To capture the essence of autumn, serve up a bowl of steaming pumpkin-ginger soup, a honeyed concoction that brings sweet fall flavor and is chock-full of beta carotene and protective phytochemicals from the pumpkin.
Don’t stop reading just because it sounds too healthy — there’s no reason that good nutrition can’t be tasty and fun.
Just ask Nancy Porter, of Nutrition by Nancy, who is sharing her love of sumptuous, satisfying soups in a class set for Oct. 26 at the El Dorado Hills Senior Center, part of a series of cooking classes offered at the center.
For the 50-plus food fan, in particular, soups are an intelligent, practical and pleasing choice for a variety of reasons, according to Porter, who just turned 60 herself.
“In the fall and winter, I probably make soup every couple of weeks,” said Porter, of Folsom. “I like to package smaller amounts and keep them in the freezer for quick meals. On the days that I teach, it’s easy to take a container of soup to heat for a quick lunch.”
Porter said soups haven’t always gotten a fair shake in the kitchen, with people of her mom’s generation considering them a “poor man’s meal.”
“As a child of the ’50s and ’60s, I grew up on Campbell’s canned soups. My mother thought homemade soup was what poor people ate and she wasn’t big on cooking with fresh ingredients, preferring the convenience of packaged foods.”
Interestingly, Porter’s grandmother was just the opposite, cooking with lots of vegetables and grains fresh from the field and garden.
“I loved to watch my grandmother cook but we only visited her on the weekends. I was born in Sacramento and my dad’s family goes back to the Gold Rush in El Dorado County, in Greenwood. We moved back to the foothills just before I graduated from high school,” she said.
The love of watching her grandmother in the kitchen paid off, but Porter said she still has to convince some people of the intrinsic goodness of homemade soups.
Good and economical
“Soups have that ‘poor man’s’ reputation and some people tell me they don’t like them for that reason,” she said. “It’s true that soups don’t cost much to prepare, which most would agree is a good thing, but they can also be packed full of nutrition and great taste.”
It’s generally agreed among medical professionals, particularly dietitians, that most people don’t get enough vegetables in their diets. Enter the savior, soup.
“I recommend adding as many vegetables as you can to soup,” said Porter. “For example, turnips can be used in place of potatoes. But remember, root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and turnips take longer to cook, so they should be heated in the soup until slightly soft before adding other, softer, vegetables.”
She added that virtually all the vitamins contained in the soup’s ingredients make their way into the human body for one good reason: “Water-soluble vitamins that would be lost in steaming and other cooking methods are captured in the soup’s broth,” she explained. “So you’re maximizing the amount of nutrition.”
Porter said she is fascinated by the history of cooking, and noted that in the Middle Ages the family hearth would contain a pot that would simmer all day, with the family adding meat, vegetables, grains — and what have you — as ingredients became available. That practice isn’t so different from what happens today.
“It’s a wonderful way to use leftovers,” she said. “Instead of just having ‘the same old thing,’ a little bit of leftover chicken, turkey or beef can be extended with a variety of vegetables, broth and maybe a little pasta or rice.
“In addition to efficiently using leftovers, less expensive, less tender cuts of meat can be used. Moist, slow cooking is perfect for these types of meats, such as briskets, bottom round, soup bones, ox tails, etcetera.”
Porter said soups are especially ideal for seniors, who might suffer dental problems such as loose teeth.
It’s much easier to sip your vitamins than to chomp into hard vegetables and fruits.
Porter explains: “The softened ingredients can make it much easier to enjoy the tastes and get nutrition into our bodies. Soups can easily be blended, too, if necessary.”
Reach for soup
With aging, sometimes it’s tough to fight depression when the aches and pains become more acute and the cold days of winter have a more debilitating effect than in younger days. Don’t reach for the fudge to make yourself feel better, Porter advised.
“Soup is comfort food. Whether it’s because of depression or because of tiredness, it can be hard to gather the energy to make a traditional plated meal with three or more items every night.
“Soups can be very easy on the digestion,” the nutrition expert added. “They’ve been used to treat sick people since ancient times. If we don’t feel good or have some digestive upsets, soup can be comforting and easily supply a large number of nutrients. Soups are easy to freeze, then thaw and reheat.
“On those days that you’re tired, stressed or don’t feel good, having some homemade soup on hand in the freezer can be wonderful.”
And, Porter stresses, soups are inexpensive, with a wonderful meal as reasonable as $1. Plus, they are relatively simple to make and the cleanup is a breeze.
Some of the premier cook’s favorite recipes include Curried Turkey-Vegetable Soup, Pumpkin-Ginger Soup, Vegetarian Chili and French Provençal Cassoulet. The recipes can be found on Porter’s Website at nutritonbyNancy.com.
Learn more about Porter’s upcoming class on cooking with soups, scheduled at the El Dorado Hills Senior Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26 and other cooking classes at the center by calling 916-358-3575. Porter advises registering ahead of time by calling 916-358-3575, so that there will be enough recipes to go around and enough soup.