Thursday, February 21, 2013

Red Chard, Sausage, and Butternut Soup

 I have an addiction to butternut squash. I've always loved it, but it's only been this fall that I've truly discovered it's multifunctional qualities. I always used to simply mash it with butter and salt, and while that is truly delicious in it's own right, in the past few months I've fallen in love with all the other ways to use butternut. It's gotten to the point that I feel like I can't properly cook without it! Good thing it's so healthy. :) 

To simplify things, I like to cube and roast one whole squash at a time, and then use half for a recipe and save the other half in the fridge for an easier prep on another night. I've made this soup with both kale and chard, and either works perfectly well. You can also use whatever type of sausage you prefer in this soup. I used country/breakfast sausage, but you could use spicy Italian if you prefer. I happen to abhor fennel, so I avoid Italian sausage most of the time.
This slightly spicy chard and sausage soup is made even tastier by the contrast of sweet squash. It's hearty, healthy, soothing, and full of flavor and warmth!

Heart Health:

Beans (legumes)- a fantastic source of protein, the saponins and soluble fiber in beans also may help with the reduction of bad cholesterol. They also contain folate, which lowers homocysteine, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. Lignans, also found in beans, are thought to be cardioprotective.

Carrots- these flaming orange beauties are, of course, packed with beta-carotene, an important antioxidant to help combat free-radical cell damage and a fearsome foe in the world of heart disease. One mere cup of cooked carrots provides a walloping punch- 300% of your recommended daily intake. Cook with olive oil to help with absorption. They also contain calcium pectate, a type of pectin fiber thought to help remove cholesterol from the body. Finally, carrots have a healthy portion of insoluble fiber and vitamin A, both of which help in numerous body functions.  

Garlic- Garlic has anticlotting properties, possibly due to the ajoenes present. Also, the sulfur phytochemicals may help protect against heart disease.

Potatoes- Often thought of as just another carb, this high fiber, low fat favorite is a wealth of more than just starch. If using red, blue, or purple potatoes, the anthocyanins in the skin are antioxidant and may help prevent cancer and heart disease. The caffeic and ferulic acids in all potato skins may destroy harmful carcinogens. The high level of potassium is thought to benefit cardiac health, and the saponins and vitamin B also help reduce heart disease. They are also a great source of vitamin C, which is thought to be a vital antioxidant for protecting against free radicals.

Onions- This tear jerker is a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps control bad cholesterol. The quercetin found in red onions is thought to  help prevent heart disease.

Winter Squash- The bright orange color of these squash is a dead giveaway of its biggest nutrient- beta carotene. One cup of cooked squash alone provides 107% of the recommended daily intake. Beta carotene is thought to help prevent cancer, as well as maintaining eye health. The great amount of soluble fiber is helpful in lowering bad cholesterol, and the magnesium helps with heart health and preventing high blood pressure. They also contain vitamin B6, linked to a reduction in heart disease risk, and vitamin C, an antioxidant.

Olive Oil- This healthy oil contains disease-fighting phytochemicals, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fat. All these help keep arteries clear of cholesterol. The monousaturated fat may also help raise good cholesterol, and a diet rich in this fat may help lower your chance of heart disease.

Kale/Chard/Greens- these tasty, albeit misunderstood, cooking greens are full of healthy vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and yes, even flavor! They come packed with beta-carotene for antioxidents, folate for warding off heart disease, isothiocyanates for inhibiting environmental carcinogens, and vitamin K to build bones.

Red Chard, Sausage, and Butternut Soup

1/2 a large butternut squash, peeled, chopped, and roasted
1 large bunch of chard or kale, stems and leaves separated and chopped
1 lb of sausage
2 potatoes, chopped
1/2 lb carrots, chopped
2 cups white beans, cooked (or one can, drained)
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups chicken broth
Olive oil for sauteing 
Salt to taste
Squeeze of lemon juice 
Cayenne pepper, optional

Start by browning the sausage in a large soup pot. Once cooked, remove the meat to a bowl, and add the chopped chard stems and carrots to the sausage grease. Saute for several minutes, until they start to color, and then add the potatoes. If your veggies start to stick at any point, add a bit of olive oil or 1/4 cup water as needed. Once the potatoes have gotten some golden color, add onions, saute for another minute, and then add enough water to allow the veggies to simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the veggies become fork tender. Add the garlic and beans, and after a minute add in the chicken broth. Allow to simmer until warm, then add in the cooked meat and squash, and the reserved chopped chard leaves. Once the leaves have wilted, salt to taste, add a squeeze of lemon juice for brightness, some cayenne pepper if you want extra spice, and serve.

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