilly day outside, and had enough leftover for two days of lunch.  It provides an awesome way to get a ton of vegetables and lean protein.  Naturally gluten and dairy free, vegetarian, and low in fat, it makes the perfect meal.  Everyone feels genuinely happy to see this soup for dinner, which is a nice compliment to the recipe. While the temps are still low, make your family a warm and healthy dinner that comes together quickly, and spend your time making memories instead.  Share your favorite wintertime recipes with our readers, below.

Chili is a comfort food, but mostly a fall and winter dish due to its heavy nature. We were having a vegetarian friend over for dinner and chili came to mind, but it being a spring day, I wanted to go lighter. I remembered seeing an interesting chili recipe in Make It Fast: Cook It Slow, so I dug it out and happily had all of the ingredients. Paired with cornbread and a salad, we had a fairly quick and easy dinner.

White Bean Apple Chili

White Bean Apple Chili

In addition to finding the recipe listed in the cookbook above, O’Dea also has it on her blog. Check out the recipe here. The white beans I had were dried and since I hadn’t planned ahead, I followed the quick soak method first. I let them sit for two hours instead of one, as I find they’re not soft enough after one hour. White kidney beans were mentioned on the blog as one possibility, but I used Great Northern beans, which are tiny and seemed perfect with the tiny bites of apple.  Since we’re dairy free, I made a few changes to the recipe– non-dairy butter in place of butter, applesauce instead of yogurt; I also used only a tiny sprinkle of chili powder, since we don’t like our food hot. I added our favorite cornbread (Sneaky Chef‘s recipe works beautifully as gluten-free, is awesome with real corn in the cornbread, and we love the little orange flecks that come from using veggie purees as she instructs)  and my husband was shockingly home in time to make a salad.  Those who eat dairy enjoyed theirs with shredded cheddar on top, and there was just enough leftover for one of us to look forward to it for tomorrow’s lunch. Yum. The apple melted right in but gave a slightly sweet note to each bite, and everyone was happy.

Share your family’s favorite recipes as we lighten our palates and move to fun, cooler spring and summer meals. To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Peruse past blogs and keep current with new blogs at

I’m  not very creative when it comes to utilizing beans in our dinners. I can make a mean chili, chickpeas frequent our salads, black bean go into quesadillas with zucchini, and I sometimes use them to make a dip or hummus. I’ll also admit that I never quite understood dried beans. Having to soak beans overnight isn’t hard, but it does take advance planning. When I’m standing in the grocery store looking at dried beans, I can’t guarantee that I’ll always remember to soak them the night before I need to use them. Recently, I was gifted a number of vacuum-sealed packages of dried beans from my aunt and uncle’s farm in Iowa, and I was up for the challenge. I started with the easiest, black beans, and was delighted to find the quick soak method, which allowed me to use them the same day. I was even more surprised to see how robust they became… firm, plump, and much darker and richer tasting than canned beans. Next I moved on to pinto beans. I was pretty stumped with those guys… I found recipes for refried beans and baked beans, but I wanted to go a little healthier. Finally, I found something that was just whole foods and could happily cook by itself in the crockpot all day, so I gave it a go.

Slow Cooked Beans

Slow Cooked Pinto Beans

I’ll admit, the enticing picture posted with this recipe helped draw me to it. In fact, it inspired me to make skillet cornbread along with the meal (click the link, you’ll see). However, I decided to alter the recipe a little bit, adding some spices and other flavors. Here’s where we landed:

1 lb. dry pinto beans
6 c. water or broth
4 pieces of turkey bacon, thinly sliced (omit if vegetarian)
1½  sea salt (to taste)
freshly ground pepper (to taste)
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 tsp. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. italian seasoning
1 bay leaf

Soaked Beans

Soak beans overnight OR use quick soak method, as I did. Drain beans, place in crockpot with remaining ingredients. Cook for eight hours on low. Using a slotted spoon, serve beans (draining liquid), and season as desired. I never, ever salt my food, and I felt the beans needed it, but I used water when cooking them in the crockpot, not broth. Broth tends to be salty, so salting may not be necessary unless you cook them in water. To me, this screamed cornbread and a tossed salad, and it all went together nicely. My youngest daughter gobbled dinner up, which I thought was a good sign. My husband wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about it, but he ate the beans alongside leftover steak, so I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. I plan to either freeze the leftovers to use in burritos another night, or mash, re-season, and use as a side dish.

Beans are healthy, affordable, and no fuss. Being gluten-free, they’re always a welcome addition to a meal, and they’re a great vegetarian option. Share your favorite bean dishes!  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

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