BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP: Fills You Up With Flavor, Not Calories!

butternut squash soup textIt’s autumn – that time of year when the days get shorter, the air a little brisker, and the markets display all kinds and colors of winter squash. While, of course, we appreciate them for their beauty – and sometimes cuteness – they’re actually edible, delicious, and filled with nutrients and fiber.

This recipe for BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP is particularly tasty…and extremely low in calories! Bonus: it’s quick to prepare!!!

NOTE: Anyone who’s ever risked life and limb by attempting to slice through a winter squash, may have sworn off cooking with one. BUT…I have the answer: the microwave!!! (This, of course, may not work with a giant pumpkin.)

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP – makes 7 cups

  • 4 T butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 lb butternut squash
  • 5 cups water
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (dark or light – I use dark)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • optional:  Cinnamon Croutons (recipe follows)

Thoroughly wash butternut squash. Place whole in microwave and cook 3 minutes. (Don’t bother piercing it – it won’t explode.) Flip it and cook another 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and let cool. Once it’s cool enough to handle, cut off the head, then slice through it, exposing the seeds. (Yikes! This sounds ghoulish!!!) Scrape out fibers and seeds and set aside.

In a large stockpot (such as a Dutch oven), melt the butter. Add in shallots and sauté on medium 4 minutes.butternut squash soup6 Add in the seeds and fibers. Sauté another 4 minutes on medium. butternut squash soup7Add in the water and salt, bringing to a boil. butternut squash soup8While liquid is heating, slice the squash (unpeeled) into chunks. Place them cut side down on a steamer basket. butternut squash soup2When the liquid has come to a boil, drop in the steamer basket and cover. Decrease flame to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove basket from liquid, letting squash cool enough to handle.

Place a strainer over a container and pour liquid through it. Discard seeds and fibers. butternut squash soup3Once squash is cooled, scrap squash from its peel, discarding peel. Put squash into a blender and add enough of the liquid to purèe squash. (Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to do this in batches.) butternut squash soup4Empty purèe into the now-empty stockpot. Add in brown sugar and cream. Heat over medium to just before boiling. Taste for seasoning.butternut squash soup5

CINNAMON BREAD CRUMBS

  • 2 slices white bread – good quality
  • 1 T butter, melted
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Remove and discard crust from bread. Cut slices into 1/2″ cubes and place in bowl. Mix in sugar and cinnamon, then stir in melted butter.

Pour onto cookie sheet and bake at 350º F for about 8 minutes, stirring midway.croutons

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GAZPACHO – Chilled Soup For A Hot Day!

gazpacho textSummer’s here and sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking….but I want a homemade meal. Gazpacho is the answer! It takes only a few minutes to prepare, NO COOKING, extremely low in calories, and it uses ingredients that are fresh from the garden (or farmer’s market).

This soup is best served icy cold, so I like to make it the day before.

I’ve included a recipe for garlic croutons for you adventurous souls up for a wee bit of cooking, but you can always purchase them, if you like.

GAZPACHO – makes about 6 cups

  • 2 T sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1½ large beefsteak tomatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/4 cup sweet onion (such as Maui, Vidalia, or shallots), diced
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 2½ cups tomato juice
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco Sauce (use more or less depending on taste)

Into a large glass or ceramic bowl combine the vinegar, salt, and black pepper.

Slice tomatoes in half around the equator. Remove pulp and seeds by poking them out with your finger. Chop pulp and flesh into bite-sized pieces. Place all of the tomatoes into the bowl (including seeds).

Cut off and discard stem, seeds, and filaments of red pepper. Chop pepper into bite-sized pieces and add to bowl.

Cut cucumber in half. Remove skin from one half. Slice both pieces lengthwise in half. Scoop out and discard seeds by scraping them with a spoon. Cut cucumber into bite-sized pieces and add to bowl.

Add pressed garlic and diced onion into the bowl. Stir all together and let set 5 minutes.

Stir in tomato juice and Tabasco. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

GARLIC CROUTONS – makes 3 cups

  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups 1/2″ bread cubes (cut from Italian or French loaf, or purchased)

In a small bowl combine olive oil, garlic, and salt. Let set 20 minutes. Strain into mixing bowl, discarding garlic.

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Add in the bread cubes and stir to coat cubes. Pour onto a jellyroll pan, spreading them out. Bake until lightly browned – about 15 minutes, stirring now and then.

BORSCHT – Pretty In Pink!

borscht2 textWith the weather heating up and bulky clothes coming off, I’m always looking for ways to appease my hunger but shred the pounds. Soups are generally my go-to diet food since they fill you up without a lot of calories. But hot soup in hot weather doesn’t really appeal to me, so I look to chilled soups.

For some reason I’ve always been leery of beets. It’s not that I didn’t like them – I’d never even eaten one. When they came in a salad, I let these deep red strips remain untouched…until my husband inevitably asked if he could have them.

