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Close-up of butternut pumpkin soup served in Japanese lacquerware.

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This time of year, produce aisles are brimming with winter squash, leeks, mushrooms, cranberries and a host of other seasonal items. While it may seem more convenient to pop open a can of processed soup, there are actually a number of simple recipes that incorporate a variety of fresh, healthy ingredients for the winter months.

Naturopathic physician Dr. Tara Nayak specializes in personalized treatment and nutrition for patients, ranging from those in moderately good health to those battling complex digestive issues and chronic diseases. She recommends several “clean” winter soup recipes that promote healing and overall wellness. Each recipe is rich in vitamins, minerals and probiotics that can help promote better gut health.

“The first step to a clean diet is to begin to choose whole foods,” Nayak says.

A diet rich in whole foods includes pasture-raised chickens and eggs, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish and organic produce. Whole food ingredients that Nayak recommends for winter soups include butternut squash, pumpkin, root vegetables, leafy greens, such as collard greens and turnip greens, and sweet potatoes. All of these are rich in vitamins and minerals and can help support the body’s immune system to prevent cold and flu.

“The cleanest diet you can eat is free of processed foods,” Nayak says. “If you eat a diet rich in whole foods your body will be nourished and ultimately feel better.”

Nayak’s flavor-filled broths, use of fresh produce and the mix of spices she incorporates into her soup recipes make these dishes delightful to a variety of palates.

“I try to use food as medicine to bring my patients a healthy alternative to pills whenever possible,” she says.


Collard Green Soup

This is a healthy twist on a Southern classic. The nutrient-rich broth is both healing to the gut and easy on the digestive system.

1. Dice 5 slices of turkey bacon into 1-inch cubes and heat in a large pot for 3 minutes over medium heat.

2. Add 1 tablespoon ghee or olive oil, 1 large diced onion and 3 chopped carrots and sauté until tender.

3. Add 3 large, minced garlic cloves and cook for 3 minutes.

4. Add 2 cups chicken broth and let simmer until the broth has reduced by half.

5. Wash 2 1/2 cups fresh collard greens, remove stems, slice.

6. Add collard greens, 8 cups of water and a pinch of cayenne and bring to a boil for about 1 hour or until the collard greens are extremely soft.

Alternative: This can also be done low and slow in a crockpot.


Butternut Squash Soup

This is a simple, seasonal soup made from ingredients generally available during the winter months. It is rich in carotenes and a great source of immune-supporting Vitamin A.

1. Melt 3 tablespoons of ghee or butter in a sauté pan.

2. Add 1 large diced red onion, 2 large minced shallots, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger.

3. Cook on low heat until onion and shallots are transparent, about 5 minutes.

4. Peel, seed and chop 2 large butternut squash into uniform size cubes or slices and add to a large crock-pot.

5. Cover butternut squash with 3 cups vegetable stock, 1 cup water (add more as needed to cover squash).

6. Add ghee/onion/shallot mixture to crockpot, cover, cook on low/medium heat until squash is soft, usually about 1 hour.

7. Transfer softened squash to blender and blend until smooth, adding in liquid to desired consistency.

8. For Topping: 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup pumpkin seeds, 1 cup pecans, 1.5 tablespoon maple syrup, cinnamon/nutmeg to taste. Chop nuts and seeds finely, mix with maple syrup, add spices, use as garnish to top each bowl of soup.


Miso Vegetable Soup

This soup contains probiotics that support healthy digestion and immunity, as well as mushrooms, which are great for cold and flu prevention.

1. Chop up your favorite soup

veggies into uniform-sized large chunks (Nayak uses 2 large celery sticks, 2 large carrots, 1 large onion, and anything she has in the fridge, including green beans, broccoli or spinach).

2. Chop 2 cups of mushrooms of your choice - button, portabella, cremini, shiitake, etc.

3. Sauté veggies and mushrooms with 2 cloves freshly chopped garlic in 1 tablespoon ghee or olive oil until softened but not fully cooked.

4. Add 4 cups of water (enough to cover all veggies) and 2 heaping teaspoons of white miso paste (add more to taste).

5. Cover and let simmer on medium heat until veggies are softened.

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