I just made a huge pot of lentil vegetable soup last night. In addition to high fiber lentils I added carrots, onions, celery, diced tomatoes, garlic, oregano and red wine vinegar.
My husband and I now have some hot healthy lunches and five additional servings I put in the freezer for later. To make the soup even heartier and for a different flavor I sometimes add cooked chopped ham or chicken.
When it is cold outside, a nice, hot bowl of homemade soup can be just what you need to warm you up. For many of us, soup is considered the ultimate comfort food, especially during the cold winter months. Whether served as the main course, appetizer or snack, soup is a hearty, nutritious, low-cost dish that is sure to satisfy.
Although soup is relatively easy to prepare, here are a few tips to help make sure that you simmer up the tastiest soup.
n If you are using soup bones, start them in cold water. Placing soup bones into boiling water seals the bone, which prevents flavor and nutrients from being released.
n Avoid letting the soup boil. Soup should simmer gently for several hours to bring out the best flavor. Boiling soup can result in tough or rubbery ingredients and cloudy broth.
n For a clearer broth, strain through several layers of cheesecloth or pour through a sieve.
n Add unthawed frozen vegetables during the last 15 minutes of cooking time to avoid overcooking them.
n Because dried spices give off their best flavor when heated while fresh herbs lose their flavor if cooked too long, it's best to add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking and fresh herbs near the end.
n Always add seasonings in small amounts and taste after each addition. Some experts recommend using a stainless steel spoon for taste tests, because wood and sterling silver spoons can disguise the flavor.
n If you accidentally overspice your soup, add a few slices of raw potato, simmer for 30 to 45 minutes and then remove the potato slices and discard.
n To help reduce the fat content, place four or five ice cubes in a piece of cheesecloth and swirl it around in the soup, or place a few lettuce leaves in the soup, stir them around for a few minutes, then remove and discard. Another method is to place a clean paper towel over the top of the soup to soak up the grease. If time permits, you can also make soup a day ahead of time, chill it overnight and then remove the hardened fat that forms on the surface before reheating the soup.
n To make creamy, rich soups without adding a lot of fat, use mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, vegetable purees or low-fat tofu instead of cream. You can also puree a portion of the soup and add it back to thicken.
Other ways to thicken soup include using evaporated skim milk, instant mashed potatoes, rice flour, cornstarch or pureed white beans.
n Avoid overcooking or over seasoning soup if you plan to refrigerate or freeze it ahead of use; the ingredients will cook further when reheated. For safety's sake, cool or freeze soup in shallow (2 inches deep) meal-size containers. Soup is best if refrigerated no more than two to three days or frozen no more than six months.
n For an added touch, garnish soup with croutons, low-fat cheese, scallions, low-fat sour cream or fresh pieces of herbs just before serving. Or for something different, serve soup in homemade bread bowls.
There are hundreds of thousands of different soup recipes. Take out some of your favorite cookbooks and try something new or create your own recipe.
Soup can be tasty, filling, easy, economical and healthy-what more could you ask?
(Adapted from Colorado Cooperative Extension.)
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.