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Soup’s On!

Four delicious, low-carb soups that are well-seasoned and warming

Is there anything more comforting than a bowl of soup on a dark winter’s evening? (Besides, like, a round-trip ticket to Barbados.) When I serve soup to my loved ones, the windows dark and the candles lit, I feel like I’m more or less ladling out my devotion. And despite the obviously extreme ease of preparing canned soup—Open the can!—homemade soup is relatively quick and straightforward, and offers a lot of bang for your buck, both effort-wise and money-wise. You can make a lot of soup for a little money, it’s very adaptable to particular tastes, and it’s a wonderful excuse to use up any vegetables that may have lingered a little haggardly in your vegetable drawer. Cook them into a giant potful, garnish the bowls appealingly, and watch those sprouting onions and tragic celery revive and shine.

In other good news, soup has the great potential to be very low in carbohydrates: the broth itself is practically carb-free, and you can add lots of low-carb veggies and meat, and then stuff it full of other low-carb deliciousness, in the form of cream and cheese and avocadoes and seasonings of all kinds. Serve it with a salad to make a classically balanced meal, and, if you crave crunch, add some low-carb seedy crackers (I’m in love with Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Norwegian Crispbread) or some crunchy 100% cheese crisps (Just the Cheese is our favorite, but Moon Cheese is also very good).

One note about soup-making: please do make a habit of tasting soup before you serve it. It should be perfectly delicious, and if it’s not, you can absolutely remedy the situation. Nine times out of ten, what it needs is more salt. Add some, taste, and then add still more if you need to. The other 10% of the time, we’re likely looking at a brightening squeeze of lemon or lime, a grinding of black pepper, a drizzle of cream, or some other relevant addition that will tip the scale from blah to beautiful. You’ll serve a wonderful dinner, and if you play your cards right, you’ll have a warming thermosful of leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

1. Italian Wedding Soup

I have always assumed that one day I would (finally) attend an Italian wedding, where I would be served this fragrantly delicious meatball-studded, egg-threaded soup. I recently learned, however, that the name actually refers not to human nuptials, but to the delightful marriage of meat and greens. A little disappointing, sure, but still a wedding you’ll be happy to attend. Let me just mention a couple of things: escarole looks like a kind of raggedy head of lettuce, and if you can find it, do use it; it’s simultaneously bitter and, when simmered in broth, lusciously sweet, and it has these lovely meaty stems, which add tons of substance to the soup. (That said, it’s totally fine to use other greens.) Also: while the lemon is not traditional, I love the vibrant punch it adds here, and I also love to add enough black pepper—to both the meatballs and the soup itself—that it all ends up a little bit spicy.

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2. Creamy Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

This is my daughter’s favorite soup by a landslide, maybe because the combination of broccoli and cheese makes it less like soup and more like a decadent casserole that’s been. . . liquefied. Don’t be alarmed that there’s no potato or flour to thicken it; it’s plenty thick thanks to the great abundance of broccoli and cheese. But do puree it pretty well, because otherwise it will have a slight tendency to separate into its liquid and solid components (although this is nothing that a little bit of stirring won’t remedy). If you forget to hold back a bit of broccoli and cheese to make it pretty when you serve it, you can garnish the soup with the fact that it is perfectly delicious just the way it is.

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3. Tomato Soup

Tomato soup is a comforting classic for a reason: it’s pretty and creamy; it’s tangy and rich; and you know you’re going to like it before you even take that first bite. Plus, this soup takes very kindly to variation. Two favorites of mine: adding a sliced-up head of fennel when I’m sautéing the other vegetables, and/or adding something smoky, such as chipotle puree or smoked paprika. And would a little grated cheddar hurt any? I happen to know it would not.

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4. Chili-Spiced Chicken Soup

If this fantastic, spicy soup had tortillas in it, I would probably call it Tortilla Soup; if it had hominy, I might call it Chicken Posole. Instead we are keeping out the high-carb ingredients, but packing the soup with plenty of smoky broth and shredded chicken, along with delicious extras like avocado and sour cream. This is the kind of meal where it’s actually nice to let folks garnish their own bowls: put out little bowls of the avocado, sour cream, cilantro, and lime wedges (feel free to add more extras, such as chopped onions, shredded cheese, and toasted pepitas), and everyone can help themselves.

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One final soup:

Any-Veggie Soup

About Catherine

Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop series of mission-driven cooking magazines. This kids’ cooking magazine won the James Beard Publication of the Year award in 2013 – the first non-profit ever to win it – and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. She also helped develop Sprout, a WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as Seasoned, their senior version. They distribute over a million magazines annually, through paid subscriptions, doctor’s offices, schools, and hospitals. Their mission started with obesity as its explicit focus – and has shifted, over the years, to a more holistic one, with health, happiness, and real food at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.

[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]