Fill up, not out, on soup

Soup is one of the most filling foods around, and a great way to start a diet.

Many soups are low in calories and high in fiber, making them healthy and satisfying. And what better time than winter to enjoy soup?

A big bowl of soup for lunch helps me avoid higher-calorie temptations at restaurants and office cafeterias. Steering away from cream-based soups and chowders keeps the calorie count low.

If you’re trying to reduce sodium, though, know that most restaurant soups and many homemade ones that use commercially prepared broths as a base can be quite high in sodium.

In Atlanta, soup specialty restaurants such as Souper Jenny’s and Soups on Ellis/Loaf & Kettle attract a steady flow of customers looking for comforting foods and unusual flavors. (You may find a chicken noodle, but you’re more likely to see portobello mushroom soup with sherry and barley, or a chicken and squash soup rich with thyme and a sprinkling of cheese.)

Souper Jenny’s offers something else irresistible: Weight Watchers points, already calculated, for each of the soups on the menu that day. No wonder there’s a line of women outside the door willing to wait for Jenny Levison’s daily selections. A menu constant since the restaurant opened, My Dad’s Turkey Chili, is 6 points; other soups are usually 6 points or less.

Cookbook author Pam Anderson, who wrote “How to Cook Without a Book” (Broadway, $26) and is the former executive editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, credits big bowls of soup with helping her stick with a healthier eating plan that led to a 40-pound weight loss in eight months.

Her most recent book, “The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight & Eating Great” (Houghton Mifflin, $27), contains a couple of dozen recipes for fast, flavorful soups that mix prepared ingredients such as chicken broth and canned, diced tomatoes with fresh meat and vegetables. Most are around 400 calories a serving. And what could be more perfect?

Here are a few recipes to get started, and some cookbook suggestions. Nutritional information, if provided, comes from the recipe source.

Tomato-Tortellini Soup With Spinach and Italian Spices
Serves 4

To keep sodium levels lower, I use reduced-sodium chicken broth and choose Pomi brand tomatoes, which are packed without added sodium (they’re sold in colorful Tetra Pak boxes, usually stocked near the canned tomatoes in supermarkets). You could also look for no-sodium added tomatoes. This recipe comes from Pam Anderson’s “The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight & Eating Great.”

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably no sodium added
1 quart reduced-sodium chicken broth
½ teaspoon baking soda
2½ cups dried cheese and spinach tortellini (from a 13-ounce bag)
6 ounces (about 4 cups packed) baby spinach leaves, prewashed
Black pepper to taste

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat oil and garlic over medium-high heat until garlic starts to sizzle. Add Italian seasoning, tomatoes, broth and baking soda and bring to a boil. Add tortellini and return to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add spinach and simmer until the leaves have wilted and tortellini is tender, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Add pepper to taste and serve.

Per serving: 291 calories

Southwestern Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6

This soup can be prepared with fresh butternut squash that is roasted and then pureed, or with frozen, pureed winter squash. Check the note at the end for making it with frozen squash. One lime should contain enough juice for this recipe. Buy more if you want to garnish the soup with lime slices. This recipe is adapted from the Associated Press.

3½ pounds butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 medium baking potato, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the middle. Cut each squash in half lengthwise and brush lightly with olive oil. Place cut side down on a cookie sheet (to ease cleanup, line cookie sheet with aluminum foil). Roast until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool before removing the flesh. Discard the skin.

Place squash in a medium saucepan and stir to a puree. Add chicken broth and heat until simmering. Add the potato, red bell pepper and jalapeno pepper and cook about 10 more minutes, until the potato is tender and the soup has thickened.

Add the salt, cumin and lime juice. Remove the pot from the heat. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or a conventional blender. If using a conventional blender, wait until soup has cooled slightly and make sure to fill the blender jar no more than halfway. Hold the lid with a folded towel while running the blender, to protect against splash-ups of hot liquid. Puree until smooth; soup will be thick. Sprinkle with cilantro before serving; garnish with lime wedges if desired.

Note: If using frozen squash, skip the roasting step. In a medium saucepan, combine two 12-ounce packages of pureed winter squash with the chicken broth and heat until simmering and squash is thawed, about 10 minutes. Then follow the directions above, starting with adding the potato.

Per serving: 83 calories, 4 grams fiber, 706 milligrams sodium.

Red Beans and Rice With Turkey Kielbasa
Serves 8

For a vegetarian version, use vegetable broth and omit the turkey kielbasa. Serve with a half-cup of brown or white rice. The red beans and rice are mildly spiced; if you want more heat, add some Tabasco at the table. Using a smoked meat such as kielbasa increases the sodium content; if you’re on a restricted-sodium diet, you may want to avoid this recipe or omit the sausage. This recipe comes from “Chef Bobo’s Good Food Cookbook” by Robert W. Surles (Meredith Books, 2004), and is designed to appeal to children as well as adults.

1 pound dry red kidney beans
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 sprigs fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 pound smoked turkey kielbasa, cut into bite-sized pieces

Rinse beans. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, combine beans with at least 8 cups of cold water. Put the beans aside and let soak overnight. Or combine the beans with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let stand 1 hour. Drain, rinse and set aside or refrigerate for later use.

In a large stockpot on high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, pepper and garlic. Saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to turn brown (about 10 minutes). Stir in the drained beans, broth, tomato paste and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally.

While the beans are cooking, place a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. When sizzling, add the kielbasa chunks and cook until slightly browned.

When the beans have cooked for 1½ hours, add the kielbasa and simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove and discard thyme and oregano sprigs, if using, and bay leaves. Serve alone or over a half-cup of rice.

Per serving, with rice: 639 calories, 3 grams saturated fat, 21 grams fiber.


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