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Spice up the new year

Herbs and spices can enhance color, taste and aroma of dishes and save on the calories


Many people making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight may believe that patience, willpower and restraint doesn’t sound like it will taste very good.

Almost any dietician would beg to differ.

The Mayo Clinic’s website suggests jazzing up meals for those looking to cut calories: “Whether you’re just starting a plan for healthy eating or have been following a healthy diet for years, sticking to it can sometimes be challenging. But healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring or tiresome. Flavorful food combinations, new cooking ideas and an inventive spirit can add pizazz to your meals and snacks, and keep you motivated to meet your goals for healthy eating.”

One way to do that is by cooking with herbs and spices as a way to enhance color, taste and aroma and as a way to lessen the amount of salt and fat that are often relied on to flavor recipes.

Here are two recipes from the Mayo Clinic for winter weather soups that go easy on the waistline without sacrificing the flavor that keeps it interesting.

CURRIED CARROT SOUP

A splash of lime juice and a blend of spices transform an everyday carrot soup into a sophisticated indulgence. Accompany the soup with a green salad and crusty whole-grain bread for a complete meal.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1/2 jalapeno chili, seeded

2 teaspoons curry powder

5 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or broth

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander), plus leaves for garnish

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

3 tablespoons low-fat sour cream or fat-free plain yogurt

Grated zest of 1 lime

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seed. When the seeds just start to pop, after about 1 minute, add the onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots, ginger, jalapeno and curry powder and saute until the seasonings are fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Add 3 cups of the stock, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the carrots are tender, about 6 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until smooth and return to the saucepan. Stir in the remaining 2 cups stock. Return the soup to medium heat and reheat gently. Just before serving, stir in the chopped cilantro and lime juice. Season with the salt, if desired.

Ladle into warmed individual bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of yogurt, a sprinkle of lime zest and cilantro leaves.

WHITE CHICKEN CHILI

To add more variety in flavor, color and texture, add several different beans, including kidney, garbanzo or black beans, or add more chopped vegetables, such as carrots and celery. If you add these vegetables, increase the amount of chicken broth to accommodate the added ingredients.

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 can (10 ounces) white chunk chicken

3 cups cooked white beans

1 can (14.5 ounces) low-sodium diced tomatoes

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 medium green pepper, chopped

1 medium red pepper, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Cayenne pepper, to taste

6 tablespoons shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

6 ounces low-fat baked tortilla chips (about 65 chips)

Directions

In a large soup pot, add the chicken, beans, tomatoes and chicken broth. Cover and simmer over medium heat.

Meanwhile, spray a nonstick frying pan with cooking spray. Add the onions, peppers and garlic and saute until the vegetables are soft, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the onion and pepper mixture to the soup pot. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano and, as desired, cayenne pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until all the vegetables are soft.

Ladle into warmed bowls. Sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese and 1 teaspoon cilantro. Serve with baked chips on the side (about 6 to 8 chips with each serving of chili).


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