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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Soup from Scratch - It's Easier than it Looks

Making soup from scratch can be a daunting experience for most people. As a result, preparing soup often means using only a can opener and a microwave oven. I must admit - canned soup is easy to make and it can be difficult to give up such a convenience. But even the most cursory look at the label of most canned soups demonstrates that the convenience comes with a price: additives (MSG in particular,) preservatives, corn starch, and way too much sodium. While making your own soup is fairly simple, there is quite a bit of prep work (which means quite a bit of cleaning up afterwards,) but I think it's worth it. Once the prep work is done, the rest of the work is fairly simple - sauté certain vegetables in oil, add broth, spices and other vegetables, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes. And I find that the prep work is easier if I do a little bit at a time. Usually, I've done all the prep work the day before I actually make the soup and I've spaced it out over the whole day. I clean up as I go, so as not to be left with a huge stack of dishes, but you can also let everything pile up and then wash a bit at a time afterwards to make the whole experience seem less labor-intensive.

The only issue I had with these recipes was the fact that they both used canned tomatos. The Winter Vegetable Soup uses half of a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes and the Mushroom & Leek Soup uses 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. You can, of course, double the Winter Veggie soup to 8 servings, but only if you have a soup pot large enough to handle the increased volume. Big soup pots are expensive and not everyone has the money or the room to keep one sitting around the kitchen. The Mushroom & Leek Soup uses only 1 T of tomato paste from a can that has 8 tablespoons, which means that if I'm storing the rest in the refrigerator, 7 of those tablespoons get moldy before I have a chance to use the rest. The solution? Put the excess servings in the freezer. You can divide the diced tomatos into two equal portions and store the one you're not currently using in a freezer-safe container, and using an ice-cube tray, you can separate the tomato paste into individual 1 tablespoon portions and freeze them until you're ready to use them.

It may not look pretty, but it does prevent waste and it saves money. You can put the whole tray in a zip-lock freezer bag or scoop the frozen paste out and store it in a freezer-safe container.

One of the great things about soup is that you can boil down a large quantity of vegetables, particularly  greens like kale and spinach, making a meal that is nutrient rich. For a base, I use mushroom broth. I'm fortunate enough to be able to find an organic mushroom broth by Pacific at my grocery store, but it may not be available to everyone. The following recipe is for mushroom broth from scratch, if no pre-made broth is available or you simply prefer making it yourself. Most of the recipes for broth that I've come across use 4 cups of water to yield 4 cups of broth, but I've found that simmering the soup reduces the volume, so I start out with more water. You can also add water to the finished broth to increase the volume needed for the soup recipe. I use dried porcini mushrooms, but you can use fresh mushrooms instead. Keep in mind that all the vegetables are strained and discarded, as the nutrients have been boiled out in the broth, and that you need 8 oz of fresh mushrooms (white or crimini) and only 4 dried porcini mushrooms to yield 4 cups of broth. 

Mushroom Broth (Low Carb/Gluten Free/Vegan)


7-8 C water
3 oz leeks, trimmed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4-6 pieces dried porcini mushroom
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper


*Combine everything in a stock pot and bring to a boil on high heat.

*Cover, turning heat to medium low, to simmer for one hour.

*Strain vegetables through a sieve (you can line it with cheesecloth) and discard.

You can save the broth in the refrigerator for up to four days, or in the freezer for up to six months.

Winter  Vegetable Soup (Low Carb/Gluten Free/Vegetarian)

This is a hearty soup that relies on a secret trick - using parmesan rinds to add flavor. This recipe is based on one found in "The Low Carb Gourmet" by Karen Barnaby. It's a fantastic cookbook with gorgeous photographs (food porn alert!). It's out of print and never made it to paperback, but if you can find a used hardback copy, it's worth it.


1 T olive oil
50 g/ 1/2 C diced celery
2 g/1/2 T fresh parsley, chopped
1 oz leeks, trimmed and sliced
4 C mushroom broth
1/2 - 14.5 oz can of diced tomatos, no added salt
100 g daikon radish, diced
89 g/3 oz - 1 C finely chopped green cabbage
67 g/1 C finely chopped green kale leaves (remove stems)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 parmesan rind  (a small portion will do, around 2 square inches)
20 g/4 T freshly grated parmesan


*Heat oil in a medium-sized soup pot over a medium-high heat. Add the celery, leeks and parsley and sauté until lightly browned. Add the mushroom broth and tomatos and bring to a boil.

*Add the daikon radish, cabbage, kale, bay leaf and parmesan rind. Add 1 tsp salt. Simmer for about 1 hour (vegetables should be tender and soup should be thick.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove parmesan and bay leaf. Sprinkle each serving with 1 T/ 7 g parmesan before eating.

Makes 4 servings and each has 93.11 cal, 6.63 net carbs, 4.38 g fat, 1.5 g fiber and 3.13 g protein.

 Mushroom & Leek Soup (Low Carb/Gluten Free/Vegan)

This is also based on a recipe from Karen Barnaby.


1 T olive oil
4 oz leeks (about 1 leek, minus the green leaves), trimmed and chopped
1 clove garlic, forced through a press
8 oz white mushrooms (I use crimini mushrooms, and peel them), diced
4 C mushroom broth
1 tsp dried savory
1/8 tsp dried oregano
1 T cooking sherry
1 T tomato paste
1 bay leaf
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 oz raw spinach, finely chopped


*In a medium-sized soup pot, sauté the olive oil, leeks and garlic for a few minutes. Add broth, mushrooms, spices, sherry, tomato paste, and the bay leaf. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer over a low heat for around 30 minutes.

*Remove from heat and strain out the vegetables. Remove the bay leaf and pulse vegetables in a blender or food processor until coarsely ground (I used to be afraid of my food processor, but we became friends, even though using it means more to wash up afterwards.)

*Stir the spinach into broth and add pulsed vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings and each has 68.96 cal, 6.36 net carbs, 3.38 g fat, .33 g fiber and .58 g protein.