Roasted Green Chile Soup and a Celebration of a Milestone!
By Jen Sommerness
Many of you may know that September is the official Prostate Cancer Awareness month. But for my family, five years ago today was the beginning of prostate cancer awareness. March, 2008 was when we found out that my husband, a 39 year old father of 3 young boys, had prostate cancer.
Today I want to celebrate the milestone of a healthy five years after, tell our story, and share a recipe with you that saw us through many of those days.
In the doctor’s office, as we sat and listened to the information given to us by a leading doctor in the country, we realized that surgery needed to happen quickly. To prepare for surgery, the doctor explained that the goal for my husband was to “starve himself thin”. Apparently the best results would be achieved from him losing as much weight as possible in the short time we had before surgery. It was March. We had until May.
During that meeting, the doctor told us that my husband needed to start eating less than 1,000 calories a day, and exercise as much as possible to achieve the conditions the doctor hoped for. Then, he handed us a recipe for cabbage soup that apparently had worked for other patients attempting to lose weight, and an excel spreadsheet where another patient in a similar situation had kept track of every bite that went into his mouth before his surgery. With that, we left the office with a surreal feeling.
For a few days, he followed the spreadsheet to the letter. Eating a half of a banana for breakfast, a hard-boiled egg for lunch, a half cup of rice with a small piece of grilled salmon for dinner and nothing else in between except for raw veggies. He basically ate like a rabbit, eating things that were very low in calories, but had some nutritional value.
After those few days, he was crabby like I had never seen him before, and the two of us were overwhelmed with the whole notion of what this meant for our family. He began running daily, and was burning off the few calories he put into his body at a fast rate, stepping on the scale every day and generally obsessing about it all…and who wouldn’t??
I couldn’t stand it. I love to cook! I love to feed my family! I love the preparation of food, the taste of it, the smells it creates, as well as the spaces around the table where we share such things with each other. We could not go on this way. If for no other reason, we needed the rituals that come with the sharing of food as a comfort.
So, it was at that time that I decided what I was going to do in this situation…I would cook. It was pretty much how I dealt with stress before all of this new information any way, and now it seemed like the perfect solution. My husband would be the strong one, running and keeping himself focused on the goal ahead, and I could help.
I printed out an over 200 page document from the FDA about the nutritional content of food, and started studying. From there I set off to adapt all of the food we loved to eat together, by analyzing and writing down nutritional values of each of the components in the recipes. I substituted ingredients and changed the recipes so that he could eat it, stay under 1,000 calories a day, feel nourished, and benefit from the nutritional aspects of the food right alongside our family and friends.
It wasn’t long before I began challenging myself to create new recipes, and also to take recipes from the many famous chefs’ cookbooks I loved cooking from, making those recipes in such a way that we could all enjoy them together as well.
It became an obsession for me, I have to say. I loved finding new ways to make things work, but even more – I LOVED that I could watch my husband eat while “starving himself thin”. We began inviting our closest friends over regularly to share meals with us, and as food lovers themselves, they would offer critiques or compliments about the food, and my recipe box grew richer from our times together.
This recipe that I share with you today is one that was in our fridge most days during March through May that year. A warm bowl of this was not only delicious, but was satisfying in so many other ways during that time. My husband loved it, and looked forward to returning to it after a run or a long day at work.
If my math is correct, an entire batch of this adds up to 845 calories, and serves 10. If eaten as a soup by itself, it was a large serving with less than 85 calories. We liked to serve it over a 1/2 cup of rice or barley too, and the calories still remained less than 185 when eaten that way. I loaded it with veggies, especially spinach, so that it packs a nutritional punch.
I chose chicken thighs for this dish because of two reasons. One, they were one of the easiest proteins to calculate serving size and do the numbers per serving. And two, because they add a richness and velvety texture to this soup that you can’t get with other meats. They remain tender in this soup, even if you keep it on hand in the fridge for reheating, they just can’t be beat.
The chiles add a spicy heat that we craved, and I say “we” because when he didn’t eat, I didn’t feel like it either. We love spice. This soup lets you put as much heat into it as you prefer, but the flavor of the roasted chiles ring throughout no matter if you like it on the spicy or the mild side. Allowing the soup to reduce a bit lets the ingredients and flavors marry one another and become a delicious spoonful. This dish is a perfect example of how to eat well at the same time you are watching what you eat.
Eventually, I got so good at creating full plates or bowls of food such as this that my husband could even enjoy a glass of wine once in a while without going over in his caloric count for the day. Now that was a good thing.
Nowadays, we eat this because it is just really delicious, and we never miss pairing it with a glass of some really good wine...or two. ;)
Whether this recipe will be helpful to you for your own health purposes, or because you want to just try it for the flavors, I hope you enjoy it. Enjoy the warmth and love it brings. Here is to your health!!
Green Chile Soup
1 T olive or peanut oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch cubes (if you aren’t keeping strict track of calories, you can double this amount)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
3 large carrots cut into ½ inch coins
2 to 3 Roasted, peeled and chopped New Mexico Green Chiles (more if you like it hotter) **fresh roasted are preferred if you have access to them; frozen is second best; otherwise two 4 oz. cans)
2 Quarts Chicken stock (I use the ones in the 1 quart boxes)
4 cups water
1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
12 oz. baby spinach
Kosher Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the oil in a 4 quart stock pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes, add garlic and a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 more minutes, stirring. Add chicken pieces and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown. Add bell pepper and carrots, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add chiles and stir, cooking for 1 minute. Add chicken broth, water, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a gentle simmer, and let cook, uncovered for at least 30 minutes. When you are just about ready to eat, add cilantro and spinach, and cook for 5 minutes before serving.
TOTAL recipe calories: 845, 42g fat, and 55g carbs