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Healthy Cooking: Turn minimal work into maximum yum with this skinny soup

I have the physique of a semi-fit, mid-40s mom. Which means I could lift a car off a trapped toddler, but the backs of my arms would wobble with the effort. In an attempt to tighten, well, any part that I can still rein in, I’ve stopped grazing on the cheesy carbs I buy “for the kids,” and started packing healthy lunches. My new favorite is a creamy, dairy-free mushroom soup. No, not the canned gray goop. I’m talking about real mushroom soup, the kind that’s made with fresh vegetables and love. And thanks to the twin miracles of kitchen gadgets and prepared broth, it takes only 30-ish minutes to prepare.

Chopping vegetables is an activity that I hate. I find it tedious and, given my notable lack of coordination, slightly dangerous. But now I breeze through the task by giving my veggies a whirl in the food processor. It’s true that the resulting mismatched pieces aren’t as pretty as vegetables that are uniformly diced. But they’re small enough for a quick three-minute saute, which is all you need to deepen their veggie flavor before adding the broth.

Prepared broth is a no-brainer time saver. Unless you happen to have homemade vegetable broth hibernating in the freezer, in which case you have my admiration and permission to skip ahead. I use vegetable broth because the light flavors balance the earthy mushrooms. If you want a more savory soup, swap a cup of chicken or beef broth for one of the cups of veggie. But don’t substitute it all, or the taste will be meaty, not mushroomy. For your healthiest heart, choose a broth that is labeled low-sodium. Worried that low sodium equals low flavor? A few pinches of ginger give your soup some unexpected peppery heat. Fresh herbs make the brightest seasonings; throw in a cheesecloth bouquet garni of fresh thyme and parsley if you have a windowsill herb garden. Otherwise, dried herbs get the job done quickly and easily.

The amount of time my veggies simmer in the seasoned broth is directly proportional to how long I can usefully putter about the kitchen; 20 minutes is my goal. Then I use my immersion blender to puree the contents of the entire pot, which gives the soup its velvety texture. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a countertop blender to whip up the soup in batches. But it is vitally important that you let your soup cool to room temperature first. Otherwise, your soup will explode from its confines and cling to the ceiling like a pencil skirt clings to my thighs.

I like this soup because it’s infinitely adaptable to whatever ingredients I have on hand. Last night’s leftovers, like rice, chicken, green beans or potatoes, can be added after the big blend to make it heartier. Or you can increase the nutritional value by adding the contents of your crisper drawer, like spinach and kale. Then you’ll have the strength to tackle my next fit-n-40 challenge: making “running late” count as “cardio.”

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