Planet-friendly Tortilla Soup

This delicious and decadent dish has roughly half the carbon footprint of a traditional recipe, and it is so full of flavor you won’t miss anything!  It uses summer produce and practically makes itself!  It’s amazingly simple–you just throw some roughly chopped veggies into a pan with a small amount of water and crank up the heat.  As the veggies stew, the whole mixture turns into a soup!  You just need to blend it up, add some spices, and enjoy!


For toppings, you can add some freshly baked tortilla strips, chopped avocado, onion, cilantro, as you like.  This recipe is a big hit for our family dinners, and it is special enough to serve at a dinner party.  We make a topping bar, and each person can make his or her own creation.

I’ve modified (simplified) this recipe from the original, which is from Forks Over Knives. I am a big fan of so many of their recipes.  You can find the original recipe here, and you can buy their cookbook here.


  • 6 corn tortillas
  • 6 large tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 red bell peppers, halved or quartered
  • 8 oz mushrooms (can use cremini or white), roughly chopped
  • ½ yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 2 dried chipotle chiles (definitely still worth making even without this)
  • 5 sprigs cilantro (I would also consider these optional)
  • 2 t smoked paprika
  • ½ t chili powder
  • sea salt

Possible toppings:

  • Scallions or chopped white or red onion
  • Avocado
  • Tortilla strips
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Cilantro
  • Black beans


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut the corn tortillas into ¼ inch thick strips.  Spread them out on a baking sheet (it works best if you have parchment paper).
  • Bake for 20 minutes or so.  You may want to push them around on the sheet part way through to get even baking.
  • Place everything from the halved or quartered tomatoes through the cilantro springs into a large saucepan with 1 cup water.  Bring to boil, and then reduce heat to medium and cover.  You can stir this occasionally over the next 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Fish out the cilantro sprigs and chipotle chilis if you used them, and discard.
  • Immersion blend your soup, or you can let it cool a bit and transfer in batches to your blender and then back into the pan.
  • Add the smoked paprika and chili powder.  Add salt to taste.  Add a bit (say ½ cup of water), and simmer for another five minutes or so.

Carbon footprint of the ingredients:


(this recipe)

Carbon Footprint

g CO2-equiv


(tradit. recipe)

Carbon Footprint

g CO2-equiv

6 large tomatoes


6 large tomatoes


2 lg red bell peppers


2 lg red bell peppers


8 oz mushrooms


8 oz chicken


½ yellow onion


½ yellow onion


3 cloves garlic


3 cloves garlic


6 corn tortillas


6 corn tortillas


1 med avocado


1 med avocado






The chicken you might add to a traditional tortilla soup has a carbon footprint of 1146 g CO2-equivalents, which is more than the entire soup made the way presented here.  The mushrooms add taste and body, have lots of great nutrients, and contribute very little to the carbon footprint.  For this recipe, there aren’t enough mushrooms to make this a high protein meal; however, per calorie, crimini mushrooms are actually pretty high in protein!  And, if you would like to amp up the protein, you can add black beans as a topping.


If you make this, please post on our Facebook page, or instagram using the hashtag #easymealsfortheplanet so we can see what you made!

Follow the blog for more low carbon footprint recipes using seasonal produce




Baked Buffalo Bites

Like buffalo sauce?  You will love this recipe for baked buffalo bites of cauliflower, tofu, or tempeh, and the planet will be happy due to the low carbon footprint!  Don’t be daunted by the directions, which sound a bit complicated.  The prep is actually really fun and pretty quick, and the bites are sooo delicious.  My nephew and his fiancé made a gigantic pile of these made out of tempeh for a dinner party, and everyone, omnivores and veggies alike, devoured every last one of them (even though many people were new to tempeh).  My family loves them best made out of cauliflower (a great way to increase your vegetable intake), and next best out of firm tofu.

Here they are made out of cauliflower:


You can find the original recipe for tempeh wings here at Home for 28 Cooks (shown below).


You’ll need to set up four bowls in series:

  • This first bowl will contain at least 2/3 cup soymilk (you can also use other alternative milks)
  • 2/3 cup flour with the following mixed in:
    • 1 t salt
    • 2 t thyme leaves
    • 2 t paprika
    • 1 t garlic powder
    • black pepper to taste
  • another bowl of at least 2/3 cup soymilk
  • Italian seasoned panko crumbs (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet.

Break a large cauliflower head into bite sized pieces.  Pick up each piece individually and dip it into each of the four bowls sequentially.  Place each bite onto the baking sheet in a single layer.

Bake for 10 minutes, flip, then bake another 10 minutes, or slightly longer so the batter on each piece is dry.

You can toss these in straight Frank’s or a similar Lousiana-style sauce, or you can mix ½ cup of Frank’s with 2 T margarine and 1 T ketchup.

If you are using firm tofu instead of cauliflower, you can just slice it up straight out of the container, and start dipping. If you are using tempeh, it may taste better if you boil or steam it first (see the link above).


