The Guy (also known as Max) and I have a shared resolution this year: We Must Lose Weight And Get Fitter Or Else. He has high blood pressure, I have high or disturbingly fluctuating blood sugar. But we both have this basic problem, that we love to eat good food. And, especially during the day, we need our tummies comfortably filled or we get cranky.
One solution to this problem: soup for lunch! Soup for bentos does mean either that you need access to a microwave at lunchtime, or using a thermal bento or lunch jar. But on cold days, this little inconvenience is well worth it.
A really filling soup is a meal unto itself, so all you need to do is to fill up a lunch jar and go. If you get really hungry, add some cooked vegetables and perhaps a little carb - some rice or other grains, a piece of crusty bread, a couple of crackers.
This very hearty soup that is almost a stew is The Guy’s invention. The advantage of using meatballs is that they can’t overcook - they just absorb more flavor and get softer and moister and more delicious. I did add a twist to it by adding some miso as a ‘hidden taste’ (you don’t really taste miso, just the umami of the miso). Tip: Cut the carrots and celery into fairly large chunks rather than itty bits, to get the feeling you are ‘eating’ rather than just drinking soup.
I can attest for the fact that it is very filling on its own. The Guy snuck in some, packed in a lunch jar of course, during my last hospital stay. It was the best meal I had in there by far, and it was still piping hot after being in transit. This is not a quick-cook soup, so make it in quantity and have some for dinner, more for bento, and freeze the rest in portions. I’ll show you how it can be packed as part of a multi-course bento in the next installment. I don’t actually mind having this every day for lunch until the batch runs out.
Recipe: Hearty meatball and vegetable stew that’s almost a stew
Makes 8 hearty servings
For the meatballs:
- 350g / 12 oz. lean ground beef
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup or so dried bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. or so black pepper
For the soup:
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 small bunch parsley
- 2 medium carrots, cut into chunks
- 3 celery stalks, cut into chunks
Additions to soup at the end:
- 1 tablespoon white or red miso
- additional parsley (chopped or a leaf or two) for garnish
- salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy bottomed pan, saute the 2 chopped onions and garlic cloves in olive oil over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent. Add 2 cups of plain water and bring up to a boil. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes.
While that simmers, make the meatballs. Mix all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl - your clean hands are the best tool for this. Form into about 30 small meatballs.
Add the rest of the soup ingredients to the pot (except for the ones listed under “additions, plus 6 cups of water. Bring up to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer. Put in the meatballs (no need to brown them or anything beforehand). Simmer for at least half an hour.
Dissolve the miso paste in some of the hot soup liquid, then add the whole thing to the pot. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
The soup improves after resting for a day or more. You may want to skim off the oil that accumulates at the top.
To serve, garnish with more chopped parsley. (Don’t put the bay leaf or the parsley bunch in any of the servings.)
Estimated calories per 1 cup serving with 3 meatballs is 200 calories, give or take a few calories.
This soup freezes very well - mainly because no potatoes are included. Frozen cooked potatoes turn into an awful mealy mush. If you want potatoes with your soup, just carry along some boiled potatoes separately.