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January is National Soup Month

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

On the stove, a steamy pot

simmers, waiting to warm you up.

 

It’s that time of year again. A cold winter day in the North Country is a great time to cook up some hot, steamy, flavorful soup! Make a pot in the morning, and reheat when coming in from a day of outdoor winter fun. After all, January is National Soup Month.

Winter is sledding, snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating, snow sculptures and snow angels. Winter is flush red cheeks and crackling logs blazing bright in the fireplace. Winter is an excuse to drink hot chocolate. And winter is time to make soup!

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Soup makes a healthy, filling meal that can help with your weight loss goals in the new year. Broth-based soups with lots of vegetables give you maximum nutrition with few calories. The high water content and the fiber from veggies help you feel full and keep you hydrated.

Soup can be a great way to get more veggies into your diet. Meat, poultry, beans, vegetables, mushrooms and grains cooked directly in soups preserve most of their flavor. So put lots of veggies in your soup, for flavor as well as nutrition. Long simmering breaks down connective tissues, tenderizing meat and releasing nutrients into the liquid in a form that the human body can absorb easily.

If you happen to get sick, a bowl of hot, steamy soup can make you feel better. The nourishing, comforting broth replaces fluids lost to your system through a fever or runny nose. Studies have shown that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory effects and can help lessen the symptoms of a cold. An American Academy of Family Physicians study confirmed that eating soup is a good way to increase your fluid intake and improve hydration while you’re sick.

Soups have been with us for over 12,000 years and are part of almost every culture. As soon as people learned to use pottery to make containers that could hold liquid on the fire without breaking, they began cooking vegetables, meat, beans, grains and seasonings to create simple, filling, nutritious soups. The English word “soup” derives from the French “sope” or “soupe,” which has its roots in the Latin verb “suppare,” meaning to soak.

No matter what part of the world you hail from, your grandma probably made pots of homemade soup. Soup dishes around the world include Mexican chili, Spanish gazpacho, French onion, Brunswick stew, Japanese miso, Chinese won-ton, Italian minestrone, Ukrainian borscht, Greek avgolemono, Moroccan tagine or west African harira.

In these modern, busy times, soup is easily bought ready-made from the deli or found canned on supermarket shelves. While canned soups are often marketed as healthy, processed foods are full of many undesirable ingredients: chemicals, additives and excess salt.

It’s a pleasure to create your own healthy soup in your own kitchen. You can make a large pot with not much effort and little cost.

Soup is a great choice if you’re watching your budget. It accommodates leftovers and calls for inexpensive ingredients easily found in most groceries: cheap cuts of meat, vegetables, grains and beans. Make more than you need; if you wait a couple days, the flavors meld and it gets even better, so plan for two meals with a day in between.

If you’re new to cooking, soup is a forgiving dish. When it comes to soup-making, anything goes — like in the European folk tale about stone soup, where everyone brought small contributions. If your soup’s too thin or watery, add a thickener like bread crumbs, flour or mashed potatoes. Is it too thick? Add broth, tomato juice or milk.

When you make soup at home, you can substitute ingredients to suit your tastes or what you have on hand. Herbs and seasonings can be added or left out. Unlike baked goods, which require you to follow the recipe closely, soups are flexible, allowing you to tweak and adjust to suit your own tastes. You can add a little more of this, or put in a bit less of that. You can make it chunky, puree to make it smooth, or puree some of it to have the best of both textures. You can make it mild or spicy. Add more onions, garlic, ginger, herbs. Soups are also easily customized for special diets: for those who can’t eat gluten, have food allergies, are watching sugar or salt, or are vegan or vegetarian.

Way before “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” our grandmothers knew the benefits of soup. Healthy, economical and delicious, homemade soup is easy to make and a perfect cure for winter doldrums. By making soup at home, you can ensure it includes quality ingredients.

There’s a soup for every occasion and every taste — so go make some soup!

Chicken Soup with Barley and Cabbage

Ingredients:

1 quart water

Beef bone or chicken thigh

1/2 cup barley

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

2 or 3 grains allspice

2 or 3 peppercorns

1 large or 2 small carrots

1 or 2 potatoes

1 large or 2 small parsnips

1 stalk celery

1 onion

1/4 to 1/2 small head green or red cabbage

– 

Directions:

In large soup kettle, place 1 quart of water, the beef bone or chicken thigh, 1/2 cup barley, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 bay leaf and a couple grains of allspice. Bring to a boil, and cook 30 minutes or longer.

While stock is cooking, prepare vegetables. Wash and slice carrots, potatoes, celery and parsnips. Peel and dice the onion. Wash, core and cut the cabbage. Remove chicken thigh, let cool, and add the vegetables to the pot. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook another 30 minutes.

Cool the meat or bones enough to handle, and remove the meat from the bone. Return meat to the pot. Cook another 15 minutes or so.

Check to adjust seasonings.

Serve warm in bowls with a dollop of sour cream or a sprinkling of Parmesan, if you wish.

Serves three.

Creamy White Bean Soup (vegetarian)

Ingredients:

1 cup white beans (or 2 cans beans)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion (1 to 1 1/2 cups)

1 medium carrot

1 potato

1 teaspoon salt

1 stalk celery

3 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon each basil, oregano, sage and thyme

1 bunch fresh greens (2 to 4 cups, chopped)

Directions:

Soak beans overnight, or bring to a boil, turn off heat, and leave to soak for an hour. Drain and set aside.

In a 4-quart soup kettle or other large pot over medium heat, place 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Peel and dice the onion, sprinkle with salt, and add. Wash and dice the carrot, and stir in. Peel and dice the potato, and add. Slice the celery, and stir in. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are quite soft. Mince the garlic, stir in, and cook 1 minute longer.

Add soaked beans and water, bring to a boil, and cook until tender. (Alternately, use canned beans). Season with herbs.

Cool slightly, and blend some or all of the soup in a blender, in batches. Reheat, adding chopped spinach or other fresh chopped greens, until greens are desired tenderness (just a minute or two for spinach, longer for tough greens like collards or kale).

Serves four.

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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

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