Ah…a bowl of hearty soup and a chunk of crusty bread…life, especially winter life, doesn’t get much better than that! Comforting, aromatic, and delicious, soup can also be a highly nutritious outlet for your inner creative culinary diva. Think of soup recipes as guidelines for proper proportions and seasonings and then start experimenting!! Add a handful of chopped greens here, a half cup of whole grains (farro, bulgur, couscous, barley…you name it!) or lentils there…soups are an excellent way to use up leftovers and sneak in nutritious ingredients that even the fussiest 10 year old (or 50 year old!) veggie hater won’t notice!
Even creamy soups have a place in a healthful diet…as long as you skip or significantly reduce the butter and heavy cream! Begin instead by sautéing the aromatics (onions, garlic, and sometimes spices) in heart healthy extra-virgin olive oil to enhance their flavor and provide a strong base for the soup. Add in your favorite veggies and/or beans and broth and simmer (not boil!) until tender. To create a smooth soup, puree all of the ingredients with an immersion blender, standing blender, or food processor. If you love soup and don’t have an immersion blender, put it at the top of your shopping list! I absolutely love my immersion blender!! It allows me to puree soups right in the cooking pot without the batches and messiness of traditional blenders or processors! For chunky soups, puree only a portion of the soup then mix the puree back into the soup pot, or puree Â½ to 1 cup of cooked white beans or potatoes and mix that puree into the soup. Still craving some extra creaminess? Add Â½ to 1 cup of evaporated skim milk and stir into the finished soup for a surprisingly rich taste and texture!
The recipes that follow are some of my favorite tried and true winter soups. Add a simple salad and some crusty whole grain bread for a lovely lunch or light dinner. Try the recipes as is then add your personal touch…if you come up with a winner, I’d love to share it with our readers!
Don’t be intimidated if a soup has a long list of ingredients! Take your time cleaning and chopping the vegetables and cooking will be a snap. Short of time? Using a few pre-prepared items isn’t a crime!! I swear by frozen chopped onions and jarred, minced garlic!!
Remember, you can’t go wrong…or at least TOO wrong…when you play around with the ingredients, textures, or spiciness of soups! As you experiment you’ll get a better feel for the kinds of substitutions and additions that work well with a recipe. I rarely make exactly the same soup twice! Sometimes I cook the vegetables until they’re very tender and then I puree them into the body of the soup. Other times I leave at least a portion of the vegetables al dente to give the finished soup some “bite”. I like to mix up the kind of grain or pasta I add to my soups as well…farro has a chewy, nutty taste and texture while whole wheat couscous has a softer taste and texture…sometimes I feel like slurping my noodles out of my soup and other times I prefer small easy to eat with a spoon pastas. The variations are endless…and winter is such a lovely time to be warm and cozy in the kitchen! Happy cooking!
WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH LEEKS AND SPINACH
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 leeks, rinsed well, white portion only chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (2 tablespoons pre-minced garlic)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 (15.5 ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 bay leaves
Â½ cup whole wheat couscous
2 cups packed spinach leaves, center stem discarded
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Add cumin and stir. Add broth, beans, and bay leaves. Bring soup to boil. Add couscous. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Stir in spinach and cook 30 seconds, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
RED LENTIL SOUP
1 Â½ tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
Â½ cup chopped fresh or canned tomato
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 Â¼ teaspoons ground cumin
Â½ teaspoon salt
1 cup dried red lentils
4 cups water
1 Â½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Dollop of Greek yogurt to garnish if desired
Heat oil over medium heat and sauté vegetables for 5 minutes. Add spices and stir. Add liquids and lentils. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Soup may be served as is or with all or a portion blended to a smoother consistency.