• Cindi

A Bowl full of Comfort

Winter is hitting us hard and is going to keep pounding us for the next few days. With temperatures and wind chills well below zero, a bowl of soup might be just what you need to warm your body and soothe your soul.

I love soup and eat it year round. Yes, I am also one of those people who prefers a steaming hot cup of coffee over any iced version even in the summer.

There is nothing like a long, slow simmering pot of soup on the stove on these cold and blustery winter days. But I don't often have the time or the desire to wait a full day for a bowl of goodness.

Many people avoid making soup because it seems so time consuming. Chopping, sautéing, simmering and then the waiting a few hours to eat is a luxury we do not often have.

Fortunately, many delicious soups can be made quickly with little cooking time.

I almost always start my soup with a mirepoix, a blend of celery, carrots, and onions. When I make a pot of soup, I often make a big batch of this and freeze the extras in one cup portions. Because this blend is only used to flavor the soup, I put all of ingredients in my food processor, pulse until they are finely chopped and I quickly have the base for most of my soups. The mirepoix sort of gets lost in the soup, so don't worry about a perfect chop or pretty pieces, just make sure the pieces are small and uniform in size so they cook evenly.

This blend then gets slowly sweated down in a bit of olive oil until the veggies begin to soften a bit and change color. I scoop out what I need and the rest gets saved for another day. Having this part completed makes soup making quick and easy.

With the mirepoix ready, the possibilities are endless. Sometimes I make soup just to use up whatever I have left in the refrigerator. At the end of the week, I toss the bits and pieces of chicken, veggies, beans or grains that are left from other meals into a big pot with the mirepoix, some low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth and some seasoning. Thirty minutes later and I have a filling and healthy dinner.

Many times, I plan soup for our Sunday dinner. It's filling, comforting and a great way to end the week.

Minestrone is one of my favorites and so quick to make. Plus it's loaded with plenty of healthy goodness. To make it:

2 cups mirepoix that has been sweated down in 1 tblsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic minced

2 cups chopped vegetables - zucchini, carrot rounds, green beans, cabbage, or whatever you like

3 tblsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp thyme

1 - 28 oz can diced tomatoes

32 oz low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

Pinch red pepper flakes - depending on how much added spice you want

1 can each (~14 oz) garbanzo beans and cannellini beans (or 1 cup cooked)

Heat mirepoix and garlic in large pan over low heat for 1-2 minutes, stir as needed to prevent overbrowning. Add chopped vegetables and continue to cook until vegetables just begin to soften a bit. Add tomato paste, oregano, thyme and stir for 1 minute to cook the tomato paste. Add tomatoes, broth, water, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until soup just begins to boil. Turn heat down and simmer until vegetables are cooked through. Add drained beans and continue to cook until beans are heated.

Optional: Add 2 cups (or a couple big handfuls) of spinach, chopped kale, chard, or your favorite greens when you add the beans.

Top with parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a pinch of oregano and enjoy! I like to add a bit of pesto sauce or some chopped fresh basil on top for an added flavor boost.

Another of my favorite go-to soups is Chicken Tortilla soup. My husband really enjoys this and loads it up with various toppings. The way I make this is actually quite similar to the Minestrone, but just a few changes in the veggies and seasonings and it turns into something quite different.

For the veggies, I use peppers, zucchini or yellow squash, and corn. Black beans and pinto beans take the place of the garbanzo and cannellini beans. Cumin and chili powder add some Mexican flavor. I don't add greens to this, but will add shredded cooked chicken. On the days when I have more time to cook, I might just cook the chicken right in the soup. Then before serving, I will remove the chicken, shred it, and add it back to the pot.

I like spice and usually add chopped jalapenos to the soup while it's cooking. But if I make it for a group of people, I will leave the jalapenos out and chop them up to use as a topping. Other toppings that are delicious on this soup include cheddar cheese, baked tortilla strips, toasted pepitas, avocado, and cilantro. A squeeze of lime brightens the flavor.

Prefer some Asian influence? Add a tablespoon or two of grated ginger along with the garlic. Use carrots, snow peas, and mushrooms for the veggies. Forget the tomato paste and diced tomatoes, but add a few dashes of soy sauce or Bragg's amino acids, a teaspoon of sesame oil, and a tablespoon of fish sauce. No fish sauce? That's OK - just taste the broth and add more soy sauce as needed.

You can add some rice or noodles or, for a more authentic version, place some rice noodles in the bowl and ladle the broth over the top. The broth will soften the noodles in just a couple of minutes.

I don't put beans in the Asian version, but have added frozen, shelled edamame or green peas. Chopped bok choy or Napa cabbage added near the end of cooking add a bit of crunch. Green onions, toasted sesame seeds, avocado, cilantro, jalapeno, and bean sprouts are terrific toppings.

If you want something a bit heartier, try black bean soup. Actually, most beans make a great soup. I like to spice this up so I add chopped garlic and some chopped jalapeno to the mirepoix. Once the veggies begin to soften, I add cumin, ground coriander, and a bit of smoked paprika. I let the spices cook for a minute then add the broth. To the broth I add a can of petite diced tomatoes, 3 cans of drained and rinsed black beans and a few dashes of hot sauce.

Heat through and soups on! I like my bean soups to be thick and there are a few ways I do that. Many times I will just blend the soup in my blender, but that gets messy. An easier option is to put the beans in a food processor and process until the beans are broken down. When I really don't want to pull out a small appliance or add something else to wash, I rely on my potato masher!

I also have 2 secret ingredients that I sometimes use to thicken the soup - canned pumpkin or refried beans. Yes, canned pumpkin! I even add it to my chili. It really does not alter the taste as there are plenty of spices in the soup/chili, but it adds a creamy smoothness and tons of vitamin A without added fat. If I have leftover refried beans, in they go.

Cilantro, onions, avocados, chopped peppers, toasted pepitas, a squeeze of lime juice and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream add some crunch and freshness.

As for that canned pumpkin - well, that makes a delicious pumpkin soup! I use the mirepoix and add a hefty amount of grated, fresh ginger. Two cans of pumpkin (15 oz cans or one 29 oz can), NOT pumpkin pie mix, along with 4-6 cups of vegetable or chicken broth (depending on how thick you want it), 1 tablespoon of maple syrup or honey, cinnamon, and a dash of ground cloves create a delicious velvety soup. I like to add a bit of heat, so I often add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, or ground chipotle.

I serve pumpkin soup with a swirl of Greek yogurt, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and roasted pepitas. Chopped apples, goat cheese, and even bits of bacon are also tasty toppings for this soup.

A warm bowl of soup loaded with healthy ingredients warms your soul and nourishes your body. Be creative and add the vegetables and seasonings you prefer. Forgo the standard crackers and top with chopped nuts, fresh herbs, a sprinkling of cheese, hot sauce, or some fresh, chopped vegetables. Add grains, meat, or greens if you have them.

These simple recipes can easily be modified to meet your tastes and go from pot to bowl in 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Thanks so much for reading! I always enjoy suggestions and ideas, so please feel free to leave a comment.

~ Cindi

Cinergy Dynamics

"For the Health of It"


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