Each of the four servings made by this recipe (using cauliflower, and margarine in the sauce) has 209 calories and 6 grams protein, and delivers fiber, Ca, and vit C.  The carbon footprint is a very modest 48 g CO2-eq per serving!  Using tempeh or tofu instead of cauliflower increases the calories, protein, and carbon footprint by just a bit (to 239 calories, 9 grams protein, and 57 g CO2-eq per serving), while also increasing the fiber, calcium, iron, and vit A.

If you made this recipe with chicken, butter in the sauce, and dairy milk, the carbon footprint of each serving would be 287 g CO2-eq, with 127, 83, and 54 g CO2-eq coming from chicken, butter, and milk, respectively.  Each 236 calorie serving has 12 grams protein, but is lacking in fiber and vitamins.

Each time you cook a batch of these using either tofu, tempeh or cauliflower, you save the equivalent of the gas used in a drive of about four miles, or the energy required to burn a halogen bulb for approximately 40 hours.




Easy Aloo Ghobi (Indian Potato and Cauliflower)

This recipe is crazy easy to throw together, and you won’t believe how great it tastes!!  It is a staple in our house, serving as an excellent side dish for red lentil dahl (last post).  Both dishes heat up well for lunches the next day.   To make this dish a main course, you can add a bag of frozen edamame to it.  A side salad topped with cumin powder, lemon juice, and salt is nice alongside it.




Ingredients (serves 6):

1 medium head of cauliflower

4 medium potatoes

2 tomatoes (field production, not hothouse, to minimize footprint–see below)

1 T black mustard seeds

1 T cumin seeds

2 t turmeric

2 t salt (or to taste)


  • Preheat over to 400.
  • Chop up the potatoes, cauliflower, and tomatoes, and put the pieces into one large bowl.
  • Add the whole seeds, turmeric, and salt.
  • Transfer to a roasting pan with a cover (or use foil).
  • Bake 40 min or until vegetables are soft. You might want to stir once during roasting so that you get even cooking.

Each of the six servings (123 calories each, with lots of vitamins thanks to the cauliflower and tomato) for this recipe has 76 g CO2-eq associated with it.  (The potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, and seeds contribute 21, 38, 9, and 8 g CO2-eq/serving, respectively.)  If you used hothouse tomatoes, the contribution from the tomatoes alone would be 159 g CO2-eq, and the new total would be 226 g CO2-eq!!

For comparison, one medium baked potato topped with onion and margarine would have a footprint of 67 g CO2-eq, while a potato with sour cream, butter, and cheese would have 534 g CO2-eq associated with it.  Just one portion of switching from the more loaded potato to the aloo ghobi with field production tomatoes saves the amount of gas used to drive a car two miles.

Amount and food g CO2-eq calories
1 medium potato 31 129
1 T margarine 19 99
¼ onion, chopped 14 15
2 T sour cream 65 43
1 T butter 167 99
¼ cup cheese 274 110

Notes on sources of data: Nutritional info is from the USDA Food Composition Database, and greenhouse gas emissions conversion factors all items except tomatoes are from Heller and Keoleian 2015.  Conversion factors for various production styles of tomatoes are from Heller et al. 2013.  Seeds and nuts are assumed to be in the same category, as in Meier and Christen 2013.  CO2-eq includes greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide (such as methane), expressed in terms of the warming potential of CO2.

Note on recipe: I originally learned to make aloo ghobi from Anand and Nisha Patel—a big thank you to these great chefs!!  Their recipe involves roasting the seeds in oil, and cooking the potatoes and cauliflower on the stove top.  It is fantastically delicious done this way.  For this recipe, I added tomato for some liquid while roasting, and I toss it all together into the oven just in the interest of simplicity.


Heller, M.C. and G.A. Keoleian. 2015. Greenhouse gas emission estimates of U.S. dietary choices and food loss. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 19(3): 391-401.

Heller, M.C., G.A. Keoleian., and W. C. Willett. 2013. Toward a Life Cycle-Based, Diet-level Framework for Food Environmental Impact and Nutritional Quality Assessment: A Critical Review.  Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 12632−12647.

Meier, T., and O. Christen. 2013.  Environmental Impacts of Dietary Recommendations and Dietary Styles: Germany As an Example. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 877−888.


Red Lentil Dahl

This satisfying Indian soup is delicious, super healthy, and very easy on the planet.  It makes a great side dish, and if you serve it with a salad and rice or naan, it can be the main dish.


Photo credit: Kai Patel.  Pottery credit: Joey Sage Jablonski.

Beans and lentils have an especially low carbon footprint when compared to other high protein foods, partly because they are plants, and partly because their roots support microbes that can draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and change it to a form that is usable by plants!  This saves a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, because making nitrogen–rich fertilizer requires a great deal of energy.

Once you get into the routine of making it, this soup is actually quite quick to whip up.  You’ll see many of the ingredients are listed as optional, so don’t be afraid to try this even without the particular spices.  Red lentils taste great cooked up with just salt and garlic, so you really can’t go wrong!

