'Tis the Season – or, Saved by Zero

Sorry to invoke everyone’s least favorite commercial appropriation of a pop hit, but it’ll all make sense in a minute.

We here at FFF do strive to cook seasonally, especially since doing so is usually a very frugal way to cook as well. In the next few months you’re going to see a lot of stews, soups, and other nourishing foods, including comfort foods. But what’s more in season right now, in January, than focusing on health and, of course, trimming down a little?

I myself have the extra task this year of finally knuckling down to shed the rest of my baby weight (my daughter was born in April – it’s high time, don’t you think?), so I find myself turning to a classic that I’ve revamped a little – the well-known “Zero Soup”. It was originated by Weight Watchers (and counts for zero points, hence the title), but is really suitable for just about any diet plan, save perhaps for the most die-hard Atkins devotee. I just added a few extra vegetables, really, and you should feel free to do the same.


nonstick cooking spray OR 1 tablespoon olive oil

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 large onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups vegetable broth + 1-2 cups water

3 cups cabbage, shredded

1 leek, chopped (make sure to clean it well)

1 large parsnip, chopped

2 red bell peppers, chopped ( I sometimes use orange or yellow for the color)

1/2 pound frozen green beans

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more to taste

1 large zucchini, sliced into half-moons (this is definitely the biggest fudge seasonally, can be omitted)

Spray a large stockpot with cooking spray or add olive oil and heat on medium high. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until they just start to sweat. Add broth and all the remaining vegetables and spices EXCEPT the vinegar and zucchini, if using, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Add vinegar and zucchini and cook until zucchini is tender.


As it stands, it’s hyperbolically healthy and naturally versatile. Add any combination of veggies you like, with the exception of high-starch items like corn or beans – tread carefully there. Those will up both the calorie and carb content (though if you’re not as concerned about those, feel free). If you have some fresh basil, by all means substitute it for the dried. If you like more of a kick than this very simply seasoned soup gives, add some crushed red pepper or even a few dashes of sriracha.

As a bonus for you, I’ve calculated the calories per VERY LARGE serving. If you divide this into four hearty helpings, each bowl comes to 205 calories. But you could probably just as easily get 8 bowls out of it, bringing it down to a measly 102.5 calories. So chow down and feel virtuous!

— posted by Anne

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