Tony Tobin, celebrity chef, on turning over a new leaf

PUBLISHED: 15:48 14 September 2010 | UPDATED: 16:36 20 February 2013

Resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin with a recipe perfect for those looking to turn over a new leaf

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2010

Resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin with a recipe perfect for those looking to turn over a new leaf

Its January... so right on cue, heres my attempt to find ways to help you turn over a new leaf through the medium of food.

Lets start with what we learned in December. We learned the same things as every December! The wallet that was so free and easy before Christmas tightens after December 31 like the waistband on our jeans. Alcohol makes us put on weight. Parties also pile on the pounds. Having the house full of chocolate, nuts, sausage rolls and leftovers doesnt help.
I entered Christmas determined that my London Marathon attempt later this year was going to start with proper training. The great cyclist Eddy Merckx once said the most important training for an athlete is pushing away from the table. How true. Moderation is the key and its the quality most likely to suffer during the last few weeks of December.

Then the bells ring out on New Years Eve and next morning, we see the light again. Gym membership forms are downloaded from the internet, dogs get longer walks than theyve had for months and the well only drink at weekends mantra starts being bandied around over the breakfast table.

Recognise yourself? Of course, you do. So, this year, my recipe for leaf-turning, health-seeking folk as we enter the dreaded months from January to March is going to be that simplest of meals: soup.

Campbells once had an advertising slogan which said it all in a nutshell: Soup is good food. And how right they were! I am a huge exponent of avoiding food waste and using leftovers wisely, but nothing transforms them like making them into soup.

In the soup
Many cultures swear that soup is actually a medicine in its own right particularly chicken soup. All the way back to the 12th century, healers would prescribe the broth of fowl for ill patients. A scientific study recently even backed this up by showing that holding your head over a bowl to soak up chicken soup vapours clears a cold better than most decongestants. Chicken soup has also been a healing staple of the Jewish and many other diets. So lets look for a second at what makes it such a wonder food.

Firstly, our bodies are soup sensitive. Many fad diets propose that if we get used to drinking glasses of water before meals, it will fill our tummies up and make us eat less. Myth. Our stomachs have evolved with the ability to sense water and filter it out of the stomach but also to spot when a liquid contains nutrients and keep it in. Soup is held in so that it can be broken down and digested like food. As a result, eating a hearty bowl of steaming broth makes us feel full, warm and soothed.

Secondly, it is incredibly simple to make fabulous soups... from almost anything. All you need is a good stock from meat, fish or veg and then you can just keep on adding, sprinkling, blitzing and shredding ingredients into it. Thin, thick, clear, chunky so long as its smaller than your fist and fits inside a bowl almost anything is ripe for souping.

Thirdly, apart from a few delicious aberrations like gazpacho and vichyssoise, it is warm and soothing. I suspect we have little sensors in our tongues and stomachs that recognise the passage of soup and send all is well signals up to the brain.

We all have our favourites for me, personally, roasted tomato and basil is a king among soups but by the same token, pea and lettuce soup with a swirl of cream takes some beating. It not only tastes healthy but that rich greenness shouts goodness at you.

However, in deference to those 12th century soup druids, Im going to leave you with my very own slightly zingy chicken soup for the soul. It needs just one accompaniment, crusty bread and real butter. I know that butter should be off the menu in January as you look to regain your six-packs and lose those bingo wings... but for the sake of the soup, let yourself go!

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