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The Fall semester is in full swing here at the University of Illinois, and my time management skills leave much to be desired. I spend most of my days lugging my ever-gigantic book bag around for hours, and I have yet to master brown bag lunch preparations. And by master, I mean I haven’t had time to even attempt packing lunches; my budget, however, dictates that I should develop that skill sooner rather than later. Thankfully, right in my neck of the campus there is The Red Herring restaurant and coffee house. They only serve lunch (from 11am-3pm), although they are open in the evening as a coffee house. They are located in the basement of The Channing Murray Foundation church, and before you even enter the place you’ll be noticing some distinctly crunchy vibes. They serve exclusively vegetarian and vegan food, with most of their offerings being vegan; the only items that are not vegan are cheese and sour cream, so everything can be veganized with ease. While the food isn’t mind-blowingly complex or inventive, it is hearty, tasty, and… CHEAP! Gloriously affordable, in fact. Even if you have no money, nil, none, nada, you can volunteer in the kitchen for an hour and get a free meal.  Casey and I have been twice now, but I forgot to take pictures the first time. We split a ratatouille special, because it turned out that they only accept cash at the moment, and we had but 9 bucks between us. Amazingly though, the special was six dollars and came with very large portions of ratatouille (which had tofu in it, a first for me) and brown rice, a piece of corn bread, and a fresh salad. Yes, for six bucks! We were both full off of that one dish. So, of course, the next week went back with cash in hand.

Carrot Ginger Soup

My apologies for picture quality– basement + phone camera = less than stellar photography. Casey went with the BBQ seitan sandwich, which came with popcorn, a pickle, and choice of soup or salad. He chose the carrot ginger soup, which was very, very delicious! I’m not the biggest fan of seitan, but this was actually tender, and the gooey barbecue sauce was sweet and tangy.

BBQ Seitan Sandwich

I decided to go with the special: Ethiopian peanut stew. As before, there was corn bread, brown rice, and a salad. This dish definitely had a powerful peanut flavor and managed to be even heartier than the ratatouille I had the previous week. I couldn’t even finish all!

Ethiopian Peanut Stew, with fixings!

See? Very hearty!

We wound up spending less than $13, making this by far the cheapest vegan finds to date! The only down side is that this may wind up delaying my adventures in lunch making.