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Soup a low-cost, nutritious meal

February 18, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE

A hearty, healthy soup made with veggies and meat, poultry, fish or dried beans can be the main dish for a family meal. Add some crackers or breadsticks on the side and perhaps fruit for dessert and you're ready to eat. Soup is a hearty, nutritious, low-cost dish that is sure to satisfy everyone.

Although soup is relatively easy to prepare, here are a few tips to help make sure that you simmer up the tastiest, most healthful soup:

o If you are making stock with soup bones, start them in cold water. Placing soup bones into boiling water seals the bone, which prevents flavor and nutrients from being released.

o Avoid letting the soup boil. Soup should simmer gently for several hours to bring out the best flavor. Boiling soup can result in tough or rubbery ingredients and cloudy broth.


o For a clearer broth, strain through several layers of cheesecloth or pour through a sieve.

o Add unthawed frozen vegetables during the last 15 minutes of cooking time to avoid overcooking them.

o Dried spices give off their best flavor when heated, but fresh herbs lose their flavor if cooked too long. So add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking, but add fresh herbs near the end.

o If you accidentally use too much spice in your soup, add a few slices of potato, simmer for 30 to 45 minutes and then remove the potato slices and discard.

o Always add seasonings in small amounts and taste after each addition. Some experts recommend using a stainless steel spoon for taste tests, because wood and sterling silver spoons can disguise the flavor.

o To help reduce the fat content, place four or five ice cubes in a piece of cheesecloth and swirl it around in the soup, or place a few lettuce leaves in the soup, stir them around for a few minutes, then remove and discard. Another method is to place a clean paper towel over the top of the soup to soak up the grease. If time permits, you can also make soup a day ahead of time, chill it overnight and then remove the hardened fat that forms on the surface before reheating the soup.

o To make creamy, rich soups without adding a lot of fat, use mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice or pured vegetable or low-fat tofu instead of cream.

o To thicken soup, use evaporated skim milk, instant mashed potatoes, rice flour, cornstarch or pured white beans.

o Avoid overcooking or overseasoning soup if you plan to refrigerate or freeze it ahead of use; the ingredients will cook further when reheated.

o For an added touch, garnish soup with croutons, low-fat cheese, scallions, low-fat sour cream or fresh pieces of herbs just before serving. Or, for something different, serve soup in homemade bread bowls.

o Make a large batch of soup and enjoy some for another meal. Many soups, with the possible exception of seafood soups, may taste better the next day.

Soup safety

For safety and quality, avoid letting soup set at room temperature for more than two hours and plan to eat refrigerated soup within two days. Soup is best if refrigerated no more than two to three days or frozen no more than six months.

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 be safe:

o Transfer soup to shallow containers to speed cooling, making sure soup is no more than two inches deep. Refrigerate promptly. You can place loosely covered foods in the refrigerator while still warm; cover when food is completely cooled.

o When serving soup a second time, reheat it until it's steaming hot throughout, at least 165 degrees.

Use the Recipe Finder at to find many low-cost, easy-to-prepare soup recipes.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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