Eating healthy should never mean sacrificing flavor.

A Scranton plant-based eating group aims to help residents add more fruits and vegetables to their diets in a fun and informative setting.
Empowered Eating, organized by Jean Hayes, meets at the Greenhouse Project, 200 Arthur Ave., at least once a month for classes on plant-based dishes made easy. On Thursday, April 16, at 6 p.m., Bonnie Urzen will lead “Cool Beans!” and teach the class about all the different dishes they can make with the legume. This includes her recipe for Hearty Mexican Soup, which earned the program a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore, through Local Flavor Gives Back.
“Beans are a huge part of a (vegetarian) diet, but we want to show that there’s so much you can do with them,” Urzen said on a recent night.
A school nurse with a background in health and physical education, Urzen had been a vegetarian for years before she began to experiment with more bean-centric dishes during her time living in Costa Rica. There, she learned about growing, drying and cooking beans as well as how easy they are to get.
“They’re definitely budget-friendly,” she said. “Plant-based doesn’t mean it has to be expensive.”
The recipe is an easy meal that can be made on the stovetop or in a slow-cooker or Instant Pot. Urzen made hers with pinto, black, northern and kidney beans, but cooks can use whatever kind of beans they prefer.
Urzen’s Hearty Mexican Soup had the thick consistency of a chili and incredible flavors. Even though it only had plants and spices, the soup made for a hearty meal.
At the event, Urzen will talk about different bean-based dishes, from appetizers and entrees to desserts, including Black Bean Brownies. It also serves as a way introduce the community to all the Greenhouse Project has to offer. In addition to gardening, Hayes said, Executive Director Jane Risse also wants the greenhouse to function as a community hub by hosting activities and events throughout the month, including yoga, exercise, DIY classes and more.
“It’s a beautiful and welcoming space, and it fit with Empowered Eating’s mission,” Hayes said.
Empowered Eating classes are open to anyone, from foodies to those just looking to eat more fruits and vegetables, Hayes said. Plant-based diets have been shown to help with everything from weight loss to chronic illness, and being part of a group makes that transition easier.
“It’s the social aspect, too,” she said. “Everyone is here to support one another.”
Food is tied to emotions, and Hayes said the group also wants to convey the message that plant-based eating doesn’t mean people must give up their favorites dishes. Urzen’s mother, Josephine Alunni, is a great cook with lots of Italian recipes in her repertoire. Though many require animal by-products, cooks can alter those recipes. Urzen and her mom followed the family’s recipe for Cappelletti but substituted vegan meats for the fillings.
“Anything can be adjusted,” Urzen said. “You don’t have to give those memories up.”

Bonnie Urzen’s Hearty Mexican Soup

  • 1 (15-ounce) can (pinto beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can (black beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can (Great Northern beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can (kidney beans
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can corn
  • 1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes, with juice
  • 3/4 cup bulgur wheat, dry and uncooked
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce without anchovies
  • 4 ounces tomato paste
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon garlic or minced garlic
  • Jalapeños and/or hot sauce (optional)
  • Drain and rinse pinto, black and Great Northern beans in the colander and set aside. (Do not drain the kidney beans; they add to soup’s thickness.)
    In a large stock pot, sauté the onions and garlic in about 3 tablespoons of vegetable broth. (Add more broth or water if needed until lightly browned.) Add beans and all other ingredients to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and allowed to cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 45 minutes.