When she was a child growing up in Ohio, Lindsay Prehm can recall her dad whipping up a pot of one of his signature soups every Sunday. Be it chili, vegetable or beef, the aroma of home-cooked soup on a cold winter day filled the home with warmth.
"It got cold in Ohio, so my dad's soup was like a perfect meal," said Prehm, a clinical dietitian at Emory Eastside Medical Center. "Soup is a great comfort food, especially this time of year, when it's cold. Or, supposed to be cold."
For busy parents and singles, soup can be a meal savior - it takes just minutes to heat up a can, while cooking a pot of it makes for easy, tasty leftovers. A versatile food, soup is a favorite partner for salads and sandwiches, but also has the strength to stand on its own as a filling meal.
"My favorite is minestrone," she said. "And chili, but I'm not sure if that is technically a soup or a stew. Soup can be a meal, or it can be an appetizer or side, just depending on what is in it. There is really a lot you can do with soup."
Heat-and-eat bowls, a growing trend in the soup industry, are a convenient, healthful meal option.
A bowl that can be placed directly in the microwave, these fast foods have been springing up across the board in the last year or so, starting with industry leaders Campbell's, Progresso and Healthy Choice, said Christopher Fowler, marketing manager for Healthy Choice.
"It's really an issue of convenience," said John Faulkner, spokesman for Campbell's Soup. "We all lead busy lives, and having a healthy option like a microwaveable soup is nice for on-the-go eating. It's really been a big success for us."
For those who made weight-loss resolutions for the new year, filling and flavorful soup can help curb appetites, Prehm said.
But, she warns, buyer beware - soups do have their faults. Diners should be wary of cheesy and creamy soups, which are based in heavy creams and milks. Even small portions can be high in calories and fat. For a recipe alternative, Prehm suggests using fat-free sour cream, reduced fat cheese and low-fat or skim milk.
Or, choose soups with a clear broth base, which pack fewer calories and less fat. Soups filled with vegetables can help pack in the vitamins, too.
When bought canned or prepackaged, soup can carry a heavy dose of sodium - upwards of 1,000 milligrams, or about a third of the daily recommendation, Prehm said. Lately, however, soup manufacturers are realizing the error of their ways and offering reduced-sodium takes on classic recipes.
"Reduced-sodium flavors are becoming more popular," she said. "To be labeled as 'reduced,' though, you only have to reduce the sodium by about 25 percent. So you still need to read the labels."
With seemingly endless variations, soups can be made to please even the pickiest palate. Grocery store shelves are lined with innovative flavors, from Chicken Fiesta to Cheeseburger or Italian Style Wedding. When cooking up a pot of soup at home, Prehm suggests throwing in a variety of spices, such as basil, garlic or curry, leftover roasted chicken or beef, tofu and vegetables to create a new recipe.
The tried-and-true chicken noodle, however, may always reign as the king of soup. And while moms may urge sicklings to dine on bowls of chicken noodle soup to cure a nasty cold, the verdict on the remedy is yet to be determined.
"I don't know how much of that is real," Prehm said. "I think a lot of it is just the comfort factor. Chicken noodle soup does have a vitamins, though, so I guess it couldn't hurt."
Black Dog Ale
Winter Cheddar Soup
January is National Soup Month, and while chicken noodle may always reign supreme, soups can be made in near endless variations. Stumped for ideas? Try something new by adding beer to the base recipe, as in this idea from Black Dog Ale.
23⁄4 bottles of Black Dog Ale or other beer
1 quart chicken stock
3 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine beer and chicken stock and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Simmer for 25 minutes. Whip eggs and combine with heavy cream. Mix in Worcestershire sauce and paprika.
Slowly add a little of the hot beer to egg and cream mixture, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Add cheese to remaining soup. Continue stirring and heat on low for 5 minutes. Do not allow the soup to boil. Makes four servings.
For a lighter version, use reduced-fat cheese rather than regular cheddar, and substitute fat-free sour cream, skim or low-fat milk for heavy cream.