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Easy Superfood Soups to Make This Winter

Recipes for 3 delicious cold-weather favorites from a nutritionist/chef

Bowl of borscht

Drbouz/Getty Images

En español | Cooler weather often puts you in the mood for a hot, steaming bowl of soup — and incorporating “superfoods” into your bowl can provide a whole heap of nutrition for a fairly low number of calories.

Superfoods have no official definition, but most of what we consider such nutritional powerhouses come from plants: vegetables, especially greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage and bok choy; herbs and spices, which are potent antioxidants even in small amounts; and mushrooms, miso and other fermented foods. Legumes, beans, peas and lentils, as well as sweet potatoes and winter squash, make the list with their “resistant starch,” which helps even out blood sugar, aids in digestion and may promote weight loss. And beets and garlic (along with leafy greens) contain naturally occurring dietary nitrates that convert to nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide helps relax blood vessels, aiding in blood circulation throughout your body.

Tips for choosing superfoods

Bundle of fresh kale

Enrique Díaz / 7cero / Getty Images

A few pointers on choosing produce, spices or dairy that pack a nutritional punch.

Color: The darker the color fruit, vegetable, bean or grain, the more antioxidants it generally has. Think of deeply colored sweet potatoes or winter squash, vibrantly bright red beets, or the deep green hue of kale, spinach or Swiss chard.

Flavor: Many deeply colored foods also add flavor. When it comes to intense flavor, I think of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory turmeric (the darling spice of the 21st century and of many centuries ago), garlic, ginger, hot chilies and greens, as well as citrus, both the juice and zest. Lemon, lime and orange zest also have anticancer properties and close to zero calories.

Fiber: All plant foods have it, but legumes are especially fiber dense. Mushrooms bring special fiber to the table in the form of chitin and beta glucans (although you'll also find the latter in beans, barley, oats and apples). These are the “prebiotic” foods that help your digestion and also include alliums such as onions, garlic and leeks.

Fermentation: Whether you are adding miso, which is fermented soy or other beans, nondairy (or dairy) yogurt, sauerkraut or kimchi, these probiotic foods aid with digestion. Keep in mind that the savory ferments tend to contain high amounts of sodium (mellow white miso contains 180 milligrams per teaspoon), so use them sparingly as a garnish or after cooking; heat destroys their good bacteria.

The following recipes were originally written for the pressure cooker but have been converted to stove-top cooking. The biggest difference in converting to stove top involves the time (much shorter in the pressure cooker) and amount of liquid (less in the pressure cooker). Make them often for better nutrition. Both the sweet potato soup and borscht freeze well for one to two months.

Hearty Healing Sweet Potato Soup

I had my tooth pulled and could eat only purely pureed or soft foods for three days, which to me is not really eating. I realized that I would need something beyond drinking a green smoothie to satisfy my taste buds and keep my belly full. This resulting soup is both tasty and filling, thick and creamy, and definitely good for you. Curry powder contains turmeric, which is a potent anti-inflammatory spice. Stir the miso in just before serving to preserve its probiotic qualities.

Serves 2 to 4

  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, cut in half
  • 1 (1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1/2 medium carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas, white beans, or baby lima beans
  • 4 cups homemade or low sodium vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon or more mellow white miso, or your favorite miso

1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger, and dry sauté for 2 minutes, adding broth if the vegetables start to stick. Add the sweet potato, carrot, chickpeas, stock and curry powder.

2. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until the sweet potato is tender.

3. Add the spinach and cilantro and simmer one more minute. Using an immersion blender (or your blender in batches), puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the miso right before serving.

Adapted from Vegan Under Pressure, Jill Nussinow, reprinted with permission from Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Nutrition Facts: 243 calories; total fat 2.25 grams; saturated fat .3 grams; trans fat 0 grams; carbohydrate 49 grams; total sugars: 18 grams; fiber 10 grams; protein 8.5 grams; sodium 200 milligrams; cholesterol 0 milligrams

Borscht With a Lemon Twist and Greens

I cannot claim that it was my idea to add red lentils to this beautiful red beet soup. Christy Morgan, author of Blissful Bites, gave me the idea. I love how it gives the soup more body. Get the freshest beets you can find, ideally with the greens on, which you should cut off immediately and reserve to include in the soup. Both the root and greens stay freshest when stored separately.

