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Stock gives body, texture to soup

Stocks are the foundation of all cuisine. These rich brews develop from slow cooking meats, bones and vegetables in liquid in order to extract nutrients and flavor and to draw out other natural materials that add desirable body and texture to the soup. I can remember my grandmothers making soup, and it seemed like they always had a pot making stock and then soup.

Stocks lend themselves to a multitude of dishes, particularly soups and sauces. The stock provides a base of flavor for which your soup recipes can be built. In real soup, making stock is the starting point. Beef stock has the deepest, richest flavor and color, followed by chicken stock, with fish stock being the lightest.

You might have poultry meat and bones, a beef roast or a ham bone from holiday cooking. Any and all of these can be heated in a large pot on the stove or cut up and placed in the slow cooker to simmer for stock.

Take what you have and add water to it, bring it to a boil and then turn the heat down and let it simmer for several hours. Or, place the meat or bones in a slow cooker with cold water and heat the mixture first for an hour on high and then turn it to low and cook for several hours.

Either way, start with cold water, as it will pull more of the flavor out of the bones. Keep in mind that you want to cook the bones until the meat falls off them.

Strain the broth in a strainer and remove any gristle from the meat. Now you have the makings for flavorful vegetable soup.

You may use commercial canned broth or bouillon cubes or powder with water to make the broth if you don’t have the time to make it yourself. Many of these are high in sodium, but you can also find low-sodium bouillon. Condensed broth is also available and can be diluted as the label directs with water or other liquids in the recipe.

As I wrote last week, soups are a great way to reduce calories, stretch your food dollars and make the most of your time. Here are some more tips for making your own soup.

  • When you have leftover vegetables, pasta or meat, put them in a freezer bag or container to use later in a soup instead of tossing them.
  • There are many ways to thicken soup. A tasty way is with cream, but then you have the extra calories. You can save calories by using fresh milk or non-fat powdered milk instead. Soup can also be thickened using mashed potatoes, flour, cornstarch, potato flakes or leftover stuffing.
  • You can put more fiber in your healthy eating plan through soups by adding whole grains such as lentils, wheat bulgur, brown rice, whole wheat pasta or barley.
  • When you are cooking vegetables for soup, you sauté them in broth instead of fat or oil, so you are saving calories there. You can also save time if you are using frozen or canned vegetables.
  • Another time saver is using canned tomato or a vegetable blend soup as a base. Just remember that many of these products are high in salt, so it won’t need to be added.
  • The longer your simmer the soup, the more the flavor will be improved. Be mindful to simmer, not boil.
  • To complete the meal, think about adding a great green salad, some whole grain bread and maybe some tasty cheese spread for the bread.

For more recipes and kitchen tips from Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, sign up for the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.

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