It doesn’t look like Old Man Winter is giving us a break any time soon. What better way, then, to bring up the internal mercury than with a bowl of homemade goodness to warm up the tummy and the soul.
If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of soup. But before you dash away, don’t resort to a store-bought soup that dives in nutrition and spikes in sodium. With these favourite ingredients, you can create easy and quick soups that the whole family will love and that soar on the taste metre.
Food trend watchers are calling cauliflower the vegetable of choice in 2014, and for good reason. While you might have considered cauli only as a side dish, mix it into a soup and, presto, it elevates it with even more flavour, especially when paired with garlic, leeks, tomatoes or a bouquet of herbs and spices. Purée it with some of these ingredients, sprinkle it with a bold cheese and it becomes a creamy dreamy soup.
Of course, you can’t beat if for its nutritional contribution either. As a cruciferous vegetable, along with other members of the cabbage family, it offers an excellent source of vitamin C, supports digestive health and fights against certain cancers.
From The Healthy Italian, check out Creamy Cauliflower Soup, pg. 119
What’s best about this pantry essential is that it requires no soaking before going straight into your soup pot. In fact, if you’re worried about the picky eaters at the table, red lentils almost completely dissolve yet they leave behind a fantastic flavour and fill a soup with more fibre. For more bulk, try dry brown lentils that cook as quickly but leave behind a soft shell.
Don’t discount other great legumes, too, such as chickpeas, cannellini (navy) or Romano beans, for their creamy addition and protein punch.
From The Healthy Italian, check out Brown & Red Lentil Soup, pg. 104
HERBS, FRESH AND DRIED
There isn’t a broth that I make that doesn’t get an infusion of herbs – basil, parsley, bay leaf, sage, thyme. Herbs make soups more aromatic, savoury and therapeutic. Grow your own or buy them fresh all year-round, there really is no reason to exclude them. If you’re battling a case of the sniffles, Mom’s good old-fashioned soup made with real chicken stock, bay leaf and sage really is the best remedy.
From The Healthy Italian, check out Classic Italian Chicken Soup, pg. 116
Foods like quinoa and barley offer a powerhouse of nutrients – quinoa for the quality of protein it offers and barley for having one of the lowest glycemic loads on the Glycemic Index among grains (which means it won’t spike your blood sugar levels so you can stave off hunger for longer).
Besides nutrition, I love the texture they give to soups, making them hearty pot-in-one meals for the busy family.
From The Healthy Italian, check out Vegetable-Beef Barley Soup (pg. 94) or Italian Wedding Soup (pg. 111)
Like anything you build, it starts off with a good foundation. It’s no different when simmering a sumptuous soup, which begins its existence with a superior stock or broth. Whether it’s a chicken, beef or vegetable broth, look for no-salt-added or low-sodium broths (remember “reduced-sodium” doesn’t always mean little salt; it just means there is less salt that the original product). Of course, it’s easy enough to make your own batch. Add 8 cups of water to a stock pot and add carrots, potatoes, leeks, celery, parsley, bay leaf, basil (and any other veggies you like), simmer for 1 hour. Strain vegetables and refrigerate for about 2 weeks or freeze portions individually.
From The Healthy Italian, check out Rice & Pea Soup, pg. 102
OTHER GREAT SOUP BUILDERS:
Sorry, I couldn’t stop at just five ingredients, so here are three bonus categories that are equally flavourful, nutritious and easy to use:
* Greens like baby kale, collards, spinach, Swiss chard, “lettuce”-type leavings (don’t be afraid to experiment with escarole);
* Lean meats like chicken thighs, lean sausage meat (lightly seasoned), low-fat turkey bacon;
* Squash like butternut, Italian squash (vegetable marrow), zucchini.