If you can't find beets with greens, substitute Swiss chard for the greens. (You can also substitute green cabbage for the red cabbage, though the red has more potent antioxidants and looks nicer.) I add the finely diced beet greens to the bowls first and pour the hot soup over to slightly wilt them, but you could also just stir the greens into the hot soup.

A dollop of plain yogurt (I use a nondairy variety to make this recipe vegan) adds to the allure, as do lemon zest and juice and smoked salt. You decide how pureed you like this soup. I prefer mine a bit chunky. It's not necessary to peel the beets, as they will puree well either way. This soup freezes well, but add the yogurt right before serving.

Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 medium carrots, diced, equal to about 1 cup
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 cups finely sliced red cabbage (about 1/2 medium head)
  • 1 pound beets (2 to 3 medium), ideally with their greens, washed well, roots chopped
  • 1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 6 cups low sodium or homemade vegetable stock or broth
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon smoked or regular salt, optional
  • 2 to 3 cups finely chopped beet greens or Swiss chard
  • Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chives or dill, for garnish
  • Dollop of unsweetened yogurt, for garnish

1. Heat a 2 quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots, and dry sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, adding a bit of liquid if anything sticks. Add the dill, caraway, bay leaves, cabbage, chopped beet roots, lentils and stock.

2. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 to 25 minutes until the lentils are cooked through and the beets are fork tender.

3. Using a pair of tongs, carefully remove and discard the bay leaves. Using an immersion blender if you have one, puree the soup in the pot to the consistency that you like. (If you don't have an immersion blender, carefully blend in batches in a regular blender.) Add the lemon zest and juice and smoked salt, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4. Add the beet greens or chard to the soup; or add to individual serving bowls. Spoon the hot soup over the greens. Garnish with herbs and a dollop of yogurt.

Adapted from Vegan Under Pressure, Jill Nussinow, reprinted with permission from Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Nutrition Facts: 150 calories; total fat 1.4 grams; saturated fat 0 grams; trans fat 0 grams; carbohydrate 30 grams; total sugars 14 grams; fiber 8.4 grams; protein 7 grams; sodium 270 milligrams; cholesterol 0 milligrams

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Mushroom Miso Wellness Booster

This is not party fare; this is what you need when you've had too much face time lately and want to nourish yourself in a deep way. If two of you need nourishing, double the recipe. I often make this when I am feeling the first signs of being chased by a nasty virus. But I don't consider this “sick food” because it contains so many flavorful ingredients with immune-boosting properties. My favorite miso comes from South River Miso in Massachusetts. If I have it, I use their Garlic Red Pepper flavor for this, but any type or brand will do. Mellow white miso is lowest in sodium.

Serves 1 with a large bowl

  • 6 large dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups hot water for 30 minutes
  • (save the water to use as part of the stock, below), sliced thinly once rehydrated, or 3 to 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced, saving the tough stems for soup stock
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
  • 1 teaspoon grated or minced fresh ginger, divided
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, or more, minced hot chile, such as jalapeño or serrano, to taste
  • 3 cups mushroom stock (homemade or commercially produced; if you have leftover mushroom soaking water, use roughly half stock and half mushroom water to total 3 cups of liquid)
  • 2 to 3 cups chopped greens, such as kale, chard, collards or spinach
  • 2 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 to 2 scallions, sliced
  • Sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds
  • Drizzle of tamari or soy sauce, optional

1. If you are using dried mushrooms, drain them and reserve the soaking water. Slice the mushrooms thinly, reserving any stems for stock.

2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and dry sauté for a few minutes. Add half the garlic and ginger. Sauté another minute, adding broth if the vegetables begin to stick. Add the hot pepper and mushrooms, and sauté another minute.

3. Add the mushroom broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the greens and cook until bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining garlic and ginger. Remove from the heat and stir in the miso, to taste. Drizzle with sesame oil, top with sliced green onions and tamari, if desired. Eat hot, right away.

Notes: If you do not eat all the soup, reheat over gentle heat. Boiling the miso inactivates its live fermentation (probiotic) properties.

If you want to add other vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower florets, add them during the cooking process so that they are cooked through.

Adapted from Vegan Under Pressure, Jill Nussinow, reprinted with permission from Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Nutrition Facts: 242 calories; total fat 4.5 grams; saturated fat .71 grams; trans fat 0 grams; carbohydrate 45 grams; total sugars 9 grams; fiber 9.5 grams; protein 12 grams; sodium 500 milligrams; cholesterol 0 milligrams