Ingredients: (Makes 8 servings)

2 cups red lentils (they are light orange in color but are called red lentils)

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1/2 to 1” piece of fresh ginger, grated (or use ½ teaspoon powder if in a hurry)

1 t turmeric

2 t salt plus more to taste

1 t cumin seeds or powder

1 t coriander powder

1 t garam masala (optional)

a bit of cayenne pepper (optional)

2 small onions, finely chopped (optional)

2 tomatoes, chopped (optional)

3 handfuls spinach (optional)

juice from a lemon (optional)

  1. Wash the lentils thoroughly.  For the first few rinses, the water will be very cloudy.  Keep rinsing until the rinse water is fairly clear.
  2. Put the rinsed lentils in a saucepan with 5 cups of water.  Start with the heat on high.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, through the tomatoes.
  4. When you reach a boil, turn the heat down and simmer uncovered.
  5. Add the spinach when the lentils start to get soft.
  6. You’ll know it’s done when it’s a nice consistency and the lentils are still distinct, but soft.  If you cook it too long the mixture will get pasty.
  7. Squeeze in some lemon juice at the end.

Variation:  Instead of the tomatoes and onions, you can add a cup of chopped cauliflower and a chopped carrot.  You can also leave out the garlic and ginger.

Each of the 8 servings has 212 calories and results in just 71 g CO2-eq.  Compare this to a beef chili, which for a serving with the same calories results in a massive 3,024 g CO2-eq.  Switching just one meal one time from the beef chili to the dahl saves the amount of gas required to drive 13 miles in a 40 MPG car (per serving)!  This really adds up—if every day you made a similar shift for one meal per day for a year, you would save the gas used to drive the same car 4,850 miles!

And while the protein in the dahl is somewhat less than in the beef chili (14 g versus 25 g), the iron is actually higher in the dahl (4.1 mg versus 2.7 mg), as are the fiber (15 g versus 1 g), vitamin A (850 mg versus 9 mg), and calcium (41 versus 28 mg).

The credit for this recipe goes to Nisha and Anand Patel, two of the very best chefs I have ever met!



Simple Cream of Broccoli Soup

Creamy vegetable soups can vary really widely in impact on the environment, because creaminess can come either from dairy (relatively high environmental impact), or from alternatives including potatoes, cashews, or soy milk (less greenhouse gas intensive).


Photo credit: Kai Patel.  The gorgeous bowl is from Funkware Pottery.

For this quick and easy recipe, two potatoes are cooked up with onion in vegetable broth, with broccoli added later.  The whole mix goes into your blender (or you can immersion blend), and you can season with salt, pepper, lemon, etc.  If you like nutritional yeast, this is a great place for it to introduce a cheesy touch, but it tastes great either way!

See here  for the recipe from Bon Appetit.  This recipe has you saute the onion in oil, but you can also use water if you are trying to avoid added oil.

Assuming 4 servings, the carbon footprint of this recipe is a climate-cooling 64 g CO2-eq per serving!  About half of that footprint comes from the broccoli, with the potato, oil, and onion making up the rest.

Contrast this with a traditional recipe, which has a whopping footprint of 472 g CO2-eq per serving! 89% of the footprint comes from butter and half and half!!

Butternut squash soup

Let’s check out some carbon footprint calculations for three different butternut squash recipes, two of which have an impressively low carbon footprint.  The main ingredient in all of them, butternut squash, has a particular low carbon footprint, with a CO2-eq conversion factor of 0.09 g CO2-eq / g squash.

1) The first recipe, by Chef Leslie Durso, is called Creamy Corn and Butternut Squash Soup.  The Chef describes it as her “go to” butternut squash recipe.

You’ll find the photo and recipe here.

Per serving (the recipe makes 4), this dish has 285 calories and 7.1 grams of protein.  The carbon footprint is 98 g CO2-eq per serving, with the corn cobs and the large squash each contributing roughly half of the footprint.

2) The second recipe, also by Chef Leslie Durso, has apple and sweet potato along with the butternut squash.  She calls it Perfect Butternut Squash Soup.

You can find the photo and recipe here.

If we assume 6 servings (recipe says 6-8), each serving has 167 kcal and 3.2 grams of protein.  The carbon footprint is 61 g CO2-eq per serving, this time with the apples and the squash each contributing close to half.

3) For comparison, let’s look at the footprint of a butternut squash soup made more traditionally with cream and butter.

Each serving has 281 calories and 2.9 grams of protein.

The footprint of this soup is now 255 g CO2-eq per serving, with 77% of that coming from the 0.5 T of butter and 2 T heavy cream per serving.  These ingredients contribute 83 and 113 g CO2-eq per serving, respectively, due to the high CO2-eq conversion factors of 11.9 g CO2-eq / g butter and 3.8 g CO2-eq / g heavy cream.

Butternut squash is really healthy, with lots of Vit A.  Enjoy your soup!

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