COLUMN: Get your soup on

Heather Winn

There are many reasons for making soup. It is easy to make and delicious. If you include vegetables, lentils, beans, and possibly meat, soup can make a hearty entrée, especially if served with a salad and bread, preferably whole-grain. With a little advance planning, soup can last through several meals.

Homemade soup has more flavor and nutrients than any soup in a can. Homemade soup is also a good way to control weight, especially since you can control the fat, sodium, and calorie content. Soup can help you to feel full without all the calories, and it helps you to feel fuller longer than starchy, higher-calorie foods like potatoes and refined breads, especially soups that are made with hearty ingredients like lentils, beans and whole-grain rice or pasta.

A vegetable soup can make a particularly satisfying dinner. Any recipe can be altered to accommodate what’s available at the farmers market, what you have in the refrigerator and individual tastes. For a purely vegetarian dish, use a vegetable broth; otherwise, a low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth will provide more body. Spinach and other greens add color, crunch, and nutrients. Add some leftover meat or tofu for a protein-enriched soup. Hot pepper flakes, a few drops of hot sauce, or some chopped chilies can be added for those who like their soup spicy.

Using a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and spices load soup with flavor and nutrients. They contain phytochemicals, powerful anti-cancer substances, and they help you to reach your nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Broth forms the base of sauces, gravies, soups, and other meals that bind foods together. A broth can be thickened with rice or barley or made richer by allowing it to simmer for a longer period than stated – reducing the broth concentrates the flavor.

Broth is perishable and should be used within three or four days when not frozen. Broth and stock can be frozen in containers of a variety of sizes - anything from a cup to a quart. It is also handy to freeze in ice cube trays and transfer the cubes to a plastic bag for freezer storage. Each small cube yields about 2 tablespoons.

One tip to remember when making broth: allow sufficient time for the broth to cool before using. The fat will rise to the surface and become firm. This layer can be lifted off and makes for a healthier, lighter broth. Chilling is the most effective way of degreasing broth or stock, but if time is limited, wrap an ice cube in cheesecloth and skim it over the surface. The fat will congeal on contact with the ice and can easily be lifted off.

Chowder originated on the shores of New England. A New England chowder is recognized by a creamy milk base, whereas a Manhattan chowder boasts a flavorful and less fattening tomato base. Cream soups are good hot or cold and are ideal appetizers for an elegant dinner or main dish for a light lunch or supper. Complete the meal with a salad, a good bread, and a dessert. Smooth or creamier textures are achieved through pureed ingredients. Kitchen equipment used to puree include:

Food Processor - don’t over fill, it is best to puree in batches.

Blender - Works well for pureeing thinner soups. Start speed low and gradually increase speed. Wrap a dish towel around the lid to decrease mess.

Hand-held Immersion Blender - Very convenient because of portability and ease of cleaning. Solid ingredients must be very soft for the blender to work. This blender will never completely silken the texture.

Food Mill - Once the soup is cooked until the ingredients are quite soft, the food mill purees and strains simultaneously. Interchangeable disks help control the texture.

Fruit Soups - Europeans have long enjoyed sweet soups as delicate appetizers or as a light ending to a special dinner. The consistency of fruit soups may be as thin as punch or as thick as pudding. The thinner and less sweet soups are appetizers; the thicker and sweeter are better desserts. Soups may be thinned with additional liquid or thickened with addition of tapioca.

Chili - Generally believed to be a Mexican import. This spicy dish really had its origin almost 100 years ago in San Antonio. There are as many variations of chili as there are cooks.

Gumbo - This dish originated deep in Louisiana’s bayou country. It is a highly seasoned and spicy stew-like dish which blends the cultures of French, English, Cajuns, Spanish, Choctaw, and Africans. Frenchmen who settled south Louisiana lacked many of the ingredients to make their favorite stew, bouillabaisse. The Acadians of the area, or Cajuns, showed them how to use shrimp and crab in place of their Mediterranean fish. The Spanish settlers introduced them to spices, such as red pepper, while the Choctaw taught them the value of filé powder – ground sassafras leaves. And okra, or gumbo, the ingredient after which the soup is named, came from West Africa.

The key to good gumbo is the roux. A roux is made by combining equal parts of flour and oil and cooking it over a slow fire until it turns the color of a dirty copper penny. It must be stirred constantly, for if the roux burns, it will ruin the entire gumbo. Gumbo is always thickened with either okra or filé – fee-lay. Okra gives gumbo a rich, earthy flavor and thickens the stew as it simmers. Filé powder imparts a delicate flavor like thyme, but it can become stringy if allowed to boil and should only be added after the gumbo is completely cooked.

If you would like to schedule a program locally concerning financial management, nutrition, health and wellness, parenting education, OHCE contact Heather Winn, at the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County by phone at 918-456-6163 or e-mail at heather.winn@okstate.edu.

Heather Winn is the family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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