Recently I spent a late September day roaming the Amish countryside in Pennsylvania. Yes, complete with horses and buggies competing competently with traffic. Gracing the country roads were roadside stands full of fresh fall produce- varieties of apples, squashes, potatoes, and pumpkins of all sizes and colors. Homemade jams and jellies lined open shelves. In the landscape beyond were large farms with fields of ripened corn and Holstein cows. Sun and clouds and a cool fall breeze completed the mood.
It felt like a divine plan to match fall colors with fall bounty all in a beautiful setting.
Fall inspires my culinary instincts. I know the season has arrived when my inner need to make soup sends me to the kitchen to find my soup pot, a couple of onions, carrots, beans, potatoes, other promising ingredients, a long wooden spoon, and soup bowls. Soup isn’t complicated or an exacting recipe. Ingredients aren’t expensive. Plus, a big batch of soup freezes well for a later warm, healthy quick meal.
The backdrop of the season reminds me to share soup and a meal with friends. I love inviting a group for a soup gathering on a chilly fall evening or a football game. Whether it’s one friend or many, soup begs to be shared. It speaks of comfort, friendship and warmth. Add a complimentary salad, a loaf of crusty bread and great conversation and you have a memorable moment.
What about soups?
Think of soup as broth-based, cream-based and thickened, or pureed. Broth-based soups are made from broth or stock. Cream-based or thickened soups also are made with broth, but are enriched with cream, flour or egg. Broth-based soups (think vegetable soup) are generally lower in calories and often filled with vegetables and maybe pieces of meat or chicken.
Chowders, bisques, or potages (a French word for a creamed, thick vegetable soup) are sometimes enriched with cream making them higher in calories, but so very elegant and hardy. Some soups are pureed to thicken them while keeping their lower calorie status; for example- tomato basil soup.
A broth-based soup is nutrient rich and great for weight loss diets. Chicken, beef or vegetable broth have very little calorie value but offer subtle background flavor and nutrition to the main characters: vegetables, proteins and starches. Vegetables add potassium, vitamins A and K, folic acid, other B-vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients. Lentils and beans, like meat, add protein and a host of nutrients. Along with beans, potatoes, rice and pasta add starch for energy value.
Stock your pantry or freezer with cans of broth or broth paste or make your own broth. Keep canned or frozen vegetables for a quick supply of soup ingredients when you don’t have fresh. Save leftovers. Your family will understand those small containers of previous meal remnants stacked in the refrigerator.
To strengthen flavors, sauté diced onion and minced garlic in olive oil or butter before adding the broth. Vegetable soup always develops personality with a can of diced tomatoes added for flavor and color. Season your soup with salt, pepper and herbs. For heaven sake, never make the same pot of soup twice.
Cream-based soups often feature a leading ingredient as noted in corn chowder, New England clam chowder, lobster bisque or cream of mushroom soup. Cream gives the soup body and overall richness, but kicks up the calories. However, a little cream goes a long way to enrich a soup.
An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven pot disperses heat evenly and allows you to keep your soup warm at a low temperature. The immersion blender is a time saver if you are pureeing soup.
Pantry Essentials: Two excellent broth pastes are Better Than Bouillon or Knorr Bovril Bouillon. Both products come in beef, chicken or vegetable flavors.
Recipe: BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
In a large sauce pan, sauté 1 cup chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until soft, but not browned. Add 1-1/2 to 2 cups of chicken broth and 6 cups of cubed fresh butternut squash (2 to 2-1/2 pound fresh squash or substitute frozen squash cubes). Bring to a simmer. Stir in ½ cup apple cider, 2 tablespoons of real maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Cover, simmer gently for 30 minutes or until squash is tender. Use an immersion blender (or blender) to blend soup until smooth. Add 1/3 to ½ cup of cream and blend together. Add more broth if necessary and taste for salt. Servings: 4 to 6
Written by: Mimi Cunningham, MA, RDN, CDCES
Mimi is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and diabetes care specialist helping people learn to manage their diabetes and achieve good health. She believes food definitely is good culinary medicine.
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Our gratitude: We extend our deepest gratitude to Mimi from Smart Strategies for Successful Living for generously sharing her exceptional photography with us. We are truly grateful for the two stunning Autumn landscape photos.