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Butternut Squash and Clam Chowder

Chowder's heavy use of whole milk and cream can deter the diet-conscious eater.

The term chowder usually brings to mind a steaming bowl of thick and chunky soup, often enriched with a generous amount of whole milk, or even cream.

It’s that last part that can dishearten the diet-conscious diner. Soups and some stews can be a great way to fill up on low-calorie vegetables, proteins and liquid, leaving you satisfied without feeling stuffed. But too much cream, milk or sour cream can take the virtue right out of the meal.

Yet there are ways to have a creamy and healthful soup. For instance, consider starting with a base of puréed vegetables. Winter vegetables — such as butternut or buttercup squash, pumpkin or even sweet potatoes — can be roasted to intensify the flavours, then run through a food mill, blender or food processor to make a velvety, creamy base.

Beans, puréed with a bit of broth or water, also make a thick, flavourful soup base. Use convenient canned beans, but be sure to rinse them under cold water to wash away some of the salt that is in the canning liquid.

Even tofu (the soft or silken variety) can be puréed to create a smooth and protein-rich foundation on which you can build a creamy soup with little fat and no dairy.

For this butternut squash and scallop chowder the secret to low-fat thickening comes from a snack food. Crumbled tortilla chips dissolve in the soup while it’s cooking, adding plenty of body along with a layer of toasty corn flavour.

Jarred salsa is another secret to this satisfying chowder, bringing with it pre-diced vegetables and spicy seasoning, which helps make it possible to get this meal on the table in under 30 minutes on a busy weeknight.

Plump bay scallops are called for here, but you can substitute chunks of almost any white fish and if you like, make the soup vegetarian by omitting the seafood altogether and upping the amount of diced squash.

Butternut Squash and Clam Chowder

• 500 ml (2 cups) peeled and diced butternut or other winter squash
• 500 ml (2 cups) medium or hot tomato salsa
• 1 can (398 ml/14 oz) reduced-sodium chicken broth
• 75 ml (1/3 cup) crumbled reduced-fat corn tortilla chips
• 500 ml (2 cups) frozen corn kernels
• 2 ml (1/2 tsp) dried oregano
• 2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cumin
• 500 g (1 lb) bay scallops
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) lime juice
• Lime wedges, for squeezing

1. In a large pot over medium-low heat, combine squash, salsa, broth and tortilla chips. Bring to a simmer, cover pot and cook until squash is tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Stir in corn, oregano and cumin. Return soup to a simmer, stir in scallops and cook until they are opaque at the centre, 2 to 3 minutes more.

3. Stir in lime juice. Serve with additional lime wedges for squeezing. Makes 4 servings

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