Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Splendid Soups:" A Visit To MHealth's Cooking Class

Last night I had the great opportunity to shadow and observe Kathy Goldberg and Lizzie Burt’s MHealthy Cooking ClassMHealthy was started by University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman in 2005 to promote healthy living styles in the UM community, develop cost-effective delivery of healthcare, and spur public discussion about wellness.  As part of this program, MHealthy offers cooking classes on Wednesday evenings, from 6:00-8:00PM, twice monthly at the East Ann Arbor Health and Geriatrics Center.

In their classes, Lizzie and Kathy provide the participants with easy, full-flavored recipes that follow current trends in nutrition.  For Lizzie and Kathy this means including as many vegetables as possible, as this is the food group in which we are often the most deficient.  Due increased gluten and dairy intolerance and findings that so much of our wheat and dairy products are laden with genetically modified components, pesticides, and hormones (not to mention calories and saturated fats, respectfully), Lizzie and Kathy try to limit the amounts of dairy and wheat in their recipes. They do, however, encourage moderate consumption of complex and ancient grains like quinoa, kamut, amaranth, and rice. 

Throughout the year, Kathy and Lizzie collect recipes from a wide variety of sources—from healthy eating websites and magazines to celebrity chefs such as Martha Stewart—and modify them to make them easier for class participants to make at home (prep time for recipes is usually under thirty minutes), more flavorful, and less fatty and salty.  They also try to increase the vegetable content of the recipes.  The class also features local guest chefs, including Mike Monahan, owner of Monahan’s Fish Market in Kerrytown, and Peter Stark from Renaissance Acres Organic Herb Farm.  As Whole Foods and Busch’s sponsor the classes, many of the ingredients used were purchased from these stores; however, Lizzie and Kathy also applauded Trader Joe’s for having the best prices on many products, including dried mushrooms for as low as $2.50/ounce.

This week’s class was called “Splendid Soups,” and Kathy and Lizzie demonstrated five delicious soups for the class, three of which were vegetarian or vegan.  A soup class is an intuitive topic, but Lizzie and Kathy elegantly demonstrated that a few very simple philosophies and techniques that can breathe new life into soup.  I loved their basic method of creating layers of flavor with soups, often beginning with a foundation of onions, carrots, celery—Kathy calls this “the holy trinity”—seasoned with garlic and sautéed in a little extra virgin olive oil.  In each recipe, Kathy and Lizzie pack in the veggies, enabling participants to up their veggie intake in a simple and delicious manner.  Here are a few more tips from the class about soups:
  • Always make your own stock: it tastes better and is much less salty.
  • Buy organic vegetables (see my December creATE article about this).
  • Make a big pot of soup and freeze appropriately sized portions for a quick meal in the future (be sure to use plastic containers or BPA-free plastic, especially for reheating).
  • To cool soup, fill your sink with ice and set the pot in the ice.  Stir occasionally.  Never cool your soup on the counter as the amount of time it will take to cool allows for bacteria to start growing, especially if your soup contains meat.
  • If you use canned beans in soup, always drain and rinse them.  Add a little salt just before serving to enhance flavor.  If you make your own beans (from dried), never salt the cooking water, otherwise the beans will be too tough.
  • Cutting vegetables in interesting shapes makes the soup look prettier, but be sure to cut vegetables into uniform sizes so they cook at the same rate.
  • A simple garnish added just before serving—fresh cilantro or a pistou (see recipes at end)—adds even more flavor and flair.

What struck me most about Lizzie and Kathy and their class was the vast knowledge they have built—and disseminate in an engaging manner throughout the class—about the health benefits of individual foods and categories of foods.  Here are a few interesting facts I picked up at the class:
  • Spicy food produce endorphins that make us feel good.  (One of the soups Lizzie and Kathy made had green curry paste.)
  • Of all our household spices, oregano is the highest in antioxidants.
  • Sea salt contains at least 80 minerals.
  • Yellow onions have more nutrients than white onions.
  • Celery, once though to be a food devoid of nutritional content, actually contains high amounts of vitamin K, phytonutrients, and flavanoids.  It can lower blood pressure and may have anti-cancer properties.  Add them into mashed potatoes for extra flavor and crunch!
  • Cooked tomatoes have more lycopene and are more easily digested than raw tomatoes.  Additionally, when combined with olive oil (as in cooking), lycopene is more easily absorbed.
I want to thank Lizzie and Kathy for having me at their class and allowing me to share this information with all of you.  Below is one of Kathy and Lizzie’s three vegetarian soups demonstrated at the class.  They were all delicious and full of flavor and I hope you try this one yourself.

Farm Fresh Veggie Soup

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek, washed and chopped (discard dark green part and very end of the stalk)
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup celery root, diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 large carrot, diced
1 sprig thyme
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems diced, leaves reserved
2 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
2 cups zucchini, diced
½ tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 cups water
2 cups edamame, shelled
dash hot sauce (they use local Clancy’s)
¾ cup quinoa, rinsed
reserved Swiss Chard leaves, chopped

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh basil
½ cup freh Italian parsley
½ teaspoon sea salt

In a large heavy-duty soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat.  Cook the leeks and carrots until translucent, approximately for 4 minutes.  Add celery, celery root, and carrot and continue to cook for an additional 4 minutes.  Add thyme, Swiss chard stems, and potatoes.  Continue to cook an additional 4 minutes.  Add zucchini and cook 2 minutes.  Add water, bring to a boil, and add edamame, hot sauce, and quinoa.  Return to a boil, lower heat to simmer until potatoes are tender and quinoa is fully cooked, about 10 minutes.  Add Swiss chard leaves, return to boil, cook 5 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Combine the Pistou ingredients, and puree in a food processor or blender until just blended.  Serve soup topped with a ½ tsp. of the pitou.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of corrections:
    Be sure to use GLASS containers or BPA-free plastic (not any old plastic container) to reheat soup.
    The minerals in sea salt are mostly found in unprocessed sea salt. Sadly, the processing of sea salt removes most of the diverse minerals.