Friday, February 11, 2011

Adventures in Soup Making

Delicious and easy red lentil soup 
We love soup in my house. I began making soup a more regular part of our meals a few years ago. I started by using prepared organic broths. There are many easy recipes out there making soups with prepared broths. The only problem is that they are high in sodium. Yes, I know that you can buy low sodium broths and this is a good option, but I have flavor fatigue from most commercially prepared broths. As my husband and I are pushing the second half century of our lives, I think that it is better to prepare more homemade soups with homemade stock.

This may seem like a daunting task, but really, it isn't. You can prepare your soup or broth when you have more time. Once you get familiar with what tastes good to you, you'll be able to "wing it" without a recipe. I still like to find a great soup recipe like Red Lentil Soup from The Best of Bloodroot, Volume Two, but most of my soup adventures are flying by the seat of my pants. I throw all kinds of combinations of food into a pot and typically the results are great.

I'll share the recipe for Red Lentil Soup as this one is really out of this world and it can teach you some soup-making skills. After the recipe, I'll include some guidelines for mixing up your own creations.

Red Lentil Soup

2 cups red lentils
2 large onions, sliced
8 cloves garlic, sliced
3 T. fresh ginger, sliced
2 T. grapeseed oil
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
8 cups water
1/3 c. low sodium tamari
2 cups canned diced tomatoes (low sodium is best)
pepper to taste (only add salt if you really have to after you serve the soup)

Spiced Oil Garnish

4 T. grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. whole cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1-2 sliced green onions

1. Pick over and rinse lentils (I admit that I usually skip this step-I rarely find rocks in my legumes).
2. In a large stock pot heat oil and saute ginger, garlic and onions with cumin and coriander for about 2 minutes.
3. Add lentils, water, and low sodium tamari. Add tomatoes (the original recipe says to drain the tomatoes. I add the whole can, including the liquid. I use a 28 oz. can of organic diced tomatoes. It is not low sodium and I do not add any extra salt). Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are tender, about half an hour (I find that red lentils cook quickly since they are so small).
4. Puree soup until smooth. You can use a blender, but this is a big task. The soup is hot and you have to blend it in batches. I can't tell you how many times I've had hot soup going everywhere. It is definitely not fun and enough of an annoyance to prevent future blended soup adventures. I suggest using a hand held immersion blender. It will make this step much easier.
5. Season with pepper.
6. To make spiced oil garnish, heat grapeseed oil in a small pan and add red pepper flakes, cumin and turmeric, stirring for a few seconds.
7. To serve, ladle hot soup into bowls and drizzle a spoonful of spiced oil on top. Sprinkle with sliced green onions (the recipe calls for cilantro. I much prefer green onions).

Serves 6 to 8 people

Hints for Creating Your Own Soups

1. Begin by making soup a few times following a recipe. I tend to make vegetarian soups so I look for vegetarian recipes. Bloodroot is my new favorite cookbook and if you're looking for amazing vegetarian recipes, I highly recommend it. I've learned a lot about flavor combinations by following recipes.

2. Choose healthy ingredients. I encourage you to make soup the main part of your meal. To get the nutrition you need you should include healthy sources of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In food lingo that means lean meats, legumes, whole grains (barley, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet, etc.), and lots and lots of vegetables (don't forget the greens. Soup is a great way to eat greens)!

3. Season for flavor and that doesn't mean salt! You can use a little salt or salt containing foods such as canned legumes or tomatoes, but experiment with a variety of flavors from spices, herbs and flavorful foods (garlic, onion, lean meats, citrus peel, dried mushrooms, etc.).

Add a variety of vegetables, herbs and spices to your soup 

4. Go for color. Colorful foods have antioxidants and add to the appeal of food. I'll add onion skins to my stock because I like the color that it gives the broth. I'll also add beets. Nothing looks prettier than a red vegetable soup in a white bowl.

Colorful foods add nutrition, flavor, and eye appeal 

5. Be daring. When you've made soup a few times you'll begin to improve upon what you've made. Perhaps you may decide that a stalk of lemon grass would enhance your recipe. Or you might like to add a bit of lime zest or some coconut milk. Get out of your comfort zone and explore new flavors.

Soup can be served as part of a larger meal or it can be the main dish. I often serve it as the main dish. I'll round out the meal with crusty whole grain bread and a salad containing a variety of interesting greens.

One of the benefits of eating soup is that it promotes a feeling of fullness that can help decrease calorie intake. If you've stuck around long enough to read this statement, it should motivate you to experiment more with homemade soups.

Please share your adventures in soup making. I'm always looking for interesting combinations of flavors to add to the pot!

To your health!

PS: When my son was 18 months old he commented on his grandfather eating soup. As he couldn't pronounce his "s" it sounded like, "Papa eating poop." Papa replied, "I hope not!"

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