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Delicious Vitamins: Caramelized Onion Soup with Carrots and Tofu

Posted Apr 23 2009 5:14pm

While spending the majority of the past few weeks studying for my nursing boards exam (thank God for having that experience successfully concluded!), amidst other, drier material (such as memorizing the chemical names of countless medications) I did have the chance to review some of my favorite topics in clinical nutrition. As an attempt to make my otherwise rather droll studying and note-card writing sessions more lively, I began musing about vitamins in a culinary sense as I followed the paths of their effects in the body and committed to memory the many symptoms and complications associated with their deficiencies. All of this to say, I've been thinking about food on the molecular level lately, and it struck me that it might be fun to do a bit of a series on the blog focusing on recipes that highlight certain vitamins and minerals.

While I do take a daily regimen of vitamin and phytonutrient supplements (I confess that Zach and I consider the act of perusing medical journals for the latest research on nutrition and preventative health fun, and even a hobby - perhaps we should be a bit embarrassed?), I still deeply believe that it's best to receive most of your micronutrients from dietary sources - after all, your body only absorbs around 30% of any given vitamin or mineral in supplement form, as opposed to the far more efficient, more readily absorbed nutrients available from foods.

So, let's dive right in and start from the beginning, shall we?

Vitamin A, also known as retinol. As you might guess from the prefix "ret" (I like word games too, can you tell? :-), vitamin A is important for healthy vision, as well as overall cellular growth and - fashion and beauty tip here - healthy hair and nails. In fact, without vitamin A, the body cannot synthesize the pigment molecule retinal needed to transform light stimulus into a nerve impulse used to create visual images.

I seem to recall, a couple of decades ago, my mother hovering over me, chiding with as much sternness as she could muster: "Now eat your carrots, or you won't have super-eyes like Bugs Bunny."

Fast forward to today, where, while my vision isn't great, I can see adequately without glasses, and I do love carrots.

Without ever having taken a nutrition course, my mother knew her Vitamin A - carrots are one of the best sources of Vitamin A, transporting a walloping 971 micrograms in only half a cup. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin A is 700 micrograms for women and 900 micrograms for men, so nibble on a carrot, and... you've settled your daily score with Vitamin A! Sweet potatoes are a very close second, containing 961 micrograms, and spinach, despite not fitting the orange profile of carrots, sweet potatoes, or cantaloupe and butternut squash (also high in Vitamin A), still carries 472 micrograms in a humble half cup.

Because Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, insoluble in water, it's stored in the body - in fact, up to a year's supply of Vitamin A can be amassed in the body at one time. Suffice to day, you don't need to consume a ton of Vitamin A each day - so adding some carrots to a favorite soup, perhaps one with caramelized onions to accent the natural sweetness of carrots, is a marvelous beginning...

Caramelized Onion Soup with Carrots and Tofu

2 cups cubed firm tofu (or cubed boneless skinless chicken breast)
1 T olive oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 T olive oil
3 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 lb whole wheat pasta

~ Season the tofu (or chicken) to taste with salt and pepper.
~ In a small skillet over medium high heat, saute the tofu (or chicken) until browned on all sides (and until the chicken is cooked through). Remove from the heat, and set aside.
~ In a large soup pot, saute the onions over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are limp and deep brown in color - aka nicely, sweetly caramelized. Scoop the onions out of the soup pot, and set them aside.
~ Toss the carrots and celery into the same soup pot, and saute for a few minutes - just until the carrots begin to tenderize.
~ Pour in the broth and whole wheat pasta. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the pasta is tender.
~ Stir in the onions and tofu (or chicken), and simmer for a few minutes until heated through. Serve warm, and savor the Vitamin A! (and the caramelized onions... :-)

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