Polyphenol-rich hearty chunky vegetable soup with orecchiette pasta and chickpeas

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It’s summer time. And summer in Australia, namely Queensland, calls for all things salad-related to counter-balance the warmth humidity of the Sunshine State.

So while I’m on holidays at home in Queensland, I have the privilege of eating my mom’s home cooking and baking… like no sweat, we ALWAYS have cake / cookies at home. Every single week. An amazing, home-made, non-packet mix fruit-based cake or batch of cookies/muffins: Spicy apple and sultanas, orange and poppy seed, cinnamon-pear, strudel-topped plum cake, muesli slice or coconut oat rock cakes.

Most people find that kinda weird that I’ve been brought up with cake and cookies, considering I’m  a registered nutritionist. But this stuff is all home made. No packet mixes used here. A blend of wholemeal, stone ground flours, nut flours, semolina. My mom is a great cook and amaze balls at baking. And with a name like Cookie, you wouldn’t expect anything else right? The are a treat, made of wholesome ingredients. You don’t need much to enjoy it. Food is meant to be enjoyed. And food that is also made of nutritious ingredients with care and love are so much more enjoyable, right?

While I don’t mind baking every so often, I’m not much of a sweet tooth myself. But mom has done a brilliant job at unintentionally passint the whole “care, love and thoughtfulness” thing into all of kiddies. And this passion and enjoyment for eating good food coupled with my knowledge of nutrition (particularly focusing on factors that enhance bioaccessibility and bioavailability of nutrients including polyphenols) is the constant driver that is present in everything I cook (see ingredient list for my thought process and references below).

And so this soup was birthed. My dad made a simple request: I want a vegetable stew for lunch. Simple, nothing complicated. Nothing intricate. Just a vegetable stew… in the middle of summer, in Queensland. So I turned to both the fridges for inspiration and found a bag of broccoli sitting on top of a whole drawer of tomatoes.

All I needed to start.

This soup is a great source of a variety of polyphenols. The truth is the polyphenol content is not necessarily in super-sensationally therapeutically high dosages. But then again we eat food, not individual nutrients. Research has shown over and over and over again (both epidemiologically and also in vitro and in vivo clinical studies) that a consistent dietary intake of polypheno-l and dietary fibre-rich vegetables and fruits is a major preventative factor against the development of chronic health conditions.

So here is the most amazing (okay, maybe not the most amazing, but definitely in the top 3) vegetable soup you will ever eat. Keep the veggies chunky, but not too big and uniform in size (i.e. if you do ~3cm pieces, try to keep everything around that size).

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2 tblsp oil (I use rice bran oil as it has a high smoking point and is high in unsaturated fats)
2 large brown onions, sliced (a major source of polyphenols, especially the flavonoids quercetin and tannins found to be important at the cellular level in preventative health – it is actually higher in onions than in tomatoes, garlic and brocolli!)
1 tblsp freshly ground garlic (we have a jar of homemade garlic paste, approximately 5 cloves) (similar to onions in terms of flavonoid content)
1 x 5cm piece fresh ginger finely sliced (a potent source of polyphenols found to be beneficial in negating the toxic effects diabetes mellitus has on liver damage and other organs at the cellular level)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 heaped teaspoons smokey paprika
1 large head of broccoli (350g), cut into florets + stalk diced ~ 2-3 cm pieces (a great source of phenolic acids and
2 medium carrots (200g), diced (a source of carotene that is converted to vitamin A needed for retinal health)
1 large cob corn, kernals removed (a source of lutein and xeazanthin important polyphenols for retinal health)
2 large tomatoes, diced (a source of lycopene important in vascular health and the prevention of prostrate cancer in men)
1 cup green beans pieces (cut ~2cm length) (a major source of phenolic acids, especially chlorogenic acid and ferulic acid, important in a host of vascular functional activities at the cellular level)
1 large red capsicum (de-seeded and flesh diced) (like tomatoes, cooked capsicum is a great source of lycopene – heat destroys vitamin C somewhat, but heat increases lycopene bioaccessibilty)
1/4 cup salt-reduced tomato paste (a very HIGH source of lycopene: men, you guys really need to eat this stuff!)
500mL filtered water
2 large bay leaves
1 tblsp dried parsley
1 tblsp dried oregano
1 tblsp dried thyme
1/2 tbslp dried sage
1 cup orechiette pasta (contains the amino acids missing from chickpeas)
1 x 400g can chickpeas (no salt), or 400g cooked chickpeas (contains the amino acids missing in the durum wheat based pasta: together the pasta and the chickpeas make up a complete protein!)
1/3 cup diced lean double smoked ham (a little bit of lean protein and iron, but considering the amount we’re consuming, lean ham is not a major source of iron in this meal, more for the flavour).
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat oil in a large, deep saucepan on med-low heat. Add onions and saute til starting to soften. Add sliced ginger and saute another 2 mins. Add crushed ginger, fennel and cummin seeds and saute for a few minutes until the seeds become fragrant. Add paprika and stir quickly for a few seconds to prevent it from burning.
  2. Add broccoli and toss through spiced onion mix for 2 mins. Add carrots and toss through for another 2 mins. This is to allow the flavours to coat the harder veggies. They will take on the flavours of these spices.
  3. Add the water, rest of the vegetables, bay leaves and tomato paste. Stir through to combine and allow to simmer for ~ 10mins. Add dried herbs and pasta and simmer for another 10mins.
  4. Add drained chickpeas and ham and simmer for another 5 mins.
  5. And done.

Serve topped with shavings of peccorino cheese.

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To make this vegetarian/vegan simply removed the ham and cheese. I like the smoky flavour of the ham, but you don’t need to add it at all. The herbs and spices add plenty of amazing flavour. The reason for using the orechiette pasta (meaning little ears in Italian) is because this pasta doesn’t not disintegrate like macaroni does. It is relatively firm and holds is shape really well. It doesn’t overly swell up like spirals or shells do either, so it is pretty amazing for use in soup.

This soup freezes pretty well as well. Allow to cool, place in your freezer-proof container and Bam! Dinner/Lunch is done for some other day.

Hope you enjoy this as much as we did. My dad gave it a 9/10 just because he likes a bit more salt that I do. My mom, who is not a soup eater on any planet or any weather couldn’t resist the fragrant spicy aromas, it is that good!

Serves 8

Nutrition Information
Servings per batch: 8.00
Serving size: 300.00 g
Average Quantity per Serving         Average Quantity per 100 g
Energy 890 kJ                                   296 kJ
Protein 9.7 g                                     3.2 g
Fat total 7.6 g                                   2.5 g
– saturated 1.5 g                               0.5 g
Carbohydrate 21.6 g                         7.2 g
– sugars 5.5 g                                   1.8 g
Sodium 236 mg                                79 mg


Gao, X. et al. 2012 ” Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson disease”, Neurology, 78(15): 1138-1145.
Kazeem, M.I. et al. 2013 “Protective effect of free and bound polyphenol extracts from Ginger (Zingiber officinale roscoe) on the hepatic antioxidant and some carbohydrate metabolizing enzymes of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013: 1-7.
Manach, C. et al. 2004 “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability”, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(5): 727-747.
Pandey, K. B. and Rizvi, S.I. 2009 “Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease”, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2(5): 270-278.
doi:  10.4161/oxim.2.5.9498
Zamora-Ros, R. et al. 2013 “Dietary intakes and food sources of phenolic acids in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study”, British Journal of Nutrition, 110(8): 1500-1511.

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