It has been two weeks since Ash Wednesday, and our now-annual family Lenten soup fast is off to an interesting start. We've had some highlights (see recipe below) and also some very low nights (a soup that somehow went rancid in the freezer leaving us with nothing but a loaf of bread for dinner). In some ways this year has been easier than last, but it has also had it's on challenges.
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I started this year thinking I would also eat soup for lunch each day that we had leftovers, but my breastfeeding-self discovered quickly that the stricter fasting led to the need for far more snacking and kind of defeated its own purpose. (Did you know? Fasting while nursing can change your milk and make it less palatable- I've noticed that if I fast too much I know by how much extra spitting up Sarah does!) I adjusted and started looking for other ways to use up leftover soups (again, see below) rather than continue a discipline that was actually encouraging an unhealthy situation for the two of us!
In addition to the lower caloric nature of soup, one of the reasons I think soup for Lent is an appropriate fast is that it has a cost saving measure. The three ingredients pictured above could, on a typical night, provide the backbone of a hearty dinner for our family of 9. A piece of meat (chicken sausage in this case), a pasta-potato-or-bread side (cheese tortellini), and a vegetable (broccoli). While I might not put together this specific combination, it is pretty typical for how we eat. I don't often serve dessert or fruit with dinner.
At Costco 1 "case" of these three items costs roughly $25 (which is why I might buy all 3, but not for the same meal- this just a rough comparison). To eat the chicken sausage as a main course, the whole package will last only 1 meal but could be used three times in this recipe. The pasta, again only one meal as a side but two as a part of the soup (and it could probably be stretched to 3, but that's not how the packages are divided). The broccoli would last through 2 meals as a side, but lasts 4 as a component of soup.
2-3 meals instead of 1. That brings typical splurge ingredients down to reasonable dinner ranges. Calculated for a more budget-friendly ingredient list, the savings could be even more. I will also routinely use the leftovers of one soup in another soup. For example, last Friday I made Garlic Royale soup from the Monastery Soups cookbook and used the leftovers as a base in Baked Potato Soup on Monday. We waste a lot less this way.
Of course, saving money isn't a spiritual aim of Lent, but almsgiving is. Soup becomes almsgiving when money saved on dinner is applied to worthy causes. I'll leave figuring out the amounts to you, but know that I certainly don't break it down this exactly for each meal!
The example used in this post probably isn't a great example of a fast for most people because it is very high in fat (unlikely to leave you hungry). Our daughter has refractory epilepsy (difficult to treat) and she requires a very high fat diet. By bumping up the fat in the broth for her (and removing her portion before adding the pasta), we are able to all eat the same dinner. Eating in community is important to us and because we are used to the high fat diet it doesn't feel as much of a splurge to us as it might to you.
Rather than incorporate fasting as a component of every soup night, we choose to incorporate meatless soups at least one day/week in addition to Friday. Our favorite meat-free soups are egg drop, garlic cream, potato/leek, and broccoli cheese. We also regularly incorporate simple broth based soups such as ham and white bean that are literally just ham, water, salt, and white beans.
We add a bread side to broth-based soups for those who can eat it, but not generally to cream based soups, which also helps balance the fasting piece for those who want to be more rigid in the fast. While this is a family discipline, we leave it up to each individual how they want to practice it at each meal.
Sausage Tortellini Soup
1+ Qt Chicken Stock
2+ Cups Heavy Cream
1 8 oz brick of Cream Cheese
2 Tbsp minced garlic
Heat the above ingredients in a pot (I switched from a standard 5 qt pot to an 8 qt stock pot and it is much easier to make soup for 9 now!), stirring regularly.
Once hot, stir in:
1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (Fresh is better but not strictly required)
Blend with an immersion blender if you have one for extra smooth soup. (Note: I just got my first immersion blender this year, after insisting forever that it was an un-needed gadget but I've changed my stance and it is quickly approaching my vitamix as my most used appliance....at least for soup season!)
Bring the mixture to a light boil and add:
1 lb Roughly Chopped Frozen Broccoli
4-5 Sausages of Choice (we like chicken sausages- any brat style could work)
Add additional liquids if needed. Season to taste with salt/pepper if desired.
Add 1 lb package of fresh tortellini (mini ravioli would also work) roughy five minutes before serving and that's it.
All told, it takes me less than 30 minutes to put this soup together.
Just in case you'd like to cut the richness of this soup and switch to a more generally accepted definition of healthy, I'd suggest some combo of the following adaptations.
*Use more, or even all, chicken stock and less heavy cream to make a broth based soup.
*Skip the cream cheese (this is particularly a good option if you don't have an immersion blender as you'll never get it smoothly incorporated without one).
*Use fewer sausages and/or less tortellini.
*Add protein & fiber by adding a can of any white beans.
I would not reduce the parmesan because that provides all the salt the recipe needs.
I told Tim I needed a conclusion to this blog post and he said, "The soup is really, really good. You want to eat it."
This is why I write the blog posts.
That said, it is tasty and different, which also makes it fun. Many of you commented, emailed, and texted that you were thinking of giving soup a try a couple nights/week. Any fun surprises or drastic failures? I'd love to hear how its going! I'll try to check in again in a couple weeks with another update and maybe another recipe.