Whether it's an enjoyable walk through a frosty landscape or skiing fresh snow-covered slopes, time spent outdoors is one of winter's best perks. And even if you're out having fun from sunup to sundown, a hearty, home-cooked meal can be waiting for you when you return. Deliciously healthy soups and stews are the kind of comfort meals that actually taste better when simmered all day in a slow cooker or made a day or two in advance, refrigerated, and reheated with a little extra broth or water. Best of all, these recipes provide whole-food essentials — complex carbohydrates, complete proteins, and healthy fats — needed to replenish your body after an active day. So enjoy winter, knowing you have one of these warm-you-up meals at the ready.
Serves 10-12 / Packed full of vegetables, this superhearty soup gets a delicious boost from fresh fennel. Stores well in the fridge for easy reheating. If you use a slow cooker, toss everything together except the cabbage, kale, beans, and tomatoes; add those during the last 30-45 minutes of cooking. Serving tip: Serve with rustic bread and hot cranberry-grape juice laced with nutmeg.
HOT TIPS for great soups and stews1. Homemade stock or broth is tasty but time consuming to make. For convenience, buy good-quality liquid broth in cartons or jars — they're much better than mixing water with too-salty bouillon cubes.
2. For thicker soups, remove and purée some of the cooked vegetables, then return purée to the pot. Or mix one part cornstarch with two parts cold liquid and stir slowly into simmering soup.
3. To remove excess fat, drop in a lettuce leaf; it will absorb grease from the top. If your soup refrigerates overnight, remove surface fat before reheating.
4. Use portion-size, freezer-specific containers; smaller portions freeze faster and taste fresher when thawed. Leave a bit of room to allow for expansion when the soup freezes.
Serves 4 / Rich, earthy flavors make this quick-cooking soup a welcome treat after a day outdoors. Prep tip: Make ahead and reheat, or prepare ingredients the night before and toss in a pot at the end of the day for a satisfying soup in 15 minutes. Serving tip: Serve with whole-grain cornbread and hot green tea.
Serves 8 / Ingredient tip: Instead of using refined pearl barley, add whole-grain goodness with hulled barley, which retains its germ and bran. Prep tips: This stew becomes thicker the next day; add broth or water when reheating. If you use a slow cooker, combine everything except peas and cook on low for 8-10 hours; stir in peas during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Serves 6 / Ingredient tip: Leg of lamb is a leaner cut; if you prefer, use lamb stew meat or shoulder roast. Prep tip: If you have a slow cooker, simply combine all ingredients and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Serving tip: Pair with apricot couscous and hot mulled red wine.
Serves 6 / A chic blend of toasted hazelnuts and cauliflower yields a nutty, rich soup. Serving tip: Great with oven-warmed whole-grain rolls and mugs of hot cocoa.
Recipe developer Kris Wetherbee never met a root vegetable she didn't like, especially in a soup. She writes about food, travel, and the outdoors from her home in Oregon.