- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

How can we indulge in the necessary February comfort foods without adding winter waistline inches that we’ll have to spend most of spring struggling to subtract?

We can enjoy a light cream of mushroom soup made from mushrooms and a touch of milk but without any gluten or starch. It’s a win-win situation.

Cream of mushroom soup is usually assumed to be ultra rich, so many people who are trying to lose weight consider it off-limits. Yet we can get a delicious result from the recipe that follows without catapulting our calorie counts to (unhealthy but fun) December holiday levels.

The trick is to bring out the natural flavor of the mushrooms, and also use them to thicken the soup just enough to provide a luxurious texture but one that isn’t cloying or heavy.

To do this, we can use evaporated low-fat or skim milk, which will blend right in without compromising taste or satisfaction. Those not concerned about calories can add whole milk or even whole milk with a touch of half-and-half.

For a terrific light meal, serve cream of mushroom soup with a spinach salad garnished with hard-cooked egg wedges and dressed with a mustard vinaigrette.

Light cream of mushroom soup

1½ pounds mushrooms

1½ tablespoons butter or canola oil, or a combination

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon minced or crushed garlic

1/3 cup dry vermouth or sherry

1½ cups water or broth

1½ cups evaporated low-fat milk or evaporated skim milk, room temperature

1 minced scallion (include as much of the green part as possible), optional

Freshly ground black pepper

Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp cloth or paper towel. Slice off and discard stems, then mince caps.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt butter or heat oil. Add mushrooms and stir until coated. Add bay leaf, salt, garlic, and vermouth or sherry. Cover and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Add water or broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cover the pot.

Cook for another 10 minutes. Uncover and let stand until cooled to room temperature. Remove and discard bay leaf.

Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth or mostly smooth. (The texture is up to you.) Return soup to pot. Or you can puree it in the pot, using a hand-held immersion blender.

Stir in room-temperature milk and heat gently, just enough to get the soup to a perfect serving temperature. Don’t boil the soup or cook it any further.

Serve hot topped with finely minced scallion, if desired, and a grating or two of fresh black pepper. Makes 4 servings, but the recipe easily can be doubled.

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