Versatile vegetable soup

I have been making pots of vegetable soup for the first time in years, and I’m loving it. It’s so cheap and easy and healthy! I feel good about myself every time I have a bowl. I have been using a basic recipe inherited from my mother, and freestyling the extras for different flavors with every pot. Here is how I make it:

1 T canola oil
1 c diced onion
1+ c diced celery
1+ c diced carrots or thin baby carrots
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
2 T Mrs. Knorr’s chicken powder
3 quarts water
Salt to taste (the chicken powder will go a long way toward seasoning it)

Heat canola oil in your soup pot and cook onion and celery until they soften. Add the other ingredients and bring to a simmer. Now you are ready to improvise. First, add your seasoning. I use three different combinations:

Scarborough Fair seasoning is parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. It has a traditional European/French flavor.
Italian seasoning is garlic, parsley, basil and oregano. It will make you think of minestrone.
Mexican seasoning is garlic, parsley, cilantro and Cholula hot sauce.

You also want to add more vegetables, by which I mean whatever you have on hand, leftovers or bags of frozen vegetables work equally well.

And then think about adding extras to give it heft. Pre-cooked legumes, grains, and pasta are all good, though you should think about whether you want to add them before or after the soup cooks. Pre-cooked beans and grains don’t seem to suffer from extra cooking, in my experience, while precooked pasta should be added just before you’re ready to eat.

Need I point out that with the 1 T of oil disappearing into about four quarts of soup, this soup becomes 0 PointsPlus per bowl before you add legumes, grain or pasta. Not a bad deal, huh?

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Avgolemono

Last weekend we had a snow day. It snowed, and it blowed, and it snowed and blowed some more. We were quite definitely stuck in the house, for all non-emergency intents and purposes. Given that it was already officially “spring” and that my blooming crocus were swiftly being buried, I felt grumpy. I needed a coping mechanism. Soup, soup sounded good. Warm, thick, nourishing soup. Soup with an emotional connection. How about… how about avgolemono? It’s yet another blast from my college past, when the sweet old couple at the mom & pop Greek restaurant around the corner were sort of surrogate parents… or at least surrogate home cooking. I cannot come up with a single friend from my college years who I didn’t take there at least once. Ah me… the souvlaki, the gyros, the moussaka (the memory makes my breath catch!), the retsina, the octopus salad, the flaming cheese, the honey rolls, and yeah… the avgolemono.

This is a thick chicken soup flavored with lemon. Excellent on cold days or whenever you need spiritual nourishment. The eggs make it opaque and thick, so your brain reads it as a cream soup, even though the only fat is two egg yolks in a vast pot of soup–so it’s very low in points.

Avgolemono

8 cups chicken stock (I use Knorr chicken powder to make mine)
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup Arborio rice, dry
2 chicken breasts, 6-8 oz cooked weight
1 tsp dry oregano
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup lemon juice
2 eggs

Marinate chicken breasts in 1/4 cup lemon juice, salt, and oregano for several hours or overnight. Pull out of marinade and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, until done but not tough. Meanwhile, bring your chicken stock to a boil then add the carrots, onions, garlic, and rice. Cover and let cook for about 20 minutes, until rice is close to done. Shred chicken and add to pot. Put the 1/2 cup lemon juice and 2 eggs in a small bowl and whisk well. Ladle two cups of the hot broth into egg and lemon mixture, whisking well, then pour it all back into the soup pot and return soup to the boil.

Makes eight huge, comforting servings with 4 PointsPlus apiece. Pleasant and also virtuous with a little pita bread and a big Greek salad. Can you buy retsina where you live? You should try it, the salty-sour savoriness of this soup plays well with it.

Six dollar hummus pita with chopped salad

In college I had a favorite coffee house, and I became a true regular there. Any time I walked in, day or night, there would be people there I knew and could sit with. They let my tab carry over from day to day. Several nights a week I would leave when they closed at 2am. It was my home away from home.

They sold a hummus pita that I particularly liked. It came warm and soft, oozing mild hummus and overflowing with fresh chopped vegetables. It cost $6. I’m glad I was young and stupid and enjoyed it then, because I wouldn’t pay $6 for it now. Not because it wasn’t delicious and worth $6 in sheer delight, but because it’s so easy and cheap to make myself for about $1 now that I have a kitchen.

Six Dollar Hummus Pita with Chopped Salad

1 white pita bread (you don’t save points with whole wheat, so enjoy)
1/4 cup hummus (I used Wild Garden brand to calculate points for this recipe)
1 sweet bell pepper (yellow or orange or red, not green)
1 roma tomato (let it sit on your counter for a week to develop flavor)
1 chunk of hothouse cucumber (doesn’t need peeling)
1 T Hidden Valley Ranch dressing

For pita bread to work it first needs to be steamed. Hold your fingers under the tap, then smear water on both sides of your pita. Wrap it in aluminum foil. Put it in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, cut your vegetables into bite-sized pieces and put them in a big bowl. Add the tablespoon of Ranch dressing and toss so that each piece has a thin coating.

When the pita is ready, cut it in half and gingerly smear half of the hummus inside each piece, then pile in as much of the salad as comfortably fits. Eat the rest of the salad as is. Eat the pita and enjoy: warm steamy bread, oozy creamy hummus, crisp sweet veg. Yum.

Makes one serving with 9 PointsPlus.

Indulgent chicken salad (for ladies who lunch)

We had leftover rotisserie chicken last week, and I didn’t feel like finding out how many points my homemade chicken and noodles would have, so I had to think of something new to do with it. I’ve been catching peeks of Ina Garten on television lately. It’s been making me think of chicken salad. Chicken salad full of grapes and pecans and dried cranberries. On crusty french bread. With crisp lettuce. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Indulgent Chicken Salad (for ladies who lunch)

4 oz cooked chicken breast, chopped
1/4 cup grapes, halved
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 T pecan pieces, toasted
2 T dried cranberries
6 T plain fat free yogurt
2 T Hellman’s real mayonnaise
1/2 t dry dill weed
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Make sure to use enough salt to counteract the sour yogurt. Makes two servings (for you and your best girlfriend to eat while you yak) with 8 PointsPlus each. Eat on crusty french bread if you have lots of points to spare, toasted flatbread if you only have a few, or on lettuce leaves if you have none at all.

Chicken tortilla soup

Last night I made chicken tortilla soup for dinner. This hearty soup is extremely low points by itself, but it’s best when eaten with add-ons, including a squeeze of lime and chopped fresh cilantro (both 0 PointsPlus), shredded cheese, diced avocado, and toasted tortillas (fat-free wheat tortillas are lower points than regular flour or corn tortillas).

This soup comes out of cans. Are you ready for the recipe?

10 oz chicken breast
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 10 oz bag frozen green peppers
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can black beans
1 14.5 oz can fat free refried beans
1 14.5 oz can white hominy
1 small can diced chiles
1 t ancho chili powder
2 t cumin
1 cup chicken broth made from bouillon
salt to taste

Put everything in your slow cooker and cook for 5 hours at high or 8 hours at low. Definitely squeeze lime juice on this before you eat it… and if you like cilantro, chop some up fresh to go on top too.

This recipe makes 14 cups of soup. 1 cup is 3 PointsPlus, 2 cups is 5 PointsPlus. Enjoy!