Chicken noodle soup may have a reputation for helping us beat the winter sniffles, but that doesn't make it health food.
Processed varieties, for example, can be loaded with calories, fat and sodium. And don't even get me started on the lack of flavor and hunks of tough chicken.
In my recipe for chicken noodle soup, I sidestep all these liabilities. I simmer the soup with real chicken and fresh vegetables, like carrots and onions, which are a great source of vitamins. The more veggies you add, the more nutrients you get.
Like many chicken noodle soups, mine is based on broth instead of cream, which saves on fattening calories. And I add thyme for flavor, negating the need for excess salt.
Soup is one of those foods classified as "low energy dense." This mean you can eat a lot of it and fill up without consuming a lot of calories.
Rather than add carb-rich noodles, I've used Shirataki noodles. They're made from konnyaku, a dough of Asian yam (konjac) flour and water. Shirataki noodles are a superb pasta substitute; each serving has 20 calories or fewer, plus 2 grams of fiber. They're low on the glycemic index too, so they won't send your blood sugar through the roof.
These noodles also are gluten-free. If you can't find them in the store, go to miraclenoodle.com. But don't substitute with tofu Shirataki, which are not as good.
Each 1 1/2 cup portion of this soup has an incredibly low 93 calories and 3 grams of fat. If you're feeling really hungry, go ahead and eat two portions and you'll still be under 200 calories! Traditional versions can have up to 560 calories and 18 grams of fat per serving.
— You can make your own stock if you like by simmering chicken bones or parts in water with onions, celery, garlic and carrots. After simmering, strain out and discard the solids, then chill. The fat will solidify on the surface and is easily scraped off and discarded. The flavor of homemade stock is much better than purchased. Plus, you control how much salt is added.
— This is a great base recipe for noodle soup. You can add different herbs and spices to take the flavor in any direction you like. Some soy sauce, ginger and bok choy or miso and mushrooms, or even some kimchee and peas are great (and healthy) ways to keep it interesting.
CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
Start to finish: 45 minutes (20 minutes active)
2 quarts (8 cups) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups diced (1-inch pieces) carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped (1-inch pieces) yellow onion
1 cup (1-inch pieces) celery
3 bone-in chicken thighs (about 1 pound), skin removed
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen string
2 bay leaves
1 cube salt-free vegetable bouillon
16 ounces Shirataki noodles, rinsed with cold water
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
Salt and ground black pepper
In a 6-quart stockpot over medium heat, combine the broth, carrots, onions, celery, chicken thighs, thyme, bay leaves and bouillon cube. Bring to a very gentle simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the Shirataki noodles into pieces about 3 inches long.
Remove the chicken thighs from the soup and place on a cutting board. Remove and discard the bones. Shred the chicken meat, then return it to the soup along with the noodles and Old Bay Seasoning.
Season with salt and pepper, then remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme. Skim any fat off the top of the soup, then ladle into 8 serving bowls.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 93 calories; 3 g fat (31 percent calories from fat) (1 g saturated); 2 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 10 g protein; 1 g fiber; 659 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rocco DiSpirito is author of the "Now Eat This!" and "Now Eat This! Diet" cookbooks.