The Christmas season is behind us. It's time to move on into 2014.
Christmas means cookies, gingerbread and hearty dinners. For many, the holiday season is the most gluttonous time of the year. Now that the time of feasting has ended, it's time to ease the palates with lighter fare.
What's the most common New Year's resolution of all? You guessed it: Lose weight. Others made resolutions for a healthier diet. Unfortunately, many find changing eating habits or dieting a challenge.
Slow cooking soups made with fresh, natural, seasonal ingredients are associated with good health. The process of long simmering breaks down connective tissues, tenderizing meat and releasing vitamins and minerals into the liquid in a form that the human body can absorb easily. Soups can incorporate many flavorful vegetables, so they're a great way to get more veggies into your diet. Meat, poultry, beans, vegetables and mushrooms cooked directly in soups preserve most of their natural nutrients, vitamins and flavor. So put lots of veggies in your soup, for flavor as well as nutrition.
Homemade soup can help you lose weight. While soups usually contain a lot fewer calories than the main dish, they're just as filling - and at least as nutritious. That's because soup's high water content helps you feel full. The fiber from veggies, beans, and grains in your soup adds to the feeling of fullness. That's why broth-based soups with lots of vegetables give you maximum nutrition with few calories. Drinking bowls of homemade broth has been used as a weight loss strategy by people who want to lose weight quickly for a special occasion.
Modern medical studies have corroborated what our grandmothers knew intuitively. A medical study published in the journal Appetite showed that beginning a meal with a fiber-rich bowl of broth-based veggie soup can reduce your total calorie intake by 20 percent. That's because this veggie first course helps fill you up, so you eat less of the main course. Another study, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior proved that people consumed fewer calories when they ate the same ingredients in the form of soup rather than in solid form.
Homemade soup helps you stay hydrated while filling your tummy and warming you from the inside on cold, dry winter days. Soup helps restore the necessary water balance, which, in turn helps, keep our blood pressure and salt content under control. Adding a delicious bowl of nutrient-rich soup to your meals during the cold season can warm you up while helping to protect you.
While there's no cure for the common cold, sitting on the couch wrapped up in a soft, warm blankets and sipping a bowl of hot soup sure makes you feel better. Soup provides warmth to a feverish, chilled body, offers easily absorbed nutrients and hydrates. The nourishing, comforting broth replaces fluids lost to your system through a fever or runny nose. Steam from the hot liquid relieves sinus pressure, acting as a natural decongestant, and warm soup creates mucus that soothes the throat. A recent study by the American Academy of Family Physicians has confirmed that eating soup is a good way to increase your fluid intake and improve hydration while you're sick. Another study showed that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory effects and can help lessen the symptoms of a cold.
Way before "Chicken Soup for the Soul," our grandmothers knew the benefits of eating 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 can control the amount of fat.
Thick soups can even make a great main dish on a chilly winter day.
Simple Winter Minestrone
1 1/2 cups cooked red kidney beans (15-ounce can)
1 1/2 cups cooked small white beans, like navy or great northern (15-ounce can)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 leek or 1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery chopped
1 turnip, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Wedge of cabbage (savoy or green), sliced
6 cups vegetable broth or water
Bouquet garni (herb bundle made of a bay leaf and a few sprigs of thyme, sage, oregano, parsley and rosemary tied with string)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (14-ounce) can of chopped tomatoes, with liquid
2 cups frozen cut Italian green beans
3/4 cup small pasta, like elbow macaroni or small shells
Soak and cook beans early in the day or the night before (if not using canned beans).
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot.
When oil is hot, add leek or onion and saute about 2 minutes. Then add carrot, celery and turnip and continue sauteing and stirring about 5-7 more minutes. Add garlic and cabbage and saute a couple minutes more. Add water or broth and the bouquet garni. Cover.
Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Add beans and tomatoes and pasta. Cook another 20 minutes or so. Taste for salt, acidity and spiciness; add salt, pepper, and a splash of red wine vinegar if needed.
Making this soup the night before or early in the day allows all the flavors to blend.
Barley Cabbage Soup
1 quart water
Beef bone or chicken thigh
1/2 cup barley
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
2-3 grains allspice
1 large or 2 small carrots
1 or 2 potatoes
1 large or 2 small parsnips
1 stalk celery
1/4 - 1/2 small head green or red cabbage
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 to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook another 20 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.
Serve warm in bowls with a dollop of sour cream or a sprinkling of parmesan or just as is.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.