Soup up your winter meals

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— Soup is the ultimate comfort food as winter closes in and the cold nights stretch ever onward. We usually think of comfort foods as fat-filled pleasures. But soup has the power to bring together comfort, satisfying taste and a healthy meal in one delicious bowl.

Besides offering warmth to body and soul, soup can be loaded with good nutrition even the kids can learn to love. Many healthful plant chemicals that boost production of cancer-fighting enzymes in the body are present only in vegetables. However, many of us fail to eat the vegetables we need sometimes because other family members resist them. Adding vegetables plus beans, dried peas and grains to soup can disguise them in ways that kids and veggie-challenged adults may find palatable.

A child who won't touch broccoli except to launch it as a spear at his younger brother may happily eat potato broccoli soup presented as Incredible Hulk Soup. The pureed broccoli gives the soup the hulkish green color. Letting kids add their own toppings can further add to the soup's appeal.

Here are two easy recipes that could be crowd-pleasers at your home this winter:

Broccoli Potato Soup (Incredible Hulk Soup)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped (optional)

2 bunches of broccoli (remove tough stem ends, chop florets and thinly slice rest of stem)

4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 cup of lemon juice

Put olive oil in large soup pot. Add onion and garlic and saute gently for five minutes until onion is wilted. Add broccoli, potatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper, cool for a couple of minutes, then puree soup in batches in a blender or food processor. Return soup to the stove and heat through. Add the lemon juice just before serving. Serve with grated cheese, oyster crackers and sour cream or yogurt. Serves 6.

Quick Tortilla Soup

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth

1 small can of mild green chilies

1 jalapeño chopped fine (optional)

1 cup cooked, diced chicken (optional)

1 pound of ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or one 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes with juice

1/2 cup of chopped cilantro

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is golden brown. Add broth, chilies, jalapeño and chicken (if desired), and bring to a boil. Add tomato and cilantro. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Add juice from half a lime and serve with toppings - one ripe avocado, chopped; mild red pepper, chopped; Mexican cheese; sour cream; wedges of lime; several corn tortillas cut into strips and fried in one tablespoon of olive oil (or baked to make crisp).

Soup can be a great way to use leftovers. Cooked carrot, pumpkin or other winter squash can be mashed with an equal amount of broth and made into a quick soup. Add a teaspoon of curry powder and sprinkle nuts on top for extra flavor.

When you are looking for comfort this winter, you don't have to reach for the high-calorie stuff. Keep some canned broth, frozen vegetables and pasta on hand, toss together with flavorful seasonings and you've got a hearty, healthy meal. So healthy, in fact, that you could probably treat yourself to a small scoop of ice cream for dessert without feeling the least bit guilty.

Christine McKelvie is public relations director for Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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