Hello 2012!! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and very happy New Year celebration! It’s been pretty quiet around the blog, and the hiatus is a true testament to how lovely Christmas break was. Sometimes logging off, shutting down and unplugging is just what you need to re-energize for the new year.
Speaking of the new year, one topic has been popping up quite a bit in the food world since the clock struck midnight on Saturday. It’s a topic that I have always had pretty clear-cut feelings on, and yet the more I look around the blogosphere and flip through food magazines, the larger the grey area (and controversy) around this topic seems to grow.
Somewhere in the past couple of years, this whole notion of “cleansing” has come into vogue. Like most trends, it started in the upper echelons of eccentric celebrity behavior (see Gwyneth Paltrow’s website GOOP for further proof), but has now trickled down to the rest of us common-place Americans. You can now buy juice cleanses everywhere from your gym, local yoga studios, grocery stores, and the Internet. You can even make cleansing broths and juices yourself with recipes that run rampant on the web! And while people are now embracing “the cleanse” for all sorts of reasons, and at all times of year, cleansing has joined aggressive gym attendance and crash dieting as one of the many activities that sees a turbulent uptick in the first few weeks of January.
Personally, I’ve never done a cleanse. I have a ravenous appetite that requires me to chew on actual foods, whether they be fibrous vegetables, tender meats, or chewy cookies (okay, usually cookies) multiple times a day. And while partaking in a short-term juice or broth cleanse seems like a great idea in theory – flush toxins and salts out of your body, break addictions to sugar and dairy, basically hit the dietary reset button – it’s also never struck me as something a “food-lover” would participate in. And that is mostly because I love food, and I would never do a cleanse.
But maybe I’m wrong. I know plenty of people who do cleanses, and then go out to fabulous restaurants and truly enjoy their meals, or whip up delicious dishes at home (Gwyneth Paltrow included, I’m sure). It seems reasonable that these things need not be mutually exclusive. And this month, self-proclaimed food-magazines that normally teach the average cook how to make a triple layer red velvet cake with three inches of icing, or to render the duck fat for their duck confit at home are filling their pages with their own takes on cleanses, and blowing up with Twitter-verse with cleanse-laden comments. So really, who’s to say what’s right any more?
I do know this, though. The first week in January is a standard “detox” week for most people. Coming down off the high-calorie, alcohol-ridden glorious binge that is the Holiday season, the idea of another cheesy appetizer, baked good or syrupy cocktail is suddenly something we’re all ready to turn our noses up to for fear of our health, dignity and sanity.
Fully knowing that I would not be purchasing a juicer or guzzling Swanson broth for dinner any time soon, I came up with my own version of a “cleanse” meal, starting with pulling every vegetable I had out of my fridge, setting them down on the counter and sizing ‘em up. With a little creative thinking and a few different slow-cooking methods that drew out the natural flavors of these vegetables, I pulled together a rich, flavorful, hearty and soul-satisfying soup that injected some much-needed vegetables back into my life. Gratining the top with just the slightest sprinkling of low-fat cheese will leave your taste buds satisfied and your metabolism smiling knowingly.
Besides, wouldn’t you rather detox with an antioxidant filled, fiber-rich, tangy, spicy soup than… wheat grass?
I thought so.
Hearty Vegetable Soup au Gratin – Serves 4
- 2 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 shallots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 tsp butter
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 1 dry pint grape tomatoes
- 6 cloves of garlic, not peeled
- 1 quart of low sodium beef broth
- 1 cup of diced tomatoes
- 1 cup sliced white or baby bella mushrooms
- 1 16-ounce can black beans
- 1/2 tsp of balsamic
- 1/2 tsp soy sauce
- Hot sauce to taste
- 1 cup of a low-fat shredded cheese or cheese blend
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium saute pan, melt the butter and add the onion, shallots and thyme. Cook over extremely low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 40 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the onion/shallot mixture in the last ten minutes, and continue cooking until soft and golden brown.
While the onions are caramelizing, toss the grape tomatoes and garlic cloves with little cooking spray in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and roast at 350 F for about 30 – 40 minutes, or until the tomatoes blistered and popping and the garlic is soft.
In a large pot, bring the beef broth and diced tomatoes to a simmer. Allow the broth to simmer over low heat while the other ingredients finish cooking. Add the roasted tomatoes. Remove the skins from the garlic, coarsely chop and add to the pot. Add the onions and mushrooms, the black beans, balsamic, soy sauce and hot sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for another 2 – 3 minutes until flavors incorporate.
To serve, ladle soup into an oven safe bowl or individual soup crock. Top with about 1/4 cup of shredded cheese and place under a broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve immediately.