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Easy dinner recipes: Three rich soups for Meatless Monday

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Sometimes it doesn't get better than a comforting bowl of soup. Check out these ideas for rich and hearty vegetarian one-dish meals:

If you're craving a bowl of rich mushroom soup, this recipe delivers. No less than a pound of cremini mushrooms are simmered with garlic, shallots, onion and buttery Chardonnay for an aromatic base. Puree the mushrooms with heavy cream for a smooth, velvety finish, then stir in finely chopped roasted onion (the onion can be roasted ahead of time) at the end. A thin slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano completes each serving.

Craving a hearty vegetable soup? Fresh vegetables simmered with barley in a hearty broth makes for a perfect one-dish meal. What's more, your guests might not even notice it's vegetarian. 

RECIPES: 99 easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

Barely wilted watercress lends a wonderful shade of green to our third soup, rich with Stilton cheese and garnished with toasted pecans. It makes a wonderful first course or light meal, and the whole dish comes together in about an hour.

You can find all three recipes below.

And for more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

CREAMY MUSHROOM AND ROASTED ONION SOUP

Total time: 40 minutes, plus 1 hour roasting time for the onion

Servings: 8

Note: Adapted from Gary Daniel of the Cave food and wine bar at the Ventura Wine Co., a retail shop. He recommends serving the soup with a Chardonnay and crusty bread. The roasted onion can be made ahead of time. Roast the onion and allow it to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

2 onions, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 rib of celery, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced shallot

1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and trimmed of any dry ends

1 cup white wine, preferably Chardonnay

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 quart vegetable stock

3/4 cup heavy cream

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish

2 teaspoons minced chives

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel one of the onions but leave it whole. Rub 1 tablespoon of the oil and a pinch each of the salt and pepper over the onion, then wrap it in foil. Roast the onion until it is softened and lightly caramelized, about 1 hour. Remove and cool.

2. Meanwhile, peel and chop the remaining onion.

3. Heat a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped onion, carrot and celery and cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, shallots and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reserve one mushroom to garnish the finished soup.

4. Stir in the wine, making sure to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the fresh thyme and bring the contents to a gentle simmer. Cook until the mushrooms soften, about 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock and continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender, or in batches in a blender. Return the soup to low heat and stir in the cream. Season with a generous teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper, or to taste. This makes about 8 cups of soup.

6. Chop the roasted onion into pieces no larger than one-quarter inch. Stir the chopped onion into the soup. Check and adjust the seasoning if desired.

7. Slice the reserved mushroom into 8 very thin, lengthwise slices. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Garnish each portion with a thin shaving of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, one-fourth teaspoon of the chives and a thin slice of mushroom. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 179 calories; 3 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 31 mg. cholesterol; 456 mg. sodium.

CORAL TREE CAFE'S VEGETABLE SOUP

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: 8 to 10

Note: Adapted from Coral Tree Cafe in Los Angeles.

2 tablespoons oil

2 cups diced carrots

2 cups diced onions

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

3/4 cup pearl barley

1 quart vegetable broth

1 1/2 cups marinara sauce

2 cups quartered mushrooms

2 cups diced zucchini

Salt and pepper

1. Heat a medium, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat until hot. Add the oil, then the carrots, onions, bell pepper, thyme and barley. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden brown, about 18 minutes, taking care that the barley does not burn.

2. Stir in the vegetable broth and marinara. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.

3. Cook until the barley is al dente, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and zucchini, and season to taste with salt and pepper (amount of seasoning needed will vary depending on the vegetable broth and marinara used). Cover and continue to simmer until the mushrooms and zucchini are just tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, thin if desired, and season again to taste, and serve. This makes about 2½ quarts of soup.

Each of 10 servings: 155 calories; 4 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 4 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 mg cholesterol; 8 grams sugar; 365 mg sodium.

WATERCRESS AND STILTON SOUP

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: 4 to 6

Note: Adapted from "In the Hands of a Chef" by Jody Adams and Ken Rivard (Morrow, 2002).

2 tablespoons butter

2 medium leeks, white parts only, washed well and thinly sliced

Coarse salt

Freshly ground white pepper

4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if not preparing vegetarian)

2 baking potatoes, peeled, quartered

2 bunches watercress, washed, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped

1 cup half-and-half or whipping cream

2 to 3 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled

A few sprigs watercress

Chopped toasted pecans, for garnish

1. Melt the butter in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until soft, 8 minutes. Add the stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the watercress and cook until wilted but bright green, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Carefully transfer to a blender or food processor in batches and puree until smooth. Strain through a coarse sieve into a clean saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.

3. Stir in half-and-half and cheese until the cheese is melted. Adjust the seasoning. Garnish with sprigs of watercress and pecans.

Each of 6 servings: 217 calories; 540 mg. sodium; 41 mg. cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 2 grams fiber. 

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