I first posted this recipe one January, in the season of resolutions.  We vow to be better people, investing our time, money, and particularly calories in more effective ways.  All year long the popular press exhorts us to detox and cleanse to get ready for, or recover from, every significant holiday or event that rolls around, from Christmas to the new school year, Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, weddings, swimsuit season, and anything else they can target.

You don’t need to be “cleansed”.  You haven’t been poisoned.  You might, however, choose to refocus, maybe starting with “eat fewer over-processed convenience foods”.

All respectable eating plans say the same thing:  Eat more colorful fruit and veggies, choose lean meats and more fish, take in plenty of fibre, choose just enough whole grains, maintain good hydration, and for heaven’s sake, exercise sensibly to balance things out. No magic bullets, no special formulas, no ancient secrets, no pseudoscience.

I’m pretty sure it’s better to eat the whole apple, rather than drinking just the juice, and the same thing applies to beets and kale, so save yourself some money and forget the juice fast.  Fibre, and plenty of it, will clean out your colon more gently and effectively than lemonade spiked with cayenne.  Whole fruit (and vegetable) smoothies are great, but make sure to measure to keep quantities reasonable — everything has calories, including fruit and yogurt.

There’s no point in following some kind of routine for two months, and then reverting to old habits.  Make new habits!  Above all, pay attention to what you eat.  I believe you will value your food more if you make it yourself.

Here’s an easy soup that you can customize to suit your favorite flavor profile.  All year ’round, and particularly in the middle of winter, canned tomatoes are the best choice for a whole lot of reasons – they’re cheaper, they were harvested at the peak of perfection, and all their nutrients are available for your body to use because they’ve been cooked.  If you can get them, San Marzano tomatoes have the best reputation for flavor.  Save your precious summer garden tomatoes, or in winter, those expensive fresh tomatoes from Mexico, for salad consumption.

This recipe makes six cups of soup base.  I recommend making up a batch, freezing it in one-cup portions, and then customizing it one serving at a time.  There’s nothing more boring than trying to work your way through endless containers of the SAME kind of soup. Red lentils take the place of other forms of thickener, adding their legume-y goodness and that fibre boost we were mentioning earlier, without being noticeably “beany”.  The soup base itself is gluten-free, and you can make choices to keep it vegan, if that’s your priority.

Tomato Soup Base, or Basic Tomato Soup


1 Tbsp oil (anything except EVOO – don’t waste it!)

No less than 1 cup onion or alternate (that’s one medium onion, or the white part of a couple of leeks, or some shallots – you can even throw in some green onions if they don’t have other plans)

No less than ½ cup diced carrot

No less than ½ cup diced celery

This mixture of onions, carrots and celery is a flavor base called “mirepoix” in French cooking, and it is the first step for lots of soups, stews and braises.  The basic ratio is two parts onion, one part carrots, one part celery, but only a snoot actually measures.  I use a medium onion, which yields just over a cup, one big carrot, and one big celery stalk.  If you use shallots for the onion part, you can use a little less because they are drier and more dense.  If you use leeks, they are fluffy and mild, so you can use lots.

If you know you want to make a chunky soup rather than a smooth one, take the time to dice your onion, carrots and celery in small, evenly-sized pieces.  If you’re going to puree, it doesn’t matter so much.  Bigger pieces take longer to cook, however, and smaller pieces are easier to puree if you don’t have a Vitamix or a big food processor.




Leeks tend to be muddy.  Chop them up, float and swish them around in water, and then drain and shake them dry.

Dainty cuts for chunky soup; rougher cuts for pureed soup

1 28 fl oz/796 ml can of tomatoes   Diced,whole, stewed – doesn’t matter.  I think the ones with added flavors have slightly higher sodium levels, but not enough to be problematic. You can choose “no added salt” if you prefer.  Diced tomatoes are better for chunky soup base — they have been treated so that they keep their shape as you continue to cook them.  If you choose whole tomatoes, squeeze them to break them up.

