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Notes from midlife

10 reasons to fall in love with winter soups

Winter is officially soup season and this is a very good thing. In this blog I’m sharing my top 10 reasons eating more soup will boost your health


1 Soup is a massive time saver

There are a lot of holidays at this time of year – we’re practically in planning, prepping or celebration mode right from Thanksgiving at the end of November. Who has time to cook fancy meals with all that going on?

Soup is one of those meals you can just make ahead and freeze in portions, so you always have something for lunch without having to go to the faff of cooking. Or if friends drop by, you have a home-crafted offering in minutes. (Not sure what to serve with it – I’ve got you covered later).


2 Soup can be a true taste sensation

and is an excellent addition to any diet – and by that, I don’t mean weight loss regime so park the idea that soup in some way equals restrictive eating. Some of the tastiest things I’ve eaten recently have been soups made by proper chefs rather than myself. I’ve got some of my favourites for you below though I’m yet to attempt to recreate the celeriac and fennel soup I had at a restaurant last week.





3 Soup is good for you. And it can help you lose weight

Some soups are best avoided – in my view, I’m happy with a dash of cream, coconut cream and even a sprinkle of cheese but tend to avoid (and guide my private nutrition clients to do likewise), soups that include high-carb ingredients like potato, rice and pasta since these are likely to spike your blood sugar levels. Soup is a great way to get way more veggies in compared with a regular meal.


4 Soup really is ‘hearty’ and it fills you up

Since many of my clients are women trying to lose some weight, this is important. Soups nourish your body and they fill you up, whether that means lunch, a light supper or if you’re out for dinner. When you’re out, the soup starter is often a winner because it’s always a delight to try a properly ‘cheffed’ soup (compared to something made by you or the supermarket) and the bonus is that a bowlful (leave the bread – you don’t need it) takes the edge off your hunger, which means you’re less likely to go savage during the rest of the meal.


5 Soups make a very cost-effective meal

Soups that are veg-heavy are cheap to make. Most of the time you will be following a recipe, of course, but there are also times that you can either freestyle that recipe or make something up from scratch to take into account any veggies you have in the fridge that are about to go past their prime. Similarly, you can also toss in leftovers from the Sunday roast – both meat and veggies – then blend to your desired consistency. I like a blended soup with few bits but I know plenty of people who enjoy chunks.





6 They’re easy to make

There are very few soups that I’ve come across that require much in the way of culinary brilliance or fancy equipment. Recipes are easy to follow and even children can make them with the right supervision. You also do not need a fancy blender or soup maker. While I do make mine these days in my Thermomix, I bought this in lockdown, I used my trusty stick blender (aka hand blender) for many, many years. It makes no real difference to the outcome. (See my best hand blender recommendation here - ).


7 Soup freezes well

It’s a tie between stews and casseroles and soups for the ultimate convenience food. All are great if you prep ahead and whip up a big batch at the weekend, ready to be consumed in the weeks to come. And these really come into their own when you’re busy or feeling a bit under the weather.


8 Soup keeps you warm and helps you stay hydrated

There are few more comforting things than a warm bowl or mug of soup in winter and that is an actual fact. Since soups contain a lot of liquid, they’re also great for keeping you hydrated. I hear from clients all the time that they forget to drink as much water in winter. Studies show we’re 40% less thirsty in winter months. See how bringing more soup into your life is a win on so many levels.





9 Soup gives your immune system a boost

Did you hear that chicken soup is great when you’re unwell? If you thought it was just an old wives’ tale, you’d be wrong. Research suggests that a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup can slow the speed at which neutrophils move around your body. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system, protecting your body from infection. When the neutrophils move slowly, there’s a greater chance of them becoming more concentrated in the areas of your body that need the most healing. Studies have shown chicken soup to be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms in upper respiratory system infections.


10 There’s a soup for all seasons

Don’t write off soup as being a ‘winter only’ activity. You can enjoy a bowl or a mug all year round. Gazpacho (the Spanish soup from Andalusia made from raw, blended vegetables), summery pea and mint or cucumber soups are served chilled. This means that you can enjoy the benefits, hone your culinary skills, and fill the freezer throughout the year.