I’ve been hearing about how nutritious beets are so I finally decided it was time to face my fear and actually try them. Since my husband mentioned recently that he loved borscht (beet soup),  I figured I’d start there. Not only was the soup super easy, but superb (I’m in an alliterative mood).

Note: Beets stain, so take care handling them. I got a drop on some fabric, but used OxyClean immediately and it came right out.

BORSCHT – makes 5 cups

  • 1½ lbs beets with 1″ of stem remaining
  • 4 2/3 cups water
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 T + 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 T + 1 tsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp dried dill or 2 T fresh

Scrub beets clean and leave unpeeled. Into a saucepan place the whole beets, 4 2/3 cups water, onion, sugar, vinegar, and salt. Bring to boil, cover, lower flame, and let simmer until beets are easily pierced with a skewer (about 45 minutes). Remove beets to a cutting board to cool enough to handle.

Line a strainer with a paper towel and place over a bowl. Remove and discard onion from saucepan, then carefully (so you don’t splatter) pour liquid into strainer (DON’T FORGET THE BOWL UNDERNEATH TO CATCH THE LIQUID!). Set bowl aside.

Using the wet paper towel, rub the beets to remove skin. Remove and discard the top and bottom of beet. Take half the beets and shred them (a food processor makes quick and clean work of this). Place in a small bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Take the remainder of the beets and cut into 1/2″ chunks (exact size doesn’t matter). Place in a blender and top with some of the saved beet liquid so that they’re submerged about 1″. Blend until pureed – at least 1 minute. Add in remainder of the liquid and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Into a serving bowl place the shredded beets, pureed beets, lemon juice, and dill. Combine the sour cream and heavy cream. Whisk into the soup. Season as needed. (I added a little more lemon juice.)

 

RED LENTIL SOUP: A Quick, Guilt-Free Delight!

red lentil soup textIn my ongoing attempt to post bathing-suit friendly recipes, I decided to turn to RED LENTIL SOUP. Enjoy it either as a meal unto itself, or as a starter to curb your appetite before the higher-caloric main course.

We often think of homemade soups as time consuming so, instead, we reach for the can opener. While it’s true that some soups can take hours to steep, this RED LENTIL SOUP is NOT one of them. It can be in your bowl in 30 minutes with very little bother.

NOTE: This soup needs to be seasoned well or it’ll just taste bland. Don’t be afraid of using salt – salt usage in the home kitchen isn’t a problem like it is with fast food or prepared foods.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: If you have garam masala (a spice blend) in your pantry and want to substitute it instead of the ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, & cumin, then use 2 tsp.

RED LENTIL SOUP – makes about 7 cups

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1¾ salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried ginger
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (for recipe click:  Vegetable Stock)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1½ cups dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

In large pot, melt butter. Add in onions and 1 tsp salt. Sauté about 5 minutes, until translucent – don’t brown. Remove from heat.

Add in pepper, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin (or the garam masala). Return to heat for 2 minutes to bloom flavors. Stir in tomato paste and garlic, and cook 1 more minute.

Pour in vegetable stock, water, and lentils. Bring to boil then simmer uncovered about 15 minutes – until lentils are soft. Whisk soup vigorously 30 seconds to cream the lentils (don’t use blender or food processor).

Stir in lemon juice, 3/4 tsp salt, and cilantro. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

FRENCH ONION SOUP – Magnifique!

french onion soup text

Who can resist FRENCH ONION SOUP, with its cheesey bread topping, encrusted over a savory soup?!

You may think FRENCH ONION SOUP is one of those foods only obtainable at a restaurant. (And when I worked in a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant, we did serve it.) But it’s actually easily made at home, and my vegetarian version (no beef or chicken stock) is every bit as tasty as that expensive version ordered out.

Three points of caution:

  1. It’s essential to use soup crocks that are broiler-proof.
  2. Allow 4 hours from beginning to end. Don’t fret, though! Nearly all that time is hands off.
  3. Make sure your Dutch oven or saucepan has handles & knobs that can withstand high oven heat.

FRENCH ONION SOUP – serves about 7

  • 4 lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1½ tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup Sherry
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (if purchasing, use one that’s not too flavorful)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2″ slices of baguette or rustic bread (don’t use sandwich – it’s too mushy)
  • about 2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • about 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

In an oven proof Dutch oven or large saucepan, put the onions, butter, olive oil, and 1 tsp salt. Stir together (don’t worry that the butter isn’t melted yet) and cover tightly with lid. Put in a 400º Fahrenheit oven and cook 1 hour without disturbing.

After an hour, stir onions and replace lid but leave it slightly askew to allow steam to escape. Let bake 1½ hours, undisturbed.

Place saucepan on stove and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes to develop a nice dark fond (the baked-on food that sticks to the bottom – it’s full of flavor!). Stir occasionally.

