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Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

With the weather cooling off, it’s time to start enjoying one of my favorite food categories: soup! I love soups—one, because they are tasty; two, because they are usually low in calories or can be altered to be; and three, they scream comfort food.  There’s nothing better on a cool, crisp fall lunch or winter dinner, then indulging in a warm, spicy, thick soup that sticks to your ribs.

One of my favorite soup recipes I discovered only last fall.  I tried this recipe for Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup from an insert in one of my homey magazines (I can’t remember which one).  The ingredients sounded intriguing to me, but reading through the list, I instantly knew they would meld together wonderfully and create something truly special.  I made the soup and discovered it truly is something special. 

What’s more, filled with canned tomatoes, black beans and pumpkin, this soup is loaded with healthy fiber, protein, vitamins and tons of antioxidants.  Plus, it’s low in calories but filling! I’m not sure I could have found another recipe quite so win/win…and win/win/win.

I was heartbroken a few weeks ago when I bought all the ingredients, so looking forward to this soup and could not find my recipe anywhere.  I remembered it came from one of the two magazines I subscribe to, so I scoured their websites but came up empty.  I did a websearch for the recipe but all the ones I found just didn’t sound right.  I couldn’t remember the recipe well enough to make it on my own, but I knew most of the ones I was reading were not the same as the one I had fallen in love with.

Much to my delight, a few days ago I found the little insert with the recipe that I had pulled from one of my magazines.  It was stuffed between some other recipes in a cookbook that was buried.  I was so thrilled—and I was right that none of the other recipes I searched for were like this one; one more reason why it’s so special.  I’m happy to report that I made the soup a few days ago and it’s as great as I remembered it.

The first taste definitely brings the flavor of the black beans and cumin to the forefront, but as you swallow, the great fall flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon and allspice surround your taste buds.  At a 125 calories for a 1 cup serving, you can enjoy this recipe with some crusty bread or a huge salad.  It will stick to your ribs and keep you satisfied until your next meal.  Go ahead, give it a try and let me know what you think.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup
Serves 10
125 cal/serving

2 cans (14.5 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz) pumpkin puree
½ cup red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp each, kosher salt,
   cinnamon, allspice
½ tsp ground black pepper
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
Toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

  1. Place oil, red onion, garlic and all seasonings into a large pot.
  2. Cook on low-medium heat until red onion and garlic are golden brown
  3. Puree the beans and tomatoes with half of the vegetable broth*.  Add the pureed ingredients, pumpkin and rest of broth to pot.
  4. Simmer uncovered until thick. 
  5. Before serving, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and garnish with pumpkin seeds.

*For a completely blended soup, which is my preference, use an immersion blender once all the ingredients are in the pot, rather than just pureeing the black beans and tomatoes.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, pour the onion, garlic and spice mixture in the blender with the black beans, tomatoes and ½ vegetable broth during step 3.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Easy and Low Cal "Spaghetti" Dinner

Today I have to share one of my favorite recipes of late.  If you are a pasta fiend and really enjoy a good marinara sauce, this is going to be right up your alley; especially, for my gluten intolerant friends.

Have you all heard of spaghetti squash?  Yes, it’s a squash, but it’s so named because when cooked, its flesh shreds into noodle-like strands.  Plus, it has a very mild flavor and easily takes on the taste of your favorite sauce.  Plus, for those watching their calorie intake, it's only 42 calories per cup!

What’s more, this recipe is about the easiest one you could find as long as you have a crockpot (and even if you don't).  Here are the ingredients…Ready?

1 Spaghetti Squash
1 Jar of your favorite marinara

That’s it.  If you’re watching calories, make sure you read the labels on the marinara you’re using.  Tomato sauces are traditionally pretty low in calories and extremely good for you in the vitamin department but some variations can sneak in a lot of extra calories with cheese, or meats.  If you like a sweeter sauce, I recommend one of Del Monte's varieties, which is very inexpensive and have about 60 calories per 1/2 cup serving.

This summer I made an obscene amount of marinara from scratch due to my very generous mother-in-law and her even more generous tomato plants.  Making marinara from scratch is easy, though time consuming and you can control the calories, ingredients and taste yourself.  But that's a topic for another blog entry.  Getting back to the squash...

When choosing your spaghetti squash, keep in mind the size of your crockpot.  I have a nice big oval shaped one that’s fairly deep.  If yours is small, choose a very small squash.  I supposed you could also do this recipe in a pan in the oven at 325 for an hour to an hour and half, depending on squash size.

To get started, slice your spaghetti squash in half from stem to stern (the long way).  I have to say, this is the hardest part of the recipe.  The suckers are pretty hard and you need a good knife as well as some strength.  Be very, very careful not to slice off an extremity when try to slice your way through the thing. 

You will need to scrape out the seeds and stringy stuff in the centers of each half.  Don’t worry that it smells distinctly like pumpkin.  I promise it does not taste like it.  I have been tempted, however, to see if the seeds would be as tasty toasted as pumpkin seeds are.

Once your squash is sliced in half and cleaned out, set each half in the crock pot with the scooped-out center up.  Pour your marinara in each side.  Put the lid on the crock pot; set it for four, six or eight hours, depending on the time frame you have for letting it cook, and walk away.  Yes, I said walk away.  That’s it. There's no need to add water.  The squash will roast instead of steam bringing about a richer flavor in the sauce and "noodles".

When you take the lid off the crock pot at the end of the cooking time, you will have a yummy cooked squash that has been braised with delicious marinara for hours.  To serve, simply take a fork and scoop out your desired quantity.  It really does end up looking like spaghetti (hence the name, I guess).  Top with a moderate amount of Parmesan cheese to add tanginess and saltiness (you don’t want to ruin the low cals by over doing it on the cheese).  Enjoy.

One other word of warning: do not over cook the squash.  It will get mushy and that's just not yummy.  If you set your crockpot for six hours, make sure you're there at the end to turn it off and stop the cooking cycle.  

If you give it a try, please let me know.  I’d love to find out if you like it as well as we do.