Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
A new year has arrived, and that means it is time to get back on track. More than a month of butter, cream, flour and sugar are again on the books. As always, it was a lot of fun. As always, I’m ready for the clean slate that January brings. Gone are the cookies, fudge and eggnog, which are replaced by veggies, broiled chicken breast and protein shakes.
This year, though, as I was looking for ways to really amp up the “clean” factor in my diet, I made an observation about what might play a part in my inability to maintain my dedication to healthy eating from the first of the year until at least Valentine’s Day. I really love vegetables, and many of the foods that are good for me are also tasty, but when I’m in hard-core diet mode, many of the key foods on the clean list are raw and cold. New Year’s resolution eating always coincides with the coldest part of the year. When the wind is whipping snow into drifts, I want something warm and comforting not cool and crunchy, so I went on the hunt for things that would fire up my metabolism and warm me from the inside out.
In my search for a warm way to prep my favorite healthy foods, I ran across multiple variations of this little gem of a soup. The onions get a long, slow sweat in a warm pan to develop depth of flavor, while cayenne gives it a gentle kick that tastes good when the soup is fresh, but even better a day or two later after the flavors have been allowed to blend and develop. There are not too many ingredients, but the flavor is full, satisfying and rich. The piles of veggies keep the calorie count staggeringly low and packed with vitamins and other nutrients – just the thing for a body recovering from a season of indulgence.
This soup is delicious and satisfying on its own, but is also a great canvas for additional healthy ingredients like rinsed and drained beans, quinoa or even poached chicken breast. If you are eating wheat, a small sprinkle of croutons add flavor and crunch. If you want to up the fat content to give this soup a bit more staying power, drizzle just a touch of your favorite olive oil on top just before serving.
One minor drawback? The color. It’s green. Bright green, neon green, see-it-from-across-the-street green. Alas, this soup is what it is, and it is green. I personally like the color and find it somehow energizing. If you find yourself put off by it, though, shut your eyes and take a bite – you’ll be pleasantly surprised and hooked.
This soup is vegan, dairy-free and paleo friendly, so it will fit with most New Year’s resolutions. And, if you are just looking for a simple way to prepare a healthy lunch, it will work for that, too.
1 pound baby kale (if you opt for regular kale, strip the leaves from the stems and use only the leaves)
10 ounces baby spinach
1 medium-sized sweet potato, finely chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less, according to your preference)
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot for a minute or so over medium heat, then add onions and turn the heat to low. Cook the onions, stirring often, for about 25 minutes until they are a rich brown color. About 10 minutes before the onions are done, add the chopped sweet potato and continue to stir. Add the salt and garlic and stir for a minute or so until the garlic is fragrant. Add as much of the kale as will fit in the pot and stir, then cover the pot and allow the mixture to steam for a moment or two. (The kale will shrink dramatically.) Continue to add the kale in batches until it is all incorporated. Follow the same procedure with the spinach.
Add about a cup of the broth to the pot and stir. Then, working in batches, blend the soup in a blender until it is smooth and creamy. Once the soup is completely blended, add two or three more cups of broth to reach a “soupy” consistency, and stir over low heat until soup is warmed through. Add cayenne to taste. Remove the soup from heat and add lemon juice. Serve as-is or topped with drained, canned beans, a drizzle of olive oil, quinoa or croutons.