Slimmer slurps: Cutting the fat from cream soups

January 16, 2013
photo - A healthy, creamy soup made with fresh ground spices from Savory Spice Shop. Spices perk up the flavor of soups, so you're less likely to miss the cream. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE
A healthy, creamy soup made with fresh ground spices from Savory Spice Shop. Spices perk up the flavor of soups, so you're less likely to miss the cream. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

Thick, velvety cream soups are such a comfort on chilly winter days.

But who wants the discomfort of unwanted pounds, especially so soon after holiday feasting?

By dialing back a bit on the fat and butter, you can have the best of both worlds: luscious, hearty, soul-warming soup without the extra calories.

Increasing the flavor of low-fat cream soups can be done a few ways.

Veggie purees

To thicken soup, skip the cream and add extra pureed vegetables as a base.

Angela Valencia, owner of Tinta De Toro cooking school, recommends pureeing potatoes or beans with low-fat broth until smooth and then pouring that base into the soup.

“This will help thicken the soup and make it creamy without adding a lot of cream,” she said.

Not only does this keep the fat content low, it also increases the fiber.

The secret is to intensify the flavor of the vegetables before putting them in the blender. One way to coax more flavor from veggies is to roast them. Squash and beets are ideal for this technique. Remember that color equals robust flavor, as the vegetables’ natural sugars ooze out during roasting and then caramelize, turning them golden brown.

If you like the flavor of smoked foods, take a tip from Anne Malone. She and her husband, Chris, own Camerons Products, where they sell kitchen and barbecue equipment, including stove-top smokers and smoker bags.

“It’s important not to smoke more than about half of the veggies, as the smoke flavor gets very strong otherwise,” she said. “They should be smoked before they are sautéed or boiled for the soup.”

Get spicy

Another way to elevate the flavor of vegetables is to add spice. Give the soup a magical taste with spices and foods from other countries, like using Indian garam masala or Thai red chilies. Use plenty of fresh herbs, too.

“Spices stimulate your taste buds, so you won’t miss the fat from cream,” said Mary Frieg, who owns Savory Spice Shop with her husband, Dick. “For instance, a quick way to wake up butternut squash soup is with our Lodo Red Adobo. It’s one of four varieties of adobos we handcraft that includes chili powder, Spanish paprika, salt, black pepper, shallots, Mexican oregano, minced green onion, cumin, cloves and arrowroot. It only takes 1 1/2 tablespoons of this seasoning to give a lot of zing to the soup.”

Cream substitutes

Ditch the heavy cream. Here are the fat facts from 1 cup of light whipping cream (in liquid form) is about 700 calories and 74 grams of fat, while 1 cup of whole milk is about 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. Whole milk typically will give your soup the creamy taste and texture desired but without the excess calories and fat. The lower-fat options of whole milk, low-fat milk and fat-free half-and-half are more sensitive to high heat, so avoid boiling — add them to the soup toward the end, just to warm.

Evaporated milk and even low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt are great substitutes for cream. Try low-fat Greek yogurt for a tangy, complex flavor.

“For soups or curries using coconut milk, use lite coconut milk,” Valencia suggests.

Another option, Malone says, is using a small dab of cream. “If you add just 1 tablespoon of cream when about to serve, it makes all the difference in flavor.”

Add protein

Silken tofu is a wonderful way to thicken a soup and increase the protein, especially for vegetarians at the table. It will lower the fat, too. Cube the tofu and add to the soup before blending.

Rice is nice

You might have thought that Julia Child would never forgo cream and butter. But for a few of her cream soup recipes, she did, and replaced them with white rice. A little rice cooked in broth softens and can be blended into the soup with great thickening characteristics and a creamy texture. Other grains work well, too, such as brown rice and barley.

Just say no

If the soup recipe calls for stirring in butter at the end, don’t go there. If it calls for sautéing vegetables in butter, use a tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil instead. If you need more moisture as the vegetables are browning, add a couple of tablespoons of water, wine or broth.

So go ahead and serve that thick, velvety cream soup. You’ll be the only one who knows how skinny you’ve made it.

Contact Teresa J. Farney at 636-0271, Twitter @tffoodie, Facebook Teresa Farney

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