Ward off cold, damp spring days with some warm, hearty soup

Here are some tips to make a fantastic pot of soup.

Posted on March 31, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.

As I type this, if I didn’t know it was March I would think it was January. It is really cold and the wind is like a blizzard.

Yes, I know it is spring, and I am not complaining about the weather; I enjoyed the winter as it was a real winter like winter should be.

Cold spring months call for tasty meals of soups and stews and using the crock pot. These soups and stews are best accompanied by freshly baked crunchy bread. I grew up eating soup with my family and also with my grandparents and I sure have fond memories. I eat soup year-round but there is just something more enjoyable about it in the cold, damp spring months.

For centuries hearty soups were the mainstay of family meals. In many parts of the world they still are. Virtually every country has a national soup, which has survived over the years. Preparation may be very similar but differing ingredients reflect national and regional taste.

In today’s modern kitchen the crock pot is a great small appliance for soup making and the Dutch oven is the soup kettle for the stove or oven. Roasting the meat and vegetables in the oven will really increase the flavors. I encourage you to cook meat and bones and make stock.

For the most economical vegetable soup, plan to save clean vegetable pieces and edible peels and stems in a freezer bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, roast or simmer the vegetables in water to make a tasty broth or add to your meat broth. I caution you to avoid strongly flavored vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower, which will overpower the broth unless you like that flavor.

When adding vegetables to make a soup, the most nutritious plan in the spring is to add frozen vegetables. If you must add canned vegetables, choose no-salt-added varieties. Remember to read the labels; many canned products contain a high amount of sodium. A good rule of thumb is to compare the milligrams of sodium to the calories per serving; try and find one that contains the same number or less.

When seasoning your soup, season gently at first and taste just before serving. Add dried herbs at the beginning and fresh herbs at the end. You can bolster a ho-hum stock with a quarter to one-half teaspoon of Worcestershire or one to two tablespoons of tomato paste. Soups need to be simmered, don’t boil them, or the broth will be cloudy and the ingredients will lose their shape. Plan to add salt-free seasonings and a dash of lemon juice or vinegar just before serving as this will liven up the flavor.

You can remove excess fat by chilling the soup overnight and then lifting off the hardened fat before adding the other ingredients and reheating. When you don’t have time you can remove some excess fat by laying a clean paper towel over the top to soak up the grease and or wrapping ice cubes in the paper towel.

Soups make a tasty snack. It fills you up and provides more nutrition than most convenient snacks. If you’re eating late, eat a cup of soup, it will take the edge off your hunger so you will make better choices and possibly not overeat.

Soups can play an important role in your healthy eating. To learn more about healthy eating and cooking join us for our four-part cooking school, Dining with Diabetes. The first class starts Tuesday, April 8. Call the Purdue Extension Elkhart County Office at 574-533-0554 to register or for more information. In the meantime, make some soup and salad and homemade bread and enjoy it with family and friends.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Reach her at 574-533-0554 or lienhart@purdue.edu.

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