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

Meeting my 3-5 Challenge

1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. To me, this means God expects us to practice good self-care. So as part of my Lenten discipline, I resolved to develop a new habit of including at least 3-5 servings of fruits or vegetables in my diet each day.

Even though I was usually lucky to get in one or two servings of fruits/veggies per day prior to Lent, adding the extra daily servings turned out to be less of a challenge than I thought it would be. Fortunately, I’ve found all kinds of ways to sneak fruits and veggies past my lips. I can:

  • Add a glass of orange juice to my breakfast (one fruit serving).
  • Add a small salad to either lunch or supper (one or two veggie/fruit servings, depending on what I add to the salad).
  • Turn a ho-hum sandwich into a Dagwood by piling on lettuce and slices of tomato, onion and cucumber (one veggie serving).
  • Cook up enough vegetables for each meal to ensure leftovers. This means I can create a veggie plate from time to time (several veggie servings in one meal).
  • Snack on raw vegetables rather than chips (one veggie serving). Baby carrots dipped in hummus makes a great snack when I have that irresistible urge to nibble.
  • Replace my afternoon soda with an 8-ounce glass of V-8 juice (two veggie servings!).
  • Throw chunks of frozen fruit and yogurt into a blender – adding some Splenda if necessary – for a delicious smoothie (one fruit serving).
  • Sip a “Baptist sangria” (one fruit serving). To make this yummy drink, I fill my glass with equal parts cranberry or pomegranate juice and sparkling water, then garnish with orange, lemon and lime slices.

Although restaurant meals tend to include only one vegetable, I can usually order a second one a la carte for a small “upcharge.” I’ve actually persuaded food servers to replace fries or chips with a serving of coleslaw, fresh fruit or no-sugar-added applesauce. Some lovely restaurants even offer a veggie plate as a complete meal.

Going to a buffet-style restaurant with a good salad bar allows me to load up my plate with all 3-5 servings of veggies/fruits at once if I want to. Of course, it also allows me to load up my plate with all kinds of fattening junk, so I’ve found I need to practice considerable self-discipline here.

When attending family gatherings or church potlucks, I’ve found that bringing a plate of fresh fruit or veggies with dip gives me something to nibble on instead of the fat and sugar-laden hors d’oeuvres usually offered at such events. This helps me sneak in an extra veggie serving as well.

At first, I was afraid this Lenten “3-5 Challenge” might cause some weight gain, but I’ve actually dropped a couple pounds over the past month.

This makes sense now that I think about it. When I add a small salad to my meal at a restaurant, I’m less likely to mindlessly nibble on the crackers, bread or dinner rolls. Raw veggies have replaced the chips I often snacked on at home in the afternoon. V-8 juice, a frozen fruit smoothie or my “Baptist sangria” have completely replaced my afternoon soda. And I put smaller portions of potatoes and pasta on my plate in order to accommodate the extra veggies.

Not only has the “3-5 Challenge” turned out to be easier than I thought it would be, but 30 days into Lent, this “add-on” has already become a habit. Definitely a keeper.

 

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!”