Since almost the beginning of Weight Watchers, one thing has remained constant: The pretty-much-eat-as-much-as-you-want Garden Vegetable Soup. Through various points regimens and before that exchanges, even back to the days of fish five times a week and liver once, a bowl of veggies in broth has been prescribed to quell hunger, both mental and physical.
That's a powerful endorsement for soup as a weapon in the fight against fat. The key to Weight Watchers go-to soup is that it contains low-calorie and non-starchy vegetables including onion, green beans and cabbage, and no dairy (cheese, cream or milk) or protein. It's a hot bowl of tide-you-over at about 85 calories a serving. There's not much out there for that calorie count that can do as much to keep you away from cupcakes and Cheetos.
There have been other diets that lean heavily on soup, perhaps none more than the weeklong Cabbage Soup Diet, which promises that adherents will drop 10 pounds in a week. There are amazing soup diets, chicken soup diets and even a fat-burning soup diet. Sadly, there is no one is touting a New England clam chowder or lobster bisque diet. Darn.
Soup is comforting, no doubt, and as the calendar flips from one year to the next, it can be a good source of protein and fiber when all else has failed. Make that lean poultry or beans and you'll keep the fat and calorie count down. If you used prepared broths, look for low-sodium versions. You can make your own salt-free if you'd like.
While I've eaten the Weight Watchers miracle soup over the years, I am of a mind to add more bulk and really make soup a meal. Part of the reason that soup helps dieters stick to their plans is that it's hot. The heat forces us to eat slower, which contributes to satisfaction.
I found three recipes for this week's story that have some heft to them but still weigh in at less than 250 calories for a serving. They aren't eat-all-you-want-all-day soups, but they are certainly good candidates for lunch or dinner.
Onion Soup With Cannellini Beans
Lovers of French onion soup might find this a worthy substitute. Without the thick plank of melted Swiss cheese and the buttery-garlic toast on top, the calorie and fat count comes way down. (I know, the flavor is compromised, too.)
I tested this recipe with vegetable broth, which makes it a vegan soup (omit the sprinkling of Parmesan cheese or use a non-dairy substitute), but I think I would like it better with chicken broth. The recipe calls for six halved and sliced large onions, which are softened in a large soup pot during 30 minutes of cooking. As the onions go translucent, they release a lot of liquid, which contributes to the oniony broth. However, the excess liquid prevents browning, which would add both flavor and color. If you want color and slight caramelization, you'll have to cook the onions in batches. Set aside some time for that chore.
I doubled the beans from one can to two and pureed a few cups of the soup in a blender, returning it to the pot and making the mixture more creamy. Like many soups, it tasted better when reheated the next day, the flavors given time to coalesce.
Spinach, Turkey Sausage and Potato Soup
The recipe title below says kale, but I used spinach only because my ingredients were purchased on Dec. 31 and there was a run on greens at the store. Good luck, hoppin' John and all that for New Year's Day, you know. So my soup contained roughly chopped spinach, which I added at the end of cooking so it was just wilted.
This is a hearty, chunky soup that comes together quickly. Do not overcook or the potatoes will fall apart. Though the recipe calls for part of the soup to be pureed and then returned to the pot, I did not do this. I like the hunks of potato and, in fact, when dieting they'll make you feel like you're getting more. It's all about the tricks that work, isn't it?
Using fresh (uncooked) turkey sausage adds flavor to the soup as it cooks. I found the links near the turkey products in the refrigerated meat case after a hunt. This recipe would also be delicious with small, hand-shaped turkey meatballs, browned first.
I have been promising myself to make a batch of Greek egg-lemon soup for ages. I have enjoyed it many times at Tarpon Springs' restaurants, most recently at Mykonos, near the Sponge Docks. Mykonos' version is one of my favorites, redolent with lemon, creamy from vigorously whisked egg with just a few shreds of chicken floating in the melange.
Of course, I loaded my version with more bird. To get the most flavor from the chicken, I roasted two half-breasts on the bone with skin. I discarded skin and bones and shredded the meat by hand. Chunks or cubes seems too organized for this peasant dish, a Hellenic turn on Chinese egg drop soup.
The recipe I used called for whole eggs but many use only yolks. The trick with this soup is to whisk the eggs until frothy, then add the lemon juice and incorporate. It's important to add a cup of the hot broth slowly to the egg-lemon mixture to temper it and then add the mixture back to the pot, again slowly. This keeps the soup from curdling. Once all ingredients are together, do not boil the soup, especially when reheating. Be gentle with it.
I am not sure mine gave Mykonos a run for its money, but the wolverines, who are avgolemono connoisseurs, gave it paws up. Maybe there's a future for the Avgolemono Diet. Opa!
Contact Janet K. Keeler at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.