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Brothy soups keep dieters honest, yet happy

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.

Avgolemono

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 jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>EASY

Weight Watchers Zero Points

Garden Vegetable Soup

6 cups broth (vegetable or chicken, low-sodium)

Cooking spray

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 large onion, diced

4 teaspoons garlic, minced

1/2 cabbage, chopped

1/2 pound frozen green beans

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large zucchini, diced

Bring the broth to a boil in the microwave. (This is a time-saving tip that can be skipped if there's no hurry.)

Spray a Dutch oven with cooking spray and heat on medium high. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients except the zucchini — including the brother — and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the beans are tender. Add the zucchini and cook until the zucchini is tender, about 10 minutes.

Makes 9 cups at about 85 calories each.

Source: Weight Watchers

>>EASY

Onion Soup With Cannellini Beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 large Vidalia, Walla Walla or other sweet onions, cut in half and sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 cup dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc

2 (10.5 ounces each) cans cannellini or Northern beans, drained and rinsed

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Croutons (optional)

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 30 minutes. They won't have much color and will give off lots of liquid.

Stir in garlic, thyme, bay leaf and white wine and cook until wine is reduced and concentrated, about 7 minutes.

Stir in beans and vegetable stock and simmer 20 minutes longer. Remove and discard bay leaf.

Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with cheese. Add a few crusty croutons if using.

Serves 8.

Note: This soup has a lot of onions in it. For a creamier consistency, process some of the onions and beans with a little of the broth in a blender until smooth. Return to the soup pot and stir to incorporate.

Nutritional information per serving using vegetable stock: 190 calories (162 without Parmesan cheese), 5.5g fat, 22g carbohydrates, 9g protein, 592mg sodium.

Source: 365 Great Soups & Stews by Georgia Chan Downard and Jean Galton (Barnes & Noble Books, 1995). Nutritional information from recipes.sparkpeople.com.

>>EASY

Kale, Turkey Sausage and Potato Soup

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, diced

5 large cloves garlic, minced

1 pound fresh turkey sausage, 5 to 6 links

1 bunch (about 8 ounces) kale, large stem removed and leaves chopped into

2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound small red potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

6 cups vegetable or low-sodium chicken broth

2 cup water

In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and sausage and saute, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is completely browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage and refrigerate.

Add the kale, salt and pepper to the saucepan and saute until the kale has wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, broth and water; reduce the heat; and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Remove 1 cup of soup and puree in a blender. Return the puree to the saucepan to thicken the soup.

Cut the sausage into 1/2-inch rounds and add to the soup. Simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, 10 minutes more. Ladle into soup bowls.

Serves 4 to 6.

Nutritional information per 6 servings using chicken broth: 257 calories, 10g fat, 21g carbohydrates, 21g protein, about 540mg sodium.

Source: In a Vermont Kitchen by Amy Lyon and Lynne Andreen (HPBooks, 1999). Nutritional information from recipes.sparkpeople.com.

>>EASY

Avgolemono (Greek Egg-Lemon Soup)

8 cups chicken stock

3/4 cup uncooked orzo

4 large eggs

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper for serving

2 cups shredded, roasted chicken breast (optional)

Place the stock and orzo in a large non-reactive saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the orzo is tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes.

Whisk the eggs in a medium-size bowl until frothy. Whisk in the lemon juice, then slowly beat in 1 cup of the hot stock (with no orzo), whisking vigorously.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the egg and lemon mixture. Add salt and serve without reboiling. Pass the pepper separately.

If adding shredded chicken, stir it in after you've incorporated the egg and lemon mixture to the stock. The chicken should be warm to prevent the soup from cooking much longer.

Note: It is important not to reboil the soup once the lemon and egg mixture has been added, or the egg will break into clumps.

Serves 6.

Nutritional information per serving with chicken and 1/2 teaspoon salt: 210 calories, 4.5g fat, 23g carbohydrates, 20g protein, 1,007mg sodium.

Source: The Olive and the Caper by Susanna Hoffman (Workman Publishing, 2004). Nutritional information from recipes.sparkpeople.com.

Brothy soups keep dieters honest, yet happy 01/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 3:30am]
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