My husband and I recently returned from a quick trip to Europe - a day in Amsterdam waiting for a connecting flight and a short week in Vienna.  What I was struck by while wandering the two cities and stopping into cafés to warm up or have lunch was the variety and amount of soup being eaten for meals.

It sounds weird to say that this was something remarkable - soup was being eaten for lunch everywhere, by women and  men.  But it’s not so weird to notice the contrast when you read the stats on what's going on over here in the US: we’re eating more breads or food prepared with bread products for every meal, more than ever before.

What I love about soup is this: it’s warm, it’s filling and satisfying, and it is a simple way to deliver a number of good things – vegetables, whole grains, beans or pulses, root vegetables, garlic and onions, an earth-friendly amount of meat, and even meat broth (if you make your own stock) – in one convenient bowl.  Better still, it delivers all of the good stuff for a minimum of calories (as long as your spoon isn’t standing on its own or the name of the soup doesn't include the words beer and cheese) – making it a wholesome, waistline-friendly meal option.

We ate some delicious soups in Amsterdam and Vienna: tomato soup; a light, fresh mushroom soup; pumpkin soup; winter root vegetable soup; and a carrot-chickpea soup.  Nothing fancy or exotic – just simple, nourishing and delicious.

Soup doesn’t just taste good - it’s especially good to eat during these chilly seasons, when viruses abound and our immune systems and sinuses are prone to overworking.  You may have heard by now the famous study done in 1993 by a researcher named Stephen Rennard, M.D., from the University of Nebraska who was able to show in the laboratory that chicken soup did indeed slow down the activity of cold and flu viruses.  Isn't it gratifying when research proves what grandmothers around the world have known all along?

On the other hand, what’s wrong with eating so much of our food on, in, between or under bread?  For one, when we’re consuming so many calories from one food group, chances are that we’re not eating an adequate amount of foods from the other food groups - namely fruits and vegetables or even non-wheat whole grains. Additionally, if it’s not 100% whole wheat, you’re most likely consuming GMO grains that have been stripped of any nutritive value by the processing and degerming processing – leaving an empty source of calories that wreaks havoc on blood sugar levels.  (More on the bread issue in an upcoming blog.)

But what happens instead when you have a bowl of soup and a couple of whole grain crackers with a piece of cheese, or slice of turkey or a couple of spoonfuls of chickpea hummus?  You are filled with warmth and a sustained source of energy, with vitamins, minerals, protein and nutrient-dense calories to keep you operating without suffering the classic craving/crash cycle.  If you think that a bowl of soup is not filling enough, then eat it with a salad or have two bowls of soup - you’d STILL be better off than eating two slices of pizza.

As far as stressing out over the amount of time it takes to make soup, why not make a big pot over the weekend?  It reheats quickly and transports easily in a lunch box to work and tastes good all week long.  Or use a crockpot by preparing the ingredients in the morning (or the night before and refrigerating) and letting the soup simmer while you’re out for the day.  Few things smell as good as a dinner waiting for you when you walk in the door, hot and ready to go. 

Of course homemade soup is better than canned, packaged or deli soups - high sodium content, excess sugars and quality of ingredients would be the main reasons to avoid them.  In a pinch, a couple of local companies sell freshly prepared soups ready to go in some refrigerated sections of area grocery stores, as do local bakeries.  

Ultimately if I can convince you to make a pot of soup – or at least eat soup for at least a couple of meals a week, then I’d think you were on to something good. 

Corn Chowder

2 cups corn, either cut fresh off the cob (in summer) or frozen kernels
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or a combination of both
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled, (green sprout removed) and finely chopped

2 stalks celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 medium potatoes, cubed (3 cups)
5 cups vegetable stock or low-sodium bouillon, dissolved (or corn stock in summer)
1 tsp. salt
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, basil or other herbs, chopped
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Sauté onions in olive oil or butter for 3-5 minutes or until golden. Add garlic, carrots and celery (and potatoes at this point if you’re cooking at high altitude) and sauté another 5 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add potatoes (at sea level), corn and stock. Season with salt and half of the herbs; cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

For a creamier soup without the cream, remove 2 cups of soup and purée in a blender. Add the purée back to the soup.  Finish seasoning with additional salt, if necessary, the remaining herbs, and freshly ground pepper before serving.

(To make in a crockpot, sauté onions and garlic until tender in a skillet on the stovetop.  Add to crockpot along with remaining ingredients (reduce water to 4.5 cups) and cook on low while you’re away.  To finish, season to taste with fresh pepper and additional salt, if neccessary, and add fresh herbs.)

Serves 6–8

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