Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Soup

Heirloom Tomato Soup

Even though tomatoes are a summer treat, tomato soup brings back memories of cool weather foods that warm me inside and out.  I remember dunking soup crackers into tomato soup and trying to eat them while they still had some crunch, before they became piles of sludge at the bottom of the bowl.

After I changed my diet, I haven't really missed soup crackers, but I have missed the soup.  In my past life, before I clogged up the supermarket aisle inspecting labels, I might not have even thought twice about something called "tomato soup"--I mean, it's just tomatoes right?  Wrong.  Here is the ingredient list for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup:
Ingredients: Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Wheat Flour, Water, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Flavoring, Citric Acid, Lower Sodium Natural Sea Salt, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Monopotassium Phosphate.
Call me an idiot, but I could NOT find the ingredient list on Campbell's website without some serious digging. While their Australian website had products with ingredient lists readily available, their American site only includes Nutrition Facts, not ingredients when you searched by product.  Nice.  After a search for "tomato soup ingredient list," half-way down the page, buried in a Schedule A pdf of all their soups, I found it.  But since it's a pdf, I couldn't copy and paste it.  So I had to use their "shop" online link to find the product there.  Can you say NOT so user-friendly...
We're sorry, there were no results that matched you're search term: ingredient list 
Not being forthcoming usually means you have something to hide--perhaps like that high fructose corn syrup, wheat, and "flavoring"?  And seriously--ADDED sugar?  To a soup?  To a soup already sweetened with one of the sweetest vegetables/fruits: tomatoes?  Um....  This sounds exactly like what Dr. Lustig was saying when he called foul on companies for pumping their products full of fructose to get people to eat more.  Remember, fructose by-passes the metabolic hunger turn-off switch, so you want more and more and more...and guess where all that excess goes?  Hint: it's bulking you up but unfortunately not your muscles!

Finally, the can is also part of the problem.  Not only does it denote a processed product we are trying to oust from our diet for a more "real food, slow food" lifestyle, but it also contains BPA, which according to Consumer Reports is in the cans (even some that say it isn't) and has been linked to:
infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and breast cancers and diabetes.
Mark's Daily Apple has a great doomsday post on that issue if you'd like more information.

Okay, so enough with the ranting over the sorry state of nutrition affairs. Now it's on to recreating all the wholesome goodness that I thought I could find in a canned vegetable soup, but I was clearly mistaken.

You Don't Need Soup from a Can

The cool thing is that my recipe is dead simple and freaking' delicious.  It is just as easy as reheating from a can and is a gazillion times better for you.  It hits the spot for a warm (or chilled) bowl of flavorful tomato soup.  All you need are heirloom tomatoes and some spices.  No wheat, sugar, oils, or "flavoring." The tomatoes themselves provide all the liquid you need.  It's like magic!

Why Heirloom Tomatoes?

The heirloom tomato part is important to get sweet, flavor-bursting tomatoes AND to support the alternative agricultural traditions that produce these not-so-mass-produced vegetable/fruits.  From the article: Why Heirloom Seeds & Veggies Matter on Robb Wolf's website, I learned a bit more about heirloom plants:

  • Heirloom varieties are pollinated via insects and the wind and gardeners have chosen seeds to plant from those with the most favorable traits, usually taste and hardiness for their climate--usually passed down from 50-100 years. 
    • This is opposed to mass-produced vegetables that are either uniform hybrids from carefully controlled artificial selection pairings or genetic modification, which is a whole 'nother cup of tea. 
  • You can save the seeds from heirlooms and plant them to start your own gardening process. 
  • Unlike hybrids, heirlooms ripen at different times and take on their own unique characteristics, adapting to your tastes and environment if you only choose to plant the seeds from plants that perform best. 
Unfortunately, while I DID by heirloom tomatoes for a pretty penny, they were not locally sourced and I feel bad about it.  I just really wanted to enjoy my soup for that taste of summer to come.  I suggest that if you can, buy local heirlooms and save some seeds to start your own garden. 