3 of my favourite soups

Thai Pumpkin & Coconut Soup

(makes 8 servings)

4 tbsp rapeseed oil

4 small onions or large shallots, roughly chopped

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 cm root ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 red chillies, finely chopped

1 kilo of fresh pumpkin or butternut squash, deseeded

510 ml chicken or vegetable stock

2 cans of coconut milk

1 pack of fresh coriander

zest and juice of 2 limes

Fresh coriander and finely chopped fresh chilli, to serve




METHOD

Heat the oil gently in the pan and add the onions, chilli, garlic and ginger with a pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper.

Cook gently for 5 mins, then add the pumpkin, stock and fish sauce. Cook for another 10 mins then add the coconut milk. It seems like a lot, but you do need both cans!

Simmer for another 15 mins then stir in the lime zest and juice.

Add most of the chopped coriander, then, when the vegetables are soft, blitz with a hand blender or liquidise in batches in a food processor.

Check the seasoning and serve with chopped coriander and chilli.


Red Pepper & Lentil Soup

(Makes 4 servings)

200g red lentils

2tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp crushed chillies

1 tsp hot smoked paprika

4 red peppers, deseeded and diced

1litre vegetable stock

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

½ tsp xylitol or stevia

4 tbsp natural yoghurt/ garlic cream cheese




METHOD

Rinse the red lentils in a sieve, then leave them to soak in a bowl of cold water while making the rest of the soup.

Gently heat the oil and fry the onion in a large pan until soft. Add the garlic and red chilli for 2 mins and then the sweet smoked paprika for a final minute along with a splash of water to stop the spice from sticking.

Add the red peppers and cover for 10 mins until beginning to soften, stirring occasionally.

Drain the lentils and add them to the pan along with the vegetable stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 mins until the lentils begin to break down.

Reserve one third of the soup to one side and blitz the remainder with a hand blender or in a food processor until smooth. Add the blitzed soup back to the pan and stir. Season to taste with a splash of sherry vinegar and the sweetener. Swirl in a little natural yoghurt to finish. A little garlic and herb soft cheese (instead of the yoghurt) adds a wonderful creamy feel.

Celeriac & Fennel soup

(Makes 4 servings)

300g fresh fennel, finely chopped (including the green part)

230g celeriac, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil, for cooking

1 tsp coriander seed

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

850ml water

1 vegetable stock cube

140g butter (optional to add all or some for creaminess – add this if following a keto diet)

Juice of 1 lemon

salt & ground black pepper, to season

A handful of fresh dill or fresh coriander, chopped, to garnish




METHOD

Fry all vegetables in oil in a large pan over high heat for a few mins. Add the coriander seeds and nutmeg. Stir and fry for another minute. Add water and stock cube.

Bring to a boil and lower the heat. Let simmer for about 10 mins or until everything is soft. Add the butter and lemon juice, and stir.

Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to blend to the desired consistency. Season to taste. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Here’s what I recommend to do with your soup...

Low carb cheese scone

If there’s one recipe I make over and over again it’s this. And it is delicious. (Thanks to my mother for discovering it).

I recommend it a great deal to clients who are looking for something tasty to go alongside soup that is low in carbs.

(Makes 12 scones)

360g ground almonds

240g cheddar cheese, grated

1 tbsp baking powder

½ tsp cayenne (optional but adds a teeny, tiny kick)

4 eggs, beaten

50g butter melted

A pinch or so of ground sea salt





METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

In a bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients ground almonds, cheese and baking powder. Add as much cayenne as you like, and a little ground salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and the melted butter together, making sure you don’t scramble the eggs. (If I’m being lazy, which is often, I just chuck these two ingredients into the dry mix).

Then mix the egg mixture into the dry mixture.

Use your hands to form the mixture into loose balls and place on the baking parchment.

Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 140C but bake for a further 5 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.


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