Soup 101: My Best Tips for Making the Most Nutritious and Delicious Soups
1. Stay away from canned soups.
Homemade soup is easy to make and so much tastier and healthier. You can make a big batch once a week and make a light or hearty as you like, or make a soup base to which your favorite or on hand ingredients to turn it into a well-balanced quick meal. Furthermore, canned soups manufacturers use sodium (salt) not only as a flavoring agent but also as a preservative. The average Canadian consumes about 3400 mg of sodium each day, which is more than the amount we actually need and more than the recommended sodium intake amount of 2300 mg per day. Certain brands or varieties of canned soups contain close to that amount of sodium in one single can!
2. A great homemade soup recipe is easy as 1-2-3. Every soup should start off with your basic, flavour enhancing aromatics, such as garlic, onions, carrots and celery. To these simply add whatever vegetables you have on hand, the whole vegetable, stems and tops included to take advantage of all the extra nutrients and fiber while reducing your food waste, and add any other ingredient you'd like, some water or a broth of your preference, and voilà! It’s that simple and such a forgiving meal!
3. Retain the most nutrients from your vegetables.
When preparing your ingredients for your soup, you want to retain the maximum amount of vitamins and vibrant colors of the vegetables you use; the best way to achieve this is by simply cooking them lightly and using steaming, sautéing and roasting as the cooking method. I prefer roasting or sautéing my vegetables as both these methods add an extra dimension of flavor from the caramelization they undergo while cooking. The point is you don’t want to overcook your vegetables, some heat is good as it releases certain antioxidants found in vegetables like tomatoes and carrots and makes them much more absorbable than when eaten raw. Ideally, avoid boiling your vegetables, especially for too long, both exposing your vegetables to heat and submerging them in water too long increases the loss of vitamins! If making a soup in a big pot of water on the stovetop is your preferred method of making soup, use the least amount of water necessary and simmer instead of boiling. To retain all the nutrients that may have seeped into your cooking water, use it as the liquid base or broth for your soup.
4. Watch out for the high-calorie, nutrient-lacking ingredients.
In general the rule of thumb is to avoid any cream-based soups. To get the most nutrition out of your soup bowl, choose a broth (vegetable, chicken, beef, miso) as the base. Avoid serving your soup in a bread bowl or using high fat ingredients like cheese. A grating or sprinkle of parmesan cheese used as a garnish is a great way to add a little saltiness and calcium to your bowl, but avoid using cheese as a main ingredient in your soups. Personally, I love saving my parmesan rinds and adding them into a pot of simmering sauce or soup for an added nutty and salty flavor. This is also a great tip for reducing your use of salt.
5. Creamy, rich texture the "light" way.
For a creamier and richer texture without resorting to the old-fashioned techniques of adding heavy cream, flour, cornstarch or a roux to your soups (or stews) here are some of my favorite tips and tricks:
Take a good cup of the broth and vegetables and blend them into a puree and then add the mixture back to your pot of soup, or simply blend all of it into a silky puree (one of my favorite ways to eat soup).
Beans: Puree some rinsed, canned beans with a bit of broth and then add this puree back to the pot, or cook the beans with your soup and then puree the entire soup, beans included! I love using white Cannellini beans for this because they have a neutral flavor and blend up in a perfectly creamy puree.
Much likes beans, creamy style natural peanut or almond or cashew butters (a little goes a long way) can also be a great way to add thickness and creaminess to a soup. In fact, historically speaking ground nuts were the first way to thicken soups.
Pureed potatoes are also great for adding a creamy richness to your soups. Yukon Gold potatoes are especially great because they have a nice subtle buttery flavor and sweet potatoes also add an extra boost of flavor. I love to use leftovers of both these potatoes to make a quick, nutritious, flavorful and creamy soup.
Rolled oats or cornmeal (polenta) or finely ground flaxseed: I know, these may sound weird as an ingredient to make your soups creamy, but they work especially well for pureed soups! The final product is a creamier soup with added nutrition.
Plain Greek yogurt can also replace the heavy cream for a lighter and slightly tangy creamy result.
6. You can turn any soup entrée into a wholesome meal.
Rinse and drain canned beans, lentils or chickpeas and add them into your pot of soup for added fiber and protein.
Other ways of adding protein to your soup would be by adding any chopped up leftover meat, poultry or even fish and seafood from a previous meal into a pot of soup while it’s almost ready to eat or finish a bowl of steaming soup with a poached egg, a few shrimps or cubes of silky tofu.
Add high-fiber whole grains (whole grain pasta, bulgur, wild rice, hulled barley, etc.), quinoa or even rolled oats or a couple of tablespoons of corn meal or ground flaxseed for extra fiber, protein and heart healthy fats.