Remember Fresh isn’t always Best

By Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™

Usually when you read about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables in a magazine or on the Internet, you also find the word fresh.  In fact, surveys show that people favor fresh produce so much that many don’t even count canned fruit and vegetables as servings! But this kind of thinking is just wrong! We’ve been preserving precious plant foods since the dawn of time — drying fruits, vegetables and grains in the sun, fermenting vegetables into pickles and later on, canning or freezing produce at its peak.

As the summer season fades away, turn to canned, frozen and dried produce more often, which are much more sustainable options than fresh produce not in season. For example the antioxidant lycopene is even higher in canned tomatoes.  During canning, fruits and vegetables are heated, which may increase the availability of certain nutrients in some plants like tomatoes, because the cell walls in the plant are disrupted, releasing the nutrients to be absorbed more readily

Best of all, these preserved fruits and vegetables are a cinch to use — no washing or chopping required.

tortilla soup


A traditional Mexican dish, tortilla soup is a spicy blend of tomatoes, vegetables, and crisp tortilla strips. This easy plant-powered version—you can whip it up in no time—throws protein-rich black beans into the mix. Best of all, this dish relies on preserved goods, such as canned tomatoes, frozen corn, and canned beans, so you can make it year-round from your pantry. And it’s a great complement for a simple sandwich, burrito, or vegetable salad for lunch or dinner.

Makes 10 servings (generous 1 cup each)

Active preparation time: 24 minutes

Total preparation time: 48 minutes

Tortilla Strips
Three 6-inch (15 cm) corn tortillas
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon chili powder

4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeño pepper, finely diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 cup (164 g) frozen corn
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
4 cups (948 ml) water
1 tablespoon reduced sodium vegetable broth base
Two 14.5-ounce (411 g) cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
One 15-ounce (425 g) can black beans, with liquid (or 1¾ cups cooked, with ½ cup water)

2/3 cup (37 g) plant-based cheese, optional
2/3 cup (60 g) chopped green onions, white and green parts

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).

2. Slice the tortillas into thin strips. Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, then sprinkle the chili powder on top. Bake for about 5 to 8 minutes, until brown and crisp. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn off the oven.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the soup by heating the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes.

4. Add the garlic, bell pepper, jalapeño, zucchini, corn, crushed red pepper, and cumin and sauté for an additional 5 minutes.

5. Add the water, broth base, tomatoes, and black beans. Stir well and cover. Simmer over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

6. Ladle about 1 cup of soup into soup bowls, and garnish with a few tortilla strips, 1 tablespoon of plant-based cheese, and 1 tablespoon green onions. Serve immediately.

7. Store leftover soup (without garnishes) in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat the soup and garnish with the tortilla strips, cheese, and green onions.

Variation: Substitute cooked or canned white beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, or kidney beans for black beans, or use a combination.

Per Serving: 148 calories, 5 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 263 mg sodium

Star Nutrients: vitamin C (40% DV), folate (12% DV), calcium (14% DV), manganese (11% DV), molybdenum (44% DV), phosphorus (10% DV), potassium (10% DV)

From Plant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipes Copyright © 2014 Sharon Palmer

Sharon Fruit Pic Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™ is a writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention,Better Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Blog. Her specific expertise is in plant-based nutrition, including Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets. Her second book, Plant-Powered For Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipes is available for purchase now.