Sunday, January 4, 2009

Food and Respecting the Body

I'm sure I'm not the only one who keeps getting questioned about New Year's resolutions. I hate them, to be honest, so I like the response Will Shortz gave Liane Hanson this morning on NPR's Morning Edition Sunday. He doesn't do them because he can improve himself year round.

But, of course, after weeks of indulging over the holidays it's time to recalibrate the eating impulses, get back to exercising and create a little more balance between the two. As a friend of mine said to me at lunch last week, she's not interested in dieting but in respecting her body. I love that approach. And, actually, throughout these weeks I tried to create some healthful meals to keep me from going completely over the edge and I also sought some ways to insert some extra nutrients into dishes I already enjoy.

One of the easiest ways to do this in cold weather is through soups. The tendency, of course, is to go for hearty, heavy, meaty soups, but one of my favorites, along with roasted squash soup, is red pepper soup. The recipe is something I rediscovered in a book I've had for about 25 years, "Martha Stewart's Quick Cook." The book dates back to before Martha Stewart was an empire and household name. But, it holds up and the soup is one I used to make with friends I cooked with in L.A. It's creamy but there's no cream involved; in fact, this is a very healthy soup but packed with flavor. And very easy to make. It actually was the perfect solution for me to make use of the half dozen gorgeous red, orange and yellow peppers my mom gave me after a trip to Costco.

The recipe calls for butter but you can easily skip that and just add more olive oil. I, of course, also add several more cloves of garlic. I also skipped step 4 and simply used a jar of roasted red peppers I had bought at Trader Joe's.

Red Pepper Soup
from Martha Stewart's Quick Cook

Serves 4 to 6

8 red peppers
3 carrots, peeled
3 shallots, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 pear, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 quart chicken stock
1 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprigs of fresh tarragon to taste

1. Slice thinly 6 of the peppers, the carrots, shallots, garlic, and pear.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet and saute the sliced vegetables and pear over medium-low heat until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Add the stock, dried red pepper, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes.

4. While the soup is cooking, roast the remaining red peppers directly on the gas flame (or under a hot broiler), rotating them with tongs until completely charred. Put them in a paper bag for 5 minutes to sweat. Wash off the blackened skin under cold running water and remove seeds. Drain on paper towels.
5. Puree the soup in a food processor or blender, adding one of the roasted red peppers. Pour the pureed soup back into the pan and reheat over low flame. (Note, I used my KitchenAid immersion blender instead, directly in the pot of soup. No muss; no fuss.)
6. Julienne the remaining red pepper into fine strips and add them to the soup. Garnish with tarragon and serve with French bread. (Note: As you can see, I left out the tarragon, opting instead for a dollop of low-fat soup cream.)

I'm also incorporating some interesting products into my dishes that give an extra punch of nutrition.

Bob's Red Mill has several interesting products. For awhile now I've been adding their flaxseed to cereal, soups, stews, salads and bread. They're a great source of protein, fiber and minerals like magnesium and copper. They have a new product, hulled hemp seed, which looks similar to sesame seeds, has no discernable flavor and yet apparently contains all 20 known amino acids, is high in protein and contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids.

I've been adding it to oatmeal, yogurt and tossing it on salads. Bob's Red Mill also introduced a hemp protein powder, but I haven't tried that yet since it's been too chilly for me to enjoy smoothies or shakes.

To add flavor to dishes without much fat, I've long been enjoying Majestic Garlic's line of spreads. I've written about them before, but it's a favorite of mine that you can find at various local farmers markets.

It's great in baked potatoes, with a vegetable saute, tossed with pasta, spread on toasted bread (and eaten with the red pepper soup above), even incorporated with scrambled eggs. In short, it's very versatile and delicious.

As I think about it, I'll add more suggestions, including interesting things I find at the markets that you might not have considered. The idea, of course, is not to diet but to enjoy really good food that's also good for you.

Happy New Year!

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  1. Yum! Soup recipe looks great - we'll try it this weekend. I did something similar with a load of tomatoes I was graced with right before Christmas.

    Love the "respect your body" concept too. I've been going for eating awareness, but this takes it a step further. Great blog, as always!

  2. Hemp seeds have been around for awhile but it looks as if Bob's is now getting into the picture. Interesting.

    I am coming to San Diego in March on a Thursday. Need fresh and good produce for a cooking demo. Any suggestions are appreciated.

  3. I'd say go to a farmers market but given that you're doing a cooking demo on a weekday, your best bet would be to contact Specialty Produce, which services local chefs and caterers. Wonderful people. You can find them at Where is your cooking demo going to be?