Friday, January 14, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Winter Soup

Last post I promised a healthy soup to help shed those extra pounds we tend to get as a result of all that sticky toffee pudding, gingerbread, and eggnog around the holidays, and I am quite the deliverer, if I do say so myself. And I do!

I gullibly keep recording shows on the Food Network promising healthy and light meals, excited that it’s finally the time of year when those celebrity chefs might just be cooking something I’d like to try. Then they pull out the lite mayo or top a plain, grilled chicken breast with cheese and pepperoni and call it pizza (and healthy pizza no less!), and I stop and delete the episode. Healthy does not mean diet! Diet food is flavorless, rubbery chicken with microwaved broccoli. Diet food is a punishment to teach yourself not to be such a pig the next holiday season. Diet food is stupid. Healthy eating is about thinking outside the deep fryer box and finding ways to prepare fresh foods in flavorful ways that make us want to eat them. It’s about shifting your habits to eat a different way. Instead of trying to take an unhealthy dish and removing everything that makes it taste good, just eat something that’s healthy to begin with. No brainer, right?

I learned early in my healthy eating transition that I like to eat. Actually, I love to eat. Sure, I’ve lessened my portions, but I used to eat on par with Husband and his roommates in college. I am not a 6’2” male, but I sure liked to eat like one. I still eat plenty because I knew for this to work, I had to let myself eat. Then I found vegetables. They’re such wonderful things. So full of flavor and texture and every good thing. There’s a reason that Weight Watchers puts vegetables at zero points, and that would be how totally nutrient rich are for being so low in calories. As Rachel Ray likes to say - if you eat healthy, you can eat more. A sentiment I always identified with. Just remember that eating too much stretches your stomach, which is a recipe for disaster later. Eat until you’re satisfied, not waddling. Be reasonable. 

One way I like to fill up my tummy without filling up my calorie bank is soup. Broth-based soups feel substantial because of their high water content, but still add a great amount of flavor. Toss in a healthy dose of vegetables and some form of lean protein and/or whole grains, and you’ve got yourself a meal you can sink a spoon into.

I love soup. I have always loved soup. It’s a love affair that started with my grandmother. She made a mean soup, and growing up a picky eater, I was always happy to go to her house knowing there would be a large pot of soup that had been sitting on the stove slow cooking all day and brimming with vegetables, barley, lentils, and meat (though I ate around that part). Her theory was that I just didn’t like to chew. I think I just like the infinite blend of flavors and the comforting feeling it brings. Warm liquids bring me joy. I love my sludgy coffee in the morning, my steamy afternoon tea, and a silky bowl of soup for dinner. I had a friend in college who didn’t like warm liquids of any kind. We no longer keep in touch.

I’m actually surprised I haven’t posted twenty soup recipes by now, but I guess they’re usually so flung together that I don’t really have a recipe prepared, or sometimes they’re so simple I would feel silly posting it.

If you couldn't tell already, I might be a little obsessed with vegetables. I never feel like I eat enough of them, even though probably 75% of my diet is vegetables (if we don’t count breakfast because I eat zero for breakfast, and if we’re counting breakfast the percentage drops to like 45% because even if I ate nothing but vegetables for lunch and dinner, the most it could be is 66%, so let’s just not count it, m’kay?). I have this little trick with soups. It helps me with portion control and it’s a good way to get a few more leafy greens in my diet. Because I’m seriously lacking in that department, right? I’m talking about spinach. I line my soup bowl with a good helping of fresh baby spinach leaves (I always have some on hand from Trader Joe’s, they have those handy resealable bags), more if it’s a veggie-lite soup, less if it’s veggie-heavy. Then I add the soup until my piggy eyes see it reach the rim of the bowl. This is where it helps with the portion control. The fresh spinach takes up a lot of room in the bowl, so even though I can’t stop myself from filling the bowl, it’s not really full. Of soup anyway. Aw, what a trickster I am! After a few minutes in the microwave the soup is hot and the spinach is wilted, and magically (good ol’ water evaporation!) the level of soup in the bowl is no longer threatening to spill over the sides. It’s ok to be a piggy if you recognize it and trick yourself from letting it impede your health, right? Right. Plus, spinach is delicious and is always a yummy addition to whatever soup I’m enjoying, such as this roasted vegetable soup I made recently.

I am a master of the segue.
This soup was just a happy accident, brought together - like the plot of many a good novel - by a random string of circumstances. Zucchini and eggplant were on sale (seriously, how crazy has the zucchini crop been this year?). I had fresh thyme leftover from my Thanksgiving splurge. I happened to be drinking white wine that night. I wanted the soup creamier without using cream. But here’s the kicker - I was freezing my booty off and I wanted an excuse to turn on the oven. I may be too poor (err, cheap) to heat my house properly, but it encouraged me to roast my veggies before throwing them into the soup, and man did it make this one of the better soups I’ve ever made. 

Husband gobbled it all up in record time, and he's not even a soup person!  We no longer keep in touch.  

Roasting the vegetables caramelized the sugars, making the soup sweeter, richer, and more complex. Love it! And apparently eggplant pureed in soup is like liquid silk, it adds a lovely texture. Who knew?  The evaporated milk thickened the soup beautifully without all that pesky fat. I just need to be mindful that it’s concentrated milk, so 1 cup of evaporated milk is still a hefty amount of calories compared to a cup of milk. But a little goes a long way, so it's all good. Definitely a trick I'm going to remember.  Oh, and did I mention this soup is pretty darn quick? Definitely doable for a weeknight meal. Only about 30 minutes of total cook time, and since I used the broiler setting on the oven, I didn’t even have to wait forever for it to heat up. Win!

So to sum up the awesomeness of this soup, let’s count the ways:
  1. Healthy - fresh vegetables, stock, and lowfat milk 
  2. Fast - 45 minutes tops, depending on how long it takes you to chop
  3. Easy - mostly just chop, dump, or stir
  4. Delicious - eggplant = silky 
  5. Comforting - it’s cold everywhere right now 
  6. Why are you still reading this? Go make this soup! 

What healthy foods are you cooking up to stay warm?  Will you be bringing home your own bag of spinach from Trader Joe's?

Roasted Vegetable Winter Soup 

4 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
2 small eggplant, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, roughly sliced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TB fresh thyme, minced
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 12oz. can evaporated milk (I used 2%)
2 TB white wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

  1. Turn the oven on to broil (500 degrees). In a large roasting pan, toss the zucchini, eggplant, and onions with about 2 TB of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Roast the vegetables until they are soft and nicely browned, tossing every 5-7 minutes so they cook evenly. This will take about 20 minutes total. 
  2. When the vegetables are out of the oven heat 2 TB of olive oil in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two until it is softened and fragrant. Add the thyme and cook for another minute. Add the wine and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook until it is reduced by half, then add the chicken broth and roasted vegetables. Bring the mixture back to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until everything is softened and incorporated. 
  3. Turn off the heat and let the soup cool down a bit. Once cooled, puree with an immersion blender (or regular blender or food processor). Add the evaporated milk, as much as you prefer. I added the whole can for optimal creaminess, but a few tablespoons would have been plenty. Then add vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Edit for SoupaPalooza 2012: Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish sponsored by KitchenAid, Red Star Yeast and Le Creuset

1 comment:

  1. They are delicious! I love it. I tried them at home and it's really yummy.