What about Nightshades?

Nightshades are inflammatory plants, so those with autoimmune disorders or sensitivities to inflammatory foods try to stay away from them.  Nightshades include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.  Since I have had issues with inflammation, I used to be deathly afraid of eating any of those except in moderation, like every once-in-a-blue-moon frequency.  However, Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, discussed the issue in his newsletter.  Here are his insights:
The primary tomato saponin which causes a leaky gut is the glycoalkaloid, α-tomatine. Table 4 below shows the concentration of α-tomatine in a variety of tomatoes and tomato food products. Note that smaller and unripe tomatoes have noticeably increased concentrations of α-tomatine, whereas this compound is barely detectable in a standard ripe, red tomato.
The referenced table shows the highest concentration amongst unripe, small green tomatoes (548mg/kg) and remarkably reduced concentrations amongst edible tomatoes: 2.7mg/kg for red cherry tomatoes, 1.1mg/kg for large yellow tomatoes, 0.9mg/kg for ripe red beefsteaks, and 0.3 for standard red ripe ones.  Heirlooms weren't on the list, but I can imagine they are in the ripe range.  While their low concentration of this saponin is good news, the bad news is that there are also lectins to worry about:
In addition to α-tomatine, tomatoes contain another anti-nutrient called tomato lectin (TL) which rapidly crosses the gut barrier and enters into the bloodstream in humans. The concentration of TL in tomatoes and tomato products is between 3.0 – 6.0 mg/kg.
He goes on to scare the crap out of me with his description of how these nasties lead to a leaky gut, but fortunately he ends on a high note:
However, because ripe red tomatoes have such low concentrations of α-tomatine, and because they are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and other healthful nutrients, only people with an autoimmune disease or allergies should consider limiting their fresh ripe tomato intake. 
Yay!  So while I still won't make tomatoes an everyday menu item, I also won't shy away from them when I'm beckoned by their dazzling, jewel-like colors perched so temptingly along the produce aisle.  

Without further ado, here is the recipe!

Heirloom Tomato Soup
Super easy and super delicious tomato soup perfect warm or chilled.
Cooking time: about 15 minutes

  • 1 large or 2 medium ripe heirloom tomatoes (soft to the touch) for each diner
  • spices of your choice, such as:
    • dried or fresh basil
    • dried or fresh thyme
    • dried or fresh rosemary
    • dried red pepper flakes
  • salt 
  • pepper

Cut your heirlooms in half and place them cut side up on a baking sheet or broiler pan (you don't want to put the tomatoes directly on racks because they'll spill).  You could probably season them now, but herbs will just burn, so you can salt and pepper now and hold off on the herbs until they reach the bowl.  Broil or even grill until you see the tops start to crisp up a little and the flesh is softened.  This can take up to 15 minutes, depending upon your oven and how long it takes to get cranking.  Broiling is a good use of a toaster oven for the small space and faster heating. 

Slightly crispy, broiled tomatoes

Once you have soft tomatoes, carefully remove them one half at a time into a bowl and chop them up with a spoon and knife to break the chunks and skin into bit-sized pieces.  The texture is chunky, so if you like a smoother soup, use an immersion blender or regular blender/food processor to reach your desired consistency.  The tomatoes themselves supply all the liquid you need for the soup--be careful not to overflow your bowl!

Add salt and freshly ground black pepper plus any spices you desire and taste to find the right proportions.  Enjoy your tomato soup hot or chilled--it's delicious!  

This is a terrific carbohydrate for your meal (2 tomatoes is a Zone block) or an easy first course to a dinner.  You can easily make this a complete meal with the addition of some protein and fat.  For example, add some shredded chicken to the bowl and then have some berries and coconut milk (see my recipe: Berry Bowl) for dessert.  Yum!


  1. I'm sorry I passed up the heirloom tomatoes at the store today now that I've read this recipe. Sounds good, and I will try it soon! I may put some full fat yogurt on top - I know some folks avoid dairy, but I don't if it's full fat.