½ cup split red lentils  Watch out for little stones mixed in — it happens sometimes

2 cups stock of choice (vegetable, chicken, reduced sodium or not, even reconstituted dried soup base)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Just a word about SALT:  If you use low or no sodium tomatoes and stock, you’re going to find you need quite a bit of salt to bring out the flavor.  If you use low salt broth and regular canned tomatoes, you may not feel you need to add any more salt at all.  If your soup tastes bland, lack of salt is the most likely culprit — it’s the all purpose flavor enhancer. If salt is a known health issue for you, try adding some balsamic or white wine vinegar to give the soup a flavor boost.  A pinch of sugar will balance acidity.

Remember, the salt you add will probably be less than the salt added to processed food, like good old prepared canned soup, so you’re  ahead of the game already.


In a nice, big, saucepan, cook the onions, carrots and celery in oil over medium low heat until softened, about 5 minutes.  This is called “sweating the vegetables” by folks who use that kind of terminology.

Add the tomatoes, lentils and stock.  Stir.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.

If you plan to leave your soup base chunky, cook uncovered until the carrots are just tender, which could be as little as 10 minutes if you chopped them really small.

If you’re going to puree your soup base, cover and cook for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are really soft and the lentils have pretty much broken down.  The stirring prevents the lentils from sticking to the bottom.

Puree or not, as you wish.  You could pull half the batch out early to leave chunky, then continue cooking the rest to puree, if variety is what you crave.

I used an immersion (hand) blender — you could do batches in a regular blender or food processor or even use a food mill, if you know what that is and have one.

Taste, and season as desired with salt and pepper.


Portion, lable, date and freeze.

If your freezer is small, you can portion your soup base into zip-closure freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible, and freeze them flat.  Then they can be “filed” on edge for more efficient use of space.

Now that you have a base, you can gussy it up to suit your mood. The base is pretty thick:  you may want to thin it with water, milk or stock to get the consistency that works for you.

Make it Mediterranean: To a serving of your chunky base, add basil, oregano, parsley (dried or fresh), some of that roasted garlic and those roasted peppers you have in the freezer, a squeeze of lemon or a splash of balsamic vinegar.  For a noodley soup, add some cooked pasta — you’ve been saving leftover (or perhaps planned-over) pasta in little containers in the freezer, haven’t you? NOW you can finish it with a little drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil – this is the right place to use it.

Make it Morrocan:  To your chunky base, add some chickpeas and spices – cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, coriander, paprika.  If you love Morrocan flavors, look for “Ras al Hanout” among the spices at the store, or order some online – it has everything.  Add some garlic, a handful of cilantro if you have it, and heat things up with a pinch of cayenne.  This is a good place to add spinach, frozen or fresh.

Make it Southwestern: Throw in some salsa, top it with grated cheese and broken tortilla chips, and a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt.  If you keep leftover canned chipotles in adobo in your freezer (best used in small quantities), add a bit of that, or some smoked paprika or chipotle powder for fire-roasted flavor.  If you’re making a chunky soup, add black beans, corn and salsa.

Craving curry? Add some curry powder or garam masala and yogurt or coconut milk.  This is a good reason to keep a “bouquet” of cilantro in a glass of water on your kitchen counter – you can add it as well!
This is my parsley bouquet.  I change the water daily, and it keeps for a week.  I do the same with cilantro, but I used it all up making soup!

Want more Vegetables in your creamy soup?

Add anything you want (plus a splash of water) to the smooth base, cover and simmer until everything is tender.  Chop up a couple of those little potatoes. Kale!  Cabbage!  Frozen vegetables just need to be thawed in the soup – no need for further cooking.  There’s no rule that says you can’t add in that leftover half an avocado that you were wondering how to use up.  Keep going – pretty soon it will be vegetable stew!  How healthy of you!  Don’t forget to season appropriately – you’ll probably need more pepper.

Smooth base, frozen Mediterranean veggies, Italian parsley, and just a little Parm.


Customize it to make it Yours:

I like mine smooth, with a shot of Frank’s Hot Sauce, two tablespoons of no-fat dairy creamer, and four crushed Ritz crackers. That’s my personal comfort food.  Can a grilled cheese sandwich be far behind?