It was probably 30 years ago, when times were pretty normal, that I had a lot of fun planning plant-based meals for our midweek Lenten suppers at our church, First Lutheran. Before that, we did have soup-and-sandwich suppers on the Wednesdays during Lent, but they had degenerated to a rather blah series of canned soups, bought bread, peanut butter and maybe sliced cheeses.

I was approached by our pastor to do “something different.” That was when we pulled a big old Hobart mixer from the storage room and started mixing up bread from scratch. Because it was a lot cheaper to make soups from scratch, we also dragged out the big soup pots. At the time, there was gaining interest in meatless meals. Ideal. Also a challenge.

Volunteer help was no problem. People love to mix bread dough, watch it come together, rise, shape and bake. We’d make extra so that those who joined in would be able to be the “tasters” for lunch breaks. At first we made eight big loaves of Wild Rice Three Grain Bread, offering sliced cheese, hummus, sliced tomatoes, greens for sandwiches and potato soup.

As the volunteer group grew, we added more items to the menu and another choice or two of different breads. The wild rice bread remained most popular, with its crunchy topping of sunflower and sesame seeds. We then added more serving lines, which meant that we needed more volunteers, who gladly came to help put the meal together. We also added colorful salads of fresh and cooked vegetables as well as roasted fresh vegetables. We had so much fun putting the meal together.

I’ll admit it had gone “over the top” when COVID-19 hit. So today, I am offering a few of our menus (not large-quantity recipes) so that people can try them out at home. Hopefully, you can enjoy these tasty menu items.

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Wild Rice Three-Grain Bread (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Wild Rice Three-Grain Bread (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Wild Rice Three-Grain Bread

When the Minnesota Wild Rice Council approached me with the challenge of developing recipes, this was one of the first and most popular. Later, I compiled about 100 recipes into a little Wild Rice Cookbook, in which this was included.

2 packages active dry yeast (or 2 tablespoons)

2½ cups warm water, 105 degrees

1 cup dry milk powder (optional)

2 tablespoons melted butter or oil

2 teaspoons salt

½ cup honey

1 cup uncooked rolled oats

1 cup coarse rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

4 to 4½ cups bread flour

2 cups cooked and well drained wild rice

1 egg, beaten, for glaze

1 tablespoon water

¼ cup sunflower seeds

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in water and add the dry milk, if used, butter or oil, salt and honey. Stir in the oats, rye flour, whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the bread flour to make a soft dough.

Add the cooked and cooled, well drained, wild rice. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Then, stir in enough bread flour to make a firm dough. Knead 10 minutes (I like to do this in a stand mixer with the dough hook, or you can do this by hand on a floured board.) Add more flour as needed to keep the dough from getting sticky. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.

Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide into 3 parts. Shape each into a round loaf or into long strands if you plan to braid the loaf. Place round loaves onto a greased baking pan. Let rise until almost doubled, brush with a mixture of egg and water and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Let rise until almost doubled. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 40 minutes or until loaves test done.

Alternatively, to make a wreath-shaped loaf, braid three strands together, turn into a wreath shape and place on a baking sheet or a 14-inch pizza pan. Let rise and brush with egg mixture, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and bake for 40 minutes until done in the center. Cool baked loaf or loaves on a wire rack. Makes 3 round loaves or one big wreath. Perfect for sandwiches!

Easy Potato and Onion Soup

2 medium onions, chopped

2 tablespoons butter or oil

3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped

3 cups vegetable, chicken, or beef broth

Thyme, salt and pepper to taste

Optional for serving: Sour cream or heavy cream, minced chives

In a soup pot, brown the onions in the butter or oil and add the potatoes. Add the potatoes, broth and seasonings. Bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes and onions are cooked. Garnish with 1 tablespoon sour or heavy cream and sprinkle with chives. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Easy Minestrone

This was one of the first soups we learned to love as it is so easy to put together. If you’re going entirely vegan, use vegetable broth and skip the Parmesan cheese, but that’s how I love it.

2 cups (one 15-16 ounce can) vegetable or chicken broth

1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 (15 oz.) can tomato juice

2 cups diced carrots

1 cup small pasta, any shape

2 cups water

1 (15 ounce) can kidney or cannellini beans

1 teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon marjoram

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Chopped parsley for garnish

Grated Parmesan for serving

In a large soup pot, combine the broth, tomatoes, tomato juice and carrots and bring to a boil until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the pasta and water and simmer 10 minutes. Add the beans and heat through. Season with the basil, marjoram and pepper. Heat to serving temperature. Serve garnished with the parsley and sprinkle with Parmesan. Makes 6-8 servings.

Easy Hummus

This is a favorite spread for bread that comes to us from the Middle East. I like to soak dry garbanzo beans (chickpeas) to make hummus and offer it as a spread to make sandwiches — delicious with sliced fresh tomatoes. For an easier and quicker hummus, you can use canned chickpeas. Tahini can usually be found in the foreign foods section of the market. I have sometimes used toasted sesame oil if I don’t have tahini just to get the flavor.

3 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained (save some of the liquid)

½ cup tahini (sesame paste) or 2-3 tablespoons sesame oil

2 to 3 large cloves garlic

3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup olive oil

Salt to taste

Measure the chickpeas, tahini and garlic cloves into a food processor with the steel blade in place. Process until the ingredients are pureed, adding the lemon juice, olive oil and additional drained juice, if necessary, to get a smooth, spreadable mixture. Taste and add salt as needed. Turn the mixture into a serving bowl. Surround the bowl with sliced bread and crackers as desired. Drizzle top of the hummus with additional olive oil. Makes about 3½ cups hummus.

Sesame Soy Blanched String Beans (and/or) Asparagus

String beans or spring asparagus are excellent “make ahead” salads. I personally like to prepare this at home for an easy appetizer or side dish.

1 pound thin young string beans or fresh uncut spring asparagus

Boiling, lightly salted water

3 to 4 tablespoons sesame oil

3 to 4 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Halved cherry tomatoes for garnish (optional)

Trim the tops and ends of the string beans. If using asparagus, break off the woody ends. Drop the beans or asparagus into the boiling water. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the veggies are tender crisp. Drain immediately and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and turn into a bowl. Sprinkle with sesame oil and soy sauce and toss to coat all well. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and halved cherry tomatoes for garnish. Makes about 6 servings.

Roasted Fresh Vegetables

For this, we gather as many vegetables as possible for roasting: Peeled and cubed butternut squash, halved Brussels sprouts, scrubbed and diced carrots and parsnips, little potatoes, mushroom caps- large or small, wedged cabbage heads, sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes. Usually we roast hard vegetables like carrots, parsley and potatoes on the same pan for the same amount of time.

Once vegetables are cleaned, trimmed and cut-up, we toss them with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in a 425 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the veggies test done.

Arranged on a platter the vegetables are wonderful for eating as is. If desired, you can toss them with herbs and spices such as basil, pesto, chili powder, or whatever creative ideas you can come up with!

Desserts

Slice simple fruits, such as a personal favorite, Cara Cara oranges, that are in season from January to April. Of course, cookies are in season, too!

Beatrice Ojakangas (News Tribune photo)
Beatrice Ojakangas (News Tribune photo)

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at beatrice-ojakangas.com.