How to make healthier soups, stews and casseroles

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Stew

Nothing makes you crave comfort foods more than the frigid temperatures of a winter cold spell — like the one we’ve had recently. Bring on the warm creamy soups; hearty, robust stews and cheesy casseroles!

But wait, what about all those healthy living resolutions you made last month? Fortunately, they don’t have to fall by the wayside just because you’re craving a little bit of comfort food.  You can make your favorite winter dishes healthier by replacing high-fat ingredients. And you can do it without sacrificing taste and texture in the process.

Altering recipes

The first step to making healthier comfort foods is identifying high-fat ingredients like cheese, heavy cream and cream cheese that can be substituted.

Cheese. One of the simplest substitutions you can make is using low-fat cheeses in recipes that call for cheese. You might also try reducing the amount of cheese you use by 1/4 to 1/3 of the amount called for in your recipe. Making these changes will not affect the taste or texture of your final product.

Heavy cream and cream cheese. Simple thickening techniques, using flour, cornstarch and vegetables, can be used to reduce or replace heavy cream and cream cheese in recipes. However, you have to be careful to maintain the original recipe’s consistency.

Maintaining texture

Many soups, stews and casseroles contain heavy cream and cream cheese that give them a rich taste and creamy texture. As you replace these ingredients in your recipes, you’ll need to make additional adjustments to keep the taste and texture of the final product appealing.

Flour v. cornstarch. Using flour and cornstarch are commonly used thickening methods that you can use to replace heavy cream or cream cheese in a recipe. Cornstarch can be used as a thickener without causing changes in color or clarity, while flour produces an opaque color. However, flour adds flavor. Neither add to the caloric value of the dish, so choosing one or the other comes down to personal preference. You may also replace wheat flour with alternatives like rice or potato flour if you’re cooking for someone with wheat allergies, celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Thickening with cornstarch

Ingredients

Use 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch for every 1 cup of cold water

Directions

  1. Mix the cornstarch with the cold water to make a slurry.
  2. While stirring the hot ingredients, add the cornstarch mixture.
  3. Continue to stir until reaching the desired consistency.

Thickening with flour

Ingredients

Use 1 tablespoon of flour for every 1 cup of cold water

Directions

  1. Mix the flour with the cold water to make a slurry and add it to your other ingredients.
  2. Once you’ve added the flour thickener, bring all your ingredients to a boil while continuing to stir. The heat will activate the thickening agent and remove any starchy taste.
  3. If the recipe is still too thin, add more flour 1/4 tablespoon at a time.

Using vegetables to thicken a recipe. You might also try using instant potatoes or cornmeal as a substitute thickener in a recipe. However, both will change the taste and caloric value of a recipe. Another option is using a vegetable puree. It will help thicken the ingredients and add nutritional value.

By making small changes to your eating habits, you can enjoy your favorite winter comfort foods, while staying committed to a healthier lifestyle. For more information on replacing ingredients with healthier options, check out Penn State Extension’s chart.

Soup Recipes

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