THE haze season might be over, but most of us are still feeling its effects. We're coughing, sneezing, and nursing sore throats that doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon. And with monsoon season upon us, things are probably going to get a little worse before they get better.
The problem is that we don't eat the healthiest of food in Malaysia, and this doesn't bode well for our overworked immune systems. For example, that pisang goreng you're thinking about is probably going to aggravate your chronic sore throat – no matter how delicious the idea may be.
So what can you eat that's nutritious, delicious and impossibly easy to make? Vegetable cream soup!
A bowl of soup is probably the best way for you to get all the nutrients you need. It's packed with vegetables; it has a meat-based broth, and if you limit the amount of cream you put in, it would also be low in calories! Also, if you make the soup yourself, you can it in large batches and freeze portions of it for when you need something warm to soothe your aching, ill, body.
HOW TO START
The first thing you need to make a healthy vegetable soup is, of course, vegetables. Unlike eastern broths, you can't just throw in everything you find in the grocery store in one pot and let it boil. You'll need to be a little bit more discerning, but trust me, it won't be difficult.
All you need to do is choose one main “western” vegetable. The best part about this is that most vegetables will work for this type of soup. My favourite is broccoli, mushroom, tomato or pumpkin.
Now, if you've chosen a green vegetable like broccoli, spinach, or peas, you might want to consider adding a secondary “starchy vegetable'” to give it some body – like potatoes, yams, corn or chickpeas. Green vegetables tend to be a little bit more fibrous, and they benefit from the creaminess that comes with starchy vegetables. The trick to this is to use 1/3 amount of starchy vegetables to your primary choice of veggie. You don't want to overpower your main ingredient.
Next, sauté your aromatic vegetables. You can use any aromatics you want but there are three that I suggest you use – onions, shallots and garlic. For 1.5 litres of soup, I’d use one big onion, five shallots, and four cloves of garlic. I also like to add a chopped leek or two if I can find some fresh ones at the grocery store. Or even a knob of ginger if I want a little spice.
As for the oil, stick to a neutral-based oil like canola or sunflower. Olive oil might be healthier, but it has a bitter after taste that might overpower the flavour of your veggies. Don’t use too much oil because a little does go a long way. You don’t want your final product to be too oily, or too high in calories for no reason.
Next, add a stock to your sautéed aromatics. Most people use chicken stock, but you can always use beef or vegetable if you prefer the flavour. However, bear in mind that while stock in cartons taste better, they might not always be halal. So stick to the cubes and look for the ones without added MSG for a slightly more natural flavour.
Once you've seasoned your aromatics and stock, you can add in your primary and secondary veggies. Just let it boil until it's cooked thoroughly and you can blend it to make your soup. Remember to wait for it to cool before blending so you don't ruin your blender unnecessarily.
POWER OF RICE
It's at this point you can decide whether you want to add in cream or not. Most of the time, you only require a small amount of cream to bring the whole thing together. The cream acts like a glue that binds all your flavours. It also smoothens the texture of your final product. But if you're averse to using dairy, then you can use a secret ingredient – rice.
The starch in rice acts similarly to cream. It works wonders on vegetable soup, giving it a similar texture to cream. However, if you want to do this, add a 1/5 cup of raw rice to 1.5 litres of soup while you're boiling your vegetables. You'll need it to get soft before you blend it. If you find that it's not creamy enough, add in cooked rice to your soup and blend it again.
The best thing is that any soup you make should be able to freeze well. But don't freeze the entire pot. Separate it into individual portions before freezing. This way, you won't need to break off a chunk when you want a bowl of soup.
Here’s a recipe for you to try.
800gpumpkin, skin removed & cubed.
1.5 tbsp canola or sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
4garlic cloves, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
1/4 cupfresh cream (whipping is fine)
Salt and black pepper
Feta cheese to serve (Optional)
1.In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté your aromatics – onion, leeks, garlic and shallots – until translucent.
2.Season aromatics with a pinch of salt and pepper, then pour the stock in.
3.Place your cubed pumpkin into the pot and let it boil until completely cooked through.
4.Remove pot from heat and let it cool for about 30 minutes to an hour.
5.Blend all the contents of your pot together, or in batches.
6.Put your blended soup back into the pot and add in the cream.
7.Season with salt and pepper.
8.You can reheat the soup at any time but do it gently so the cream doesn’t break.
9.Top with feta cheese and serve.
10.Your soup should last in the fridge for up to two days, or in the freezer for up to three months.