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Serve hot, healthy, hearty soup on wintry days

February 14, 2007

A hearty soup, made with veggies and meat, poultry, fish or dried beans, can be the main part of a healthy meal for your family. Add some crackers, breadsticks or a piece of whole-grain bread, a small side salad and fruit for dessert, and you're ready to eat!

Soup can be made from almost any ingredients on hand. Soups begin with a stock made by simmering beef, chicken or fish, and vegetables in water with seasonings added. After simmering, the stock is strained and becomes the base of your soup.

Homemade stocks can be time-consuming to make. Cubes and envelopes of beef, chicken and vegetable-flavored bouillon, cans of condensed broth and dried soup mixes are time-saving substitutes. Be sure to read the labels carefully. Sometimes these products are high in salt (sodium). If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, choose sodium-reduced products.

Soups are a great way to use small amounts of leftover meat and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day. Adding more vegetables to soup can help meet this recommendation. Fresh, frozen, dried and canned vegetables will all work well in soup.

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If you start with a canned soup, you can make it tastier and more nutritious by adding extra vegetables or cooked beans.

Many soups have ingredients added to help thicken the broth. Barley, rice, pasta, beans and potatoes are often used for this purpose.

During cooking, the soup reduces in volume and the flavors might intensify, so go easy on the seasonings at the start. Season lightly at first, then, just before serving, taste the soup and add additional seasonings if needed. To reduce the amount of salt, season with herbs and herb blends in place of salt.

Some recipes for soup are complicated or require a large number of ingredients. Other soup recipes can be made from ingredients you have on hand. Here is a basic soup recipe that can be made to suit your taste and take advantage of leftovers.

Amounts to make 2 servings:

2 cups liquid (broth, milk, tomato juice or a combination of liquids with water)
1 1/2 cups vegetables and beans (any canned, frozen, fresh or leftover vegetable or combination on hand)
1/2 cup meat (cooked chicken, turkey, beef, pork or ground meat)
1/4 to 1/2 cup uncooked starch (rice, barley, noodles or pasta)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon seasoning, or to taste (salt, pepper, herbs or spices)

Place liquid in saucepan and bring to simmer. Add canned or leftover vegetables, cooked meat and starch. Cook until all ingredients are hot and starch ingredient is cooked. Season and taste, then cook at least 5 minutes longer to combine flavors.

If using fresh or frozen vegetables, add to liquid and simmer until almost tender, then add other ingredients and continue to finish cooking. Enjoy the soup hot with a small salad and a piece of whole-grain bread for a delicious winter meal.

When you make soup, make extra. Many soups taste better the next day! However, don't put a large pot of hot soup directly into your refrigerator. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it would take an 8-inch stock pot of steaming chicken soup 24 hours to cool to a safe temperature in your refrigerator.

To speed cooling, transfer soup to shallow containers, making sure soup is no more than 2 inches deep. Do not allow the soup to stand at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate it promptly. You can place loosely covered soup in the refrigerator while still warm and then tightly cover it when the soup is completely cooled.

To freeze soup, first refrigerate until well chilled. Once chilled, the soup can then be moved into the freezer. Put soup into freezer containers, leaving at least 1/2-inch headspace. When ready to use, thaw soup in the refrigerator and reheat. To reheat frozen soup without thawing, add 1/4 cup of water and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Soup may be reheated in the microwave or on top of the range. When serving soup a second time, reheat until it is steaming hot throughout, at least 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to accurately monitor the temperature.

Most soups can be stored inthe refrigerator up to three days. Some soups will freeze well for as long as three months.

Enjoy hot soup with a salad, whole-grain bread, fruit and perhaps a cold glass of milk. These provide delicious, hot, healthy and hearty winter meal.

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