The Lunch Bunch + Mushroom Farro Soup

I started a new job this month. The night before my first day, I stared down at my blank calendar, the week ahead filled only with possibility and uncertainty. Even though I was ready to start something new, but I couldn’t help but feel a nagging sense of dread about one thing: What was I going to make for lunch all week?

After all, I had spent the last eight months making lunch just once a week—but getting to eat a different homemade lunch every day at work.

That, my friends, was the genius of the Lunch Bunch.

My friends Becca and Helen (of “Brunch for the Distressed” fame) emailed me last spring to propose an office lunch exchange inspired by a Food52 profile on a similar group at The Bronx Defenders. The concept was simple: Each one of us would be assigned a day to make lunch for everyone in the group. And all the meals would have to be vegetarian.

I was skeptical. I worried about the commitment. At the time, it seemed like a lot of pressure to cook every week, let alone for other people! And I’d have to make vegetarian food? But after a summer of dancing around the idea, we invited our friend Jess to the group and decided to give it a trial run for just one week.

Eight months later, we were still going strong. Jess unfortunately had to drop out early on, but we gained Amanda, who invited herself to the group via Instagram post. (We're glad she did.) In time, we figured out our own organizational systems, including a shared calendar, weekly reminders to sign up to cook, a recipe Pinterest board, and an entertaining group text (in which we are literally trying to figure out what a “spotted dick” is, as I type this.) All of this coordination might sound complicated, but it really did simplify my cooking schedule to make lunch just once a week. Sure, it helped that all of us already enjoyed cooking, and none of us were particularly picky eaters. But most importantly, we developed a "golden rule" of sorts: Lunch Bunch means never having to say you’re sorry. If one of us overcooked something, forgot food at home, or had a last-minute reason not to bring in lunch (see: illness, the 2016 election, 2016 election-induced illness), it was totally fine. No apologies needed. Knowing this was freeing in so many ways, especially for me as an admittedly self-critical, Type A personality in the kitchen (and, okay, sometimes out of it too) and an occasionally over-apologetic Canadian woman.

And the food? Well, that was the best part, of course. Waiting for that email to find out what was on the menu became the highlight of my day. I was spoiled with homemade dumplings, enchiladas, galettes, "meatball" subs, and just about every combination of sweet potatoes and tahini imaginable. I tried recipes from from families and childhood and home, like recipe-less vegetarian chili, "hot dish," and the mushroom soup shared below. I learned how incredibly vibrant and varied vegetarian cooking could be. Not only did I stretch myself by cooking vegetarian, but I became more adventurous, dabbling in everything from Egyptian ful to Korean bibimbap (both pictured above.) Not every meal had to be so elaborate, but I knew I would never make such fancy meals if I was cooking just for myself—so I indulged in complicated recipes. And I'm a much better cook now because of it.

I know I just said that the food was the best part of it all, but if you’ll allow me to be a mushy feminist for just one second, the actual best thing about Lunch Bunch was getting closer with this group of incredible women. It’s been my long-held belief that food is community, and sure enough, cooking for one another and sharing meals deepened our friendships (though the group text certainly helped.) Amanda has even fed Lunch Bunch leftovers to her baby! That's real love. I’ll always be grateful for these ladies.

It’s now been three weeks since I started my new job. So far, I’m getting by without the Lunch Bunch—and I’m glad to hear they’re carrying on without me! I’ve taken a lot of lessons about cooking and meal planning with me into my new, Lunch Bunch-less existence, and I hope to share them with you, along with the tried-and-true recipes I’ve come to love—starting with this soup Becca grew up with. I made it on the second day of my job, which oddly turned out to be a snow day, and it fed me throughout the week. The soup is textbook comfort food—and a comforting reminder that I can still take a little bit of Lunch Bunch with me wherever I go.

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Mushroom Farro Soup
(Adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook’s Mushroom-Barley Soup, via Becca’s mom, via Becca)
Yields 5-6 servings

This soup is so simple and inexpensive to make, but the broth it yields is deep and earthy—almost like an “au jus." No flavor or richness is lost even though it’s vegetarian and dairy-free.

Ingredients
6 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup farro
3-4 Tbsps. tamari (or soy sauce)
3-4 Tbsps. dry sherry (I found it at a wine store)
2-3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping cup onions, chopped
1 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Freshly ground black pepper

Parmesan for grating over soup (if desired)
Crusty bread for serving

  1. In a large soup pot, cook the farro in 1.5 cups of stock until tender (mine took about 30 minutes.)
  2. Off heat, Stir in the remaining stock, tamari/soy sauce, and sherry.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions are soft and just translucent.
  4. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms are tender.
  5. Add the mushroom and onion mixture to the stock. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Bring back up to heat until simmering. Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed.
  7. Serve with crusty bread. I thought it was just fine without the parm, but live your life the way you want to.