How to get from good-for-you to good-to-eat Soups: Taking off on a comforting tour around tureens in Portugal, Thailand and Italy.

February 18, 1996|By Patsy Jamieson | Patsy Jamieson,EATING WELL United Feature Syndicate

I am a firm believer in the intrinsic goodness of a steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup. But I often lack the time to make it from scratch. Lately I have been exploring easy ways to infuse canned chicken broth with rich, homemade flavor.

I reduce the broth to intensify the flavor, infusing it with garlic, fresh herbs and spices. A tea infuser provides a convenient container for the flavorings. Using the infuser means there is no need to strain the broth. Then I add a few simple ingredients to turn the tasty broth into a rewarding soup.

Be sure to use reduced-sodium chicken broth for these recipes. Regular canned chicken broth becomes far too salty when it is cooked down. Fat-free chicken broth is now available. If the brand you buy is not labeled fat-free, store the unopened can in the refrigerator. The fat will solidify on the surface; then you can easily remove the fat by pouring the broth through a strainer into a saucepan.

Portuguese bread and garlic soup

Makes about 5 cups. Serves 4

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

12 sprigs cilantro

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

1 46-ounce can or three 14-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth, defatted (about 5 1/2 cups)

1/2 pound day-old sourdough or other coarse-textured country bread

1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Crush garlic cloves with the flat of a chef's knife (do not peel). Separate cilantro leaves from stems and set the leaves aside for garnish. Tuck the garlic, cilantro stems and red-pepper flakes into a tea infuser (or cheesecloth bag) and place it in a large saucepan. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered, until reduced to 4 cups, 15 to 20 minutes, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface.

2. Meanwhile, cut bread into 1-inch cubes. (You will have about 4 cups.) Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the cubed bread and cook, stirring, until the bread is lightly toasted, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Remove the tea infuser or cheesecloth bag from the reduced broth. Pour the broth over the bread. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 minute to allow the bread to soften.

4. Cut the reserved cilantro leaves into slivers.

5. With a wooden spoon, mash the bread slightly so that it thickens the soup. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle cilantro over the top and serve immediately.

225 calories per serving; 9 grams protein; 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat); 35 grams carbohydrate; 382 milligrams sodium; 0 milligrams cholesterol

Thai chicken and coconut soup

Makes about 3 1/2 cups. Serves 4

2 stalks fresh lemongrass

6 coin-sized slices fresh ginger, unpeeled

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 fresh chili peppers, such as serrano or jalapeno

2 14-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth, defatted

1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 4 thin lime slices for garnish

1 to 2 teaspoons fish sauce or soy sauce

2 scallions, trimmed and sliced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Trim lemongrass stalks of root ends, outer leaves and grassy tops. Cut into 2-inch lengths. Smash each piece with the flat of a chef's knife. Crush ginger and garlic (do not peel) with the knife. Trim stems from chilies, cut in half lengthwise and smash (for maximum heat do not remove the seeds).

2. Place the crushed lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chilies in a wide pan and pour in chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface.

3. Add chicken breasts to the broth. Cover and simmer gently over low heat just until the chicken is cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. With tongs, transfer the chicken to a cutting board and set aside.

4. Bring the broth to a lively boil and boil for about 5 minutes to intensify the flavors. Strain the broth into a saucepan, pressing on the solids to extract all the juices. Stir in coconut milk and heat through over medium heat.

5. In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch, 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1 teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce. Add to the soup and cook, stirring, until simmering and slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

6. Thinly slice the poached chicken and add to the soup. Season with additional lime juice and fish sauce or soy sauce. Ladle into bowls and float a lime slice, some scallions and cilantro leaves in each one.

183 calories per serving; 16 grams protein; 9 grams fat (7 grams saturated fat); 11 grams carbohydrate; 184 milligrams sodium; 32 milligrams cholesterol

Tortellini in a broth scented with rosemary

Makes about 5 cups. Serves 4

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

1 46-ounce or three 14-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth, defatted (about 5 1/2 cups)

1 8- or 9-ounce package low-fat fresh or frozen cheese tortellini

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Crush garlic cloves with the flat of a chef's knife (do not peel). Tuck the garlic, rosemary sprigs and red-pepper flakes into a tea infuser (or cheesecloth bag) and place it in a large saucepan. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Boil until reduced to 4 cups, 15 to 20 minutes, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface. Remove the tea infuser.

2. Meanwhile, cook tortellini in a large pot of boiling salted water. Following package directions, cook until tender. Drain the tortellini and add to the infused broth. Ladle into bowls and serve with Parmesan, if desired, and a grinding of black pepper.

205 calories per serving; 12 grams protein; 4 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat); 32 grams carbohydrate; 414 milligrams sodium; 5 milligrams cholesterol

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