Hearty, winter-friendly soups needn't add to your waistline
We're in the thick of it now.
It's the dead of winter, and we soup lovers need something with a little more staying power. And, while I love a good creamy or cheesy bowl of soup, I am still trying to shed those stubborn holiday pounds.
No worries, though. There are many ways to get that hearty texture without adding heavy cream or cheese. This recipe for Fennel Leek Soup calls for pureeing the soup, which is the easiest way to get that rich consistency you want without any additional ingredients -- or calories.
Use an immersion blender or pour the hot soup -- very carefully -- into your blender in batches. The soup will thicken almost immediately. Pour it back into the pan, heat it, and you have a creamy, stick-to-your-ribs concoction.
You can use the blender with any vegetable or bean soup. Whenever I make lentil soup, for instance, I take about half of it out of the pot and puree it and then pour it back in. That way, you get the best of both worlds. The soup has a nice creamy texture but still a few chunks.
This recipe also includes blending in toasted walnuts, which add that earthy, tangy flavor and some healthy fat. Finish it with a few more chopped walnuts and a drizzle of maple syrup, which brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetables and adds a nice complexity to the soup.
Besides walnuts, soaked cashews are another ingredient you can use as a thickening agent. Blend them with a bit of water to make a paste and then add them to the soup. Cashews work wonderfully with tomato or broccoli soup.
Another way to thicken soup is to add bread, bread crumbs or even crushed tortilla chips. You can simply place a toasted slice of stale bread in the bottom of the bowl and pour the soup on top. Or stir in plain bread crumbs or crushed tortilla chips and let them dissolve in the soup. Be careful with seasoned bread crumbs or tortillas as you might need to adjust your seasoning accordingly.
Mashed potatoes or potato flakes are a natural thickening agent and a perfect way to thicken a soup that may already have diced potatoes.
And a good old-fashioned cornstarch slurry -- one part cornstarch to two parts cold water -- added toward the end of the cooking process is another way to give your soup that thickness you are craving. Remember, you'll need to bring the soup back to a simmer once you've added the slurry.
A hearty bowl of creamy soup is a perfect anecdote to winter. Best of all, it doesn't have to thicken your waistline.
• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's vice president of sales and marketing and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at http://soupalooza.com/
Fennel Leek Soup with Walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks, white and light green parts chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ cup walnut halves, toasted
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fennel fronds
Toasted walnuts chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped leeks and thyme. Stir and sauté the leeks until they are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped fennel and apples. Stir. Add the turmeric and stir to coat all of the vegetables evenly. Sauté the vegetables until the fennel is starting to soften, another 4 minutes. Add the walnuts and stir them in. Season with salt and pepper. Add the vegetable stock and stir.
Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until all of the vegetables and the apple are soft, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat. Carefully blend the mixture in batches in an upright blender until totally smooth. Adjust seasoning as needed. Pour the puréed soup back into the pot to reheat. Serve hot with a drizzle of maple syrup, fresh black pepper, fennel fronds and more toasted walnuts.
From "The First Mess" by Laura Wright (thefirstmess.com)