Thursday, July 21, 2011

ROASTED VEGETABLE SOUP IS A MEDLEY OF SUMMER ABUNDANCE

As humble as it may be, I’m singing the praises of roasted vegetable soup. So, taking from the summer abundance theme, it’s time to make a really delicious vegetable soup. This soup has something for everybody – healthy nutrition, weight control properties and great flavor for the “I’m-all-for-taste” food lovers. And, don’t let anyone fool you; consuming cold foods in the hottest months is not necessarily the best way to reduce body heat. On the contrary, eating hot foods whenit's hot outside is actually an age-old remedy. People in tropical countries know this best - the sweat created from eating hot foods, like soups, causes the body to cool off - not heat up. Of course, the cooks in the kitchen who are making the soup may be hot and sweaty for a part of an hour. But, then again, they, too, in a short time can enjoy a delectable soup.

To give you further evidence supporting my enthusiasm for vegetable soup, I’ll tell you about two excellent  articles that, in my opinion, are well worth reading.

The first article, Still Counting Calories? Your Weight-Loss Plan May Be Outdated”, summarizes a 20-year nutrition and weight study that involved 120,000 men and women from the health professions. All participants were healthy and not overweight when the study began. The lifestyle factors looked at were: diet, exercise, sleep, TV watching, smoking and alcohol consumption. Results showed that the average weight gain was about 20 pounds in 20 years. But not everybody gained so much weight. The study shows that what was eaten made more difference than the number of calories consumed. While physical activity was another factor for increased weight, it still had less effect than eating the right kinds of foods.

As might be imagined, the foods that led the list of “bad” foods – more pounds gained - were, in order: French fries, potato chips, and sugar-sweetened drinks, followed by red meats and processed meats, other forms of potatoes, sweets and desserts, refined grains, other fried foods, 100-% fruit juice, and butter. The “good” foods – those that added fewer pounds –  also not surprisingly, were: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Study participants who lost the most weight consumed 3.1 more servings of vegetables each day. Greatest weight loss was among people who ate more yogurt and nuts, including peanut butter. Consumption of dairy products, other than butter and yogurt, didn’t affect weight gain, one way or another. Apparently, the “good” foods were not only filling but seemed to help in maintaining proper body metabolism. Also, one glass of wine a day had no important effect while other types of alcohol in even modest quantities added pounds. Smoking lowered weight gain slightly. Of course, smoking is still a bad idea because of its role as a cause of disease.

The second article, titled: " How Soup Can Help You Lose Weight" tells how a diet emphasizing soup helps tame the appetite and control weight. As an example, this article reports that eating a moderate-size plate of chicken and vegetables with a glass of water keeps the stomach full for a couple of hours. But then hunger kicks in. On the other hand, if you blend the food with the water in a hot soup, you’ll stay hunger-free for three or more hours and, therefore, less likely to be snacking in a short time. Is it magic? Well, sort of. (It's body magic. Or soup magic, I'm not sure which.) Scientists have documented these differences with ultrasounds and MRI scans of people's stomachs.  Apparently, water passes straight to the intestines because the brain considers the solids as the only "real" food. In some surprising way, the brain takes all the soup as one quantity to be digested and holds it there longer. (By the way, the brain treats sugary drinks like plain water not like soups.) So, while commercial foods and pharmaceutical companies are striving to find ways to control appetite at a good profit, of course, the simplest way to avoid hunger pangs is to blend solid food with water in a healthy, hearty soup. And, here’s the best part, vegetable soup is as good at curbing appetite as either chicken or fish soup and usually lower in calories.

So, in keeping with our summer abundance theme, let's use all that fresh food from our gardens and at farmers markets to make nutritious soups. And, if just about any vegetable-based soup is good, oven roasted veggies keep more flavor than boiled ones, and that makes a good soup doubly delicious. Everyone will ask for more and why not? At a total of about 150 calories per bowl, no one will have to feel bad about asking for seconds. Of course, it will be even more filling and just a few more calories topped with a couple of tablespoons of plain yogurt or accompanied by a small amount of whole grain bread or crackers with cheese or hummus.

And if all this isn’t enough to make you start your Meatless Mondays, ASAP, please don’t read any further. But, if you’re more than convinced than ever that a vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet is the way to go, keep on reading and take note of this sure-to-please recipe.

Recipe for Roasted Vegetable Soup
4 medium tomatoes, halved
1-cup green beans, stringed but uncut
3 medium carrots, halved
2-3 medium zucchini, squash or eggplant, halved or quartered
Small amount of olive oil - to taste
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 cups vegetable stock or 4 cups water with 2 consume cubes (can be vegetable or chicken)
1-cup fresh spinach
2 tbsp. parsley or cilantro, finely chopped 
½ tsp. paprika or chili pepper
Salt (sea salt is best) and black pepper to taste
Optional: ½ tsp. basil or thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the veggies in an ovenproof pan or dish. Toss lightly with oil to coat the vegetables. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, add garlic and toss. Return veggies to oven and bake for another 15 minutes or so until the vegetables are lightly browned.

If oven baking is more than you can stand in the hottest time of the year, roast veggies the Mexican way on a comal (or any heavy grill pan you have on hand). Place veggies on the hot grill pan with a light brushing of oil (or none at all) and turn occasionally until browned - but not burned.

When the veggies are nicely roasted, take them out and put them in a large pot. Add vegetable stock, paprika, spinach, a bit more oil if you like, parsley or cilantro and other seasonings. Simmer at medium heat for about a half hour, stirring from time to time. Don’t overcook it. Optional thickening can be done with a small amount of cornmeal or a couple of tablespoons of blended beans or peas. Or, if you like, you can mush the veggies up some or put the soup through a blender and then return it to the pot. Any way you want to serve it, this soup will be good and filling.
 
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