Monday, June 4, 2012

Tomato Goodness

Tomato soup was usually a weekly staple when I was a kid; my brother Owen's love for it was even hereditarily passed on to his daughter. 

One day when I was shanghaied into babysitting for my sister, I debated what I should make with my culinary-inclined niece. We sifted through various cookbooks, and nothing appealed or it was too complex. 

I hit upon the tomato soup. We didn't have all the necessary ingredients, but I bundled up the two babies into the carriage and tottled off around the corner to the store. 

Once, when we were at a simcha, my mother was blown away by the tomato soup they served. She never does this, but she asked to speak to the caterer, who was reluctant to reveal secrets of the trade. He finally confessed: The amazing ingredient was green pepper. Put a whole one in the soup while it is cooking, then discard.

So when at the store, along with tomato juice and tomato sauce, I picked up a green pepper. My niece eyed it dubiously. 

We managed to lurch back (the three year old insisted on pushing the carriage) and I went to work.

One of the basics of European cooking is the roux (French) or in Hungarian, rántás (pronounced "rahn-tahsh"). As Ma does it, it is a little flour mixed with some oil, only enough to slightly coat the bottom of the pot (since my nephew has celiac disease, I used whatever gluten-free flour was available).

I then poured in the tomato juice and sauce, and raised the heat a little. For additions, one can use rice, or alphabets, or pasta. Don't forget the sugar! A few heaping tablespoons should do.

I scrubbed the pepper well, then just plunked it in the pot.

When it was done, my niece went wild. "There's some sort of taste here . . . it's spicy!" She had three bowls and could barely waddle out the door to a classmate's bas mitzvah. 

However, I have lately become concerned with the sodium content in most tomato juices and sauces. There's about 30% of the daily value in a single cup of juice, which is kinda frightening; tomato sauce, unless it says "no salt added," isn't much better. I searched online for alternatives; instead of using full-fledged canned tomato juice, one can simply reconstitute it from tomato paste.

Leiber's tomato paste, for instance, has about 12% of the daily value in an entire 12 oz can. So I googled "tomato soup from tomato paste," and found quite a few options. Many involve milk as an ingredient, but to keep things pareve I figured non-dairy milk could also work.

Beginning with the roux, I used two cans of tomato paste. Referencing the first recipe linked above, I refilled the paste can eight times, half of the liquid being soy milk. For a little added tomato-ness, I threw in a can of tomato sauce (sodium free) too. 
The old time tomato soup has rice, but to make it extra healthful I wanted to use brown rice, but it takes practically an hour to cook, and as I didn't want to reduce the liquid, I cooked it separately. 

I also added for extra nourishment a can of chickpeas and a can of cannellini beans. (Note: for those who think beans = dying alone, the body's . . . reaction to beans is due to digesting a specific protein. However, if one consumes beans regularly than the system gets used to it and there are no . . . aftereffects. Beans have amazing nutrition and should be a steady part of a balanced diet). 

Since there is no sodium, really, some added salt is necessary (in the end whatever one adds is better than the sodium added by the food processors). Sugar as well, a few tablespoons. 
The moment of truth: will the niece like it? 

She takes a tentative slurp. Swishes it about her palate. "It's . . . interesting." She proceeds to clean out the bowl. 

A hit! 


Altie said...

This looks really good, I think I shall try it. But my problem is salt. I like things salty. I would not add sugar. Usually I add salt to soup even before I have tried it.

And since I am not the most experienced chef, here is a question: is there no recipe that calls for tomatoes in tomato soup?

Princess Lea said...

There definitely is - however, cleaning a food processor is not my favorite thing. And processed tomatoes have health benefits, or something.

I also shoin the tomatoes too much; I don't have the heart to pulverize them.

Liking things salty is OK - it's just that it is better to add your own salt than to purchase them with salt added; they put a boatload in there.

Altie said...

Usually all natural vegetables are better than processed or canned, no?

So buy sodium free or low sodium and add your own. That's an idea. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of the roux?

corti said...

The pepper (with all the seeds) doesn't disintegrate when you cook the soup?

I love tomato soup too, it's funny because it seems like a pretty love or hate flavor.

Like a good American family we found it in these neat little cartons at BJ's recently ;) Very low in calories which is awesome, but like you said the sodium is through the roof.

One soup I don't think I'll ever enjoy... onion soup. It's so popular though!

corti said...

And this extra comment is just because I forgot to subscribe to comments on my last one. Pardon...

Princess Lea said...

Altie: I think tomatoes are "special"; to get higher lycopene amounts, tomatoes should go through a heated process, or something.

Anon: The origin of the roux is for thickening purposes; probably to make smaller amounts of food stretch.

If one added flour directly, it would clump, but by being mixed with oil, it ends up thickening smoothly. I suppose it's not really necessary, but I like my soups thicker.

Corti: Nope! The pepper gets a little shriveled, that's all.

I found a carton in Trader Joe's that has low sodium.

I LOVE onion soup. Then again, I love onions. Love or hate.

%Shocked% said...

I have mixed feelings for tomato soup. Some I love and some I can't stomach. Like Altie, I prefer salty soups to sweet ones, but that picture of your soup definitely whet my appetite. Adding beans is new to me too but new in a "hm, I think I could go for that" sort of way.

Altie said...

Okay, I tried a variation of this recipe. It tastes good. I'm melting cheese on top. And I added mushrooms and barley. Thanks for the idea.

Princess Lea said...

That's what I love about cooking (vs. baking): There are no rules. I'm going to try the barley and mushrooms too!

Altie said...

:) Enjoy. I also added chopped celery cuz I didn't have celery seed and I figured it was the same thing. I didn't have a pepper. But I used some milk and some water and it's a great creamy texture. And the melted cheese it also really good.

Princess Lea said...

I never need any coaxing to have cheese. Shavuous is my holiday.