NOTE: If you’re using a saucepan with a handle, I suggest you put an oven mitt or towel on the handle to remind yourself how hot it is. Remember it’s been in that 400º F oven!

Now you’re going to deglaze the fond by pouring in 1/4 cup water and stirring over medium heat, until the water is gone and new fond develops – about 5 minutes. Do this 3 more times (total of 1 cup water).

Pour in the Sherry for a final deglazing. Cook until Sherry evaporates (about 5 minutes).

Add the vegetable broth, 1/2 tsp salt, thyme, and bay leaf to pot. Bring to boil, cover, lower heat, then let simmer for 30 minutes.

Add in pepper and remove bay leaf.

Leaving room for the bread, ladle soup into BROILER-PROOF crocks. Top with bread, then sprinkle on Gruyère, followed by the Parmesan. Place crocks about 3″ under broiler element, and cook until toasty brown. Keep an eye out – it takes about 6 minutes, but that can vary.

 

TOMATO SOUP – Mmm Mmm Good…For Your Waistline!

tomato soup text

It’s that time of year when the temperature starts to rise and the clothing starts to shed. No more bulky sweaters to hide those extra pounds.

Years ago there was a soup commercial with a girl hanging a yellow polka dot bikini on her wall as incentive to stick to her diet. To aid in her endeavor, she would eat soup for lunch – all the while singing “she wore an itsy bitsy teeny weeny….”.

It’s really not a silly idea. Soup is low in calories and filling enough to get you away from the table unscathed by a grilled cheese sandwich and French fries.

I found an easy recipe from America’s Test Kitchen for creamy tomato soup – without the cream (or any dairy at all, for that matter). Of course, I adjusted it for vegetarians by substituting vegetable stock for chicken stock.

Here’s the important thing: DON’T BUY TOMATOES FROM A SUPERMARKET! They were picked green and have no flavor. Either grow them yourself, or buy them from a local farmer’s market. Otherwise, buy canned whole tomatoes (Muir Glen brand is rated best), which is what you’ll have to do most of the year.

TOMATO SOUP – makes about  5 cups

  • 3-4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz can whole tomatoes OR 2 lbs fresh Roma tomatoes
  • 3 slices white bread, crust removed
  • 1 T brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (here’s my recipe for homemade: VEGETABLE STOCK)
  • 2 T brandy (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used 1/2 tsp salt)

Heat 2 T oil in large saucepan, then add onions, garlic, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes. Sauté about 5 minutes.

Remove stem ends and any skins or impurities from tomatoes. Coarsely chop (don’t worry too much about this – they’re going in the blender eventually) and add to onions, continuing cooking.

Tear bread into pieces and stir into soup, along with brown sugar. Cover pot and let simmer 5 minutes. Remove lid and cool 15 minutes. DISCARD BAY LEAF!! This is very important – you don’t want it blended with the soup or you’ll have to throw it out.

Purée the soup in a blender. Depending on the size of the pitcher, this will require 1-2 batches. With each batch, add in 1 T olive oil before blending.

Clean out saucepan (or use another) and pour in puréed soup. Add in the vegetable broth and bring to a simmer, stirring until heated through. Stir in brandy, if using. Adjust seasoning, as needed.

CARROT-GINGER SOUP: Easter Bunny Favorite!

carrot-ginger soup text

This recipe is perfect for Easter! Why? Because the Easter Bunny is a rabbit…and rabbits love carrots, of course!

Okay, I may be stretching the association a bit (a BIT?!), but this soup is delicious, filling, and low-cal. And, like most soups, is very easy to make.

NOTE: You can make this soup with carrots of various colors – purple, white, yellow, and orange. Choose one, or mix and match. Warning: mixing the colors (particularly with purple) produces a soup color that’s not very pretty, although it’s still scrumptious.

CARROT-GINGER SOUP

  • 2 T butter
  • 2½ cups onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger (found in the jarred spice section or bins)
  • 1 T grated fresh ginger (or 1 tsp dried ginger)
  • 2 lbs carrots (buy the ones with tops – they’re the freshest)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1½ cups carrot juice, divided
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 T red cider vinegar
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • grated hard cheese (such as Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan)
  • optional:  chives, sour cream, croutons

Melt butter in a stockpot. Add in onions, garlic, salt, sugar, crystallized ginger, and fresh ginger (or dried). Sauté for 5 minutes.

Remove tops from carrots and discard. Chop carrots into small pieces and add to onion mixture. Add in water, 3/4 cup of the carrot juice, thyme, and baking soda. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.

Cool for at least 15 minutes. Pour into a blender (in batches, if necessary) and purée. Return to stockpot and add vinegar and the remaining 3/4 cup carrot juice. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Heat and serve. Sprinkle on cheese. Add a dollop of sour cream, chives, and croutons, if you like.