Recipe: Vegetable beef barley soup

One of my best-loved comfort foods is homemade soup, and vegetable beef barley is one of my favorites. 

As I almost always do with home-cooked meals, I’ve tweaked the traditional recipe to make it healthier. I leave out the teaspoon or so of salt the recipe usually calls for, use reduced-sodium broth and no-added-salt tomatoes, and substitute a bit more spice to retain flavor. I also cut the amount of meat in half to lower both the calorie count and the cholesterol/saturated fat levels and double the veggies. The result is nutritious as well as delicious.  

The soup is super easy to make. As a bonus, it freezes well, and therefore lends itself to batch cooking. This recipe makes approximately 10 one-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean beef, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 32-ounce carton reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 3-4 cups water
  • 28-ounce can no-added-salt diced tomatoes
  • 6 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 6 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2-3 small bay leaves

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat, barley and vegetables are tender. If the soup begins to get too thick, add a cup or two of water.

Enjoy!

Nutrition information

Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 168 | Carbohydrates: 17 g | Protein: 12 g | Fat: 5 g | Saturated fat: 2 g | Cholesterol: 31 mg | Sodium: 244 mg | Potassium: 477 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 5 g | Vitamin A: 128% | Vitamin C: 24% | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 6% 

Recipe: Reduced-fat dips

I’ll confess: Sometimes I give in to that irresistible urge to nibble between meals. And I’ve found that having fresh cut veggies in the refrigerator – celery, carrot or zucchini sticks, cauliflower and broccoli florets or mushrooms – reduces the chance that I’ll snack on junk. 

Alas, raw veggies tend to taste much better with dip, which itself can add too many calories if I’m not careful. So I’ve created some dips that make the crudities more appealing while reducing the guilt factor. 

These dips also work well on baked potatoes as a replacement for butter or margarine.

The secret is a “base” that cuts out the fat without sacrificing flavor. I use the base to create a variety of delicious dips. Here I’ve included directions for making blue cheese dip and feta cheese dip.

Dip Base

The following recipe makes approximately 2 cups of the “dip base,” which lasts up to 10 days in the refrigerator. 

Ingredients for dip base

1 8-oz. package fat-free cream cheese

1 5.3 oz. individual size container non-fat plain Greek yogurt

1 cup fat-free mayonnaise

Directions

Soften cream cheese in the microwave for about 30 seconds to one minute until softened and easily stirred. Add yogurt and blend until smooth. Then add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. I use a hand-held “stick” blender when making the base to achieve the smoothness I desire.

Nutrition info for dip base

Serving size: 2 Tbsp | Calories: 30 | Carbohydrates: 4 g | Protein: 3 g | Fat: 0 | Saturated Fat: 0 | Cholesterol: .5 mg | Sodium: 210 mg | Potassium: 33 mg | Fiber: 0 | Sugar: 2 g | Vitamin A: 3% | Vitamin C: 0 | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 0

Blue cheese crumbles and feta cheese crumbles both come in reduced-fat varieties, and make delicious dips when added to the above base.

When blending in the additional ingredients, I recommend stirring them in by hand rather than using a blender or food processor because I like preserving the original consistency of the crumbles.

Blue Cheese Dip

Mix together equal parts dip base and reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles and stir until well-blended. For example, I might mix together ¼ cup of the base with ¼ cup blue cheese crumbles, reserving the rest of the base for another use.

Nutrition info for blue cheese dip

Serving size: 2 Tbsp | Calories: 35 | Carbohydrates: 2 g | Protein: 3 g | Fat: 1.5 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 4 mg | Sodium: 200 mg | Potassium: 16 mg | Fiber: 0 | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 3% | Vitamin C: 0 | Calcium: 5.5% | Iron: 0

Feta Cheese Dip

Mix together equal parts dip base and feta cheese crumbles. Finely chop 3-4 slices of pickled jalapeno pepper and add to the mixture. Stir until well-blended. 

Nutrition info for feta cheese dip

Serving size: 2 Tbsp | Calories: 28 | Carbohydrates: 2 g | Protein: 3 g | Fat: 1 g | Saturated Fat: .5 g | Cholesterol: 3 mg | Sodium: 187 mg | Potassium: 17 mg | Fiber: 0 | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 2% | Vitamin C: 0 | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 0

Irresistible veggie recipes wanted!

“Cardiac event” was most definitely not on my To-Do list.

Following an extended pull-my-hair-out busy patch that seems to happen for at least two weeks each month despite my retirement, I was looking forward to a short stretch of downtime. Instead, I began a beautiful October weekend with a ride in the back of an ambulance.

The good news: My radiating chest pain and rapid heart rate (200-plus beats per minute) turned out not to be a heart attack. The bad news: After an overnight stay in the hospital spent hooked up to a Holter monitor, I left with a diagnosis of A-fib and “diastolic dysfunction.”

The upshot: My eagerly-awaited downtime this past couple of weeks has been supplanted by a round of follow-up doctor visits. I’ll need to add three new heart medications to my ever-expanding drug salad, and a lot more salads to my increasingly restricted diet. And veggies.

Alas, since I prefer chocolate-covered peanut butter cookie bars to celery, it is even harder for me to adhere to a healthy eating plan than it was for me to quit smoking 15 years ago. Add to that, the challenge of finding recipes my husband and I can both stand. We each have veggies we like and veggies we loathe. Problem is, the ones I like are on his “loathe list” and vice versa.

But the cardiac event that hijacked my calendar has reminded me of my need to keep “self-care” on my list of priorities – after all, 1 Corinthians 6:19 says my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s past time to stop taking my health for granted.

So I’d love to have readers of this blog share their irresistible veggie recipes. Or yummy salad recipes. “Quick and easy to prepare” is a plus.

Count on my husband to add a bit of levity to a tense situation. While waiting for me to be released from the hospital, he and I were discussing the health issues we’ve both been experiencing this past year.

I said, “At our age, we probably need to get used to this. It’s going to be the new normal.”

To which my sweetie pie replied, “You mean the new abnormal? We were NEVER normal, my dear!”