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Bone broth is a hot trend these days, but it’s also one of the oldest foods on the planet.

“Women have been throwing bones in pots since the beginning of time, because they didn’t want to waste anything,” said Rebecca Katz of San Rafael, a self-described “soup shaman” who has written five cookbooks on healthy eating, including her latest, “Clean Soups: Simple, Nourishing Recipes for Health and Vitality” (Ten Speed Press, 2016.)

As a child, Katz used to perch on the kitchen counter to watch her Nana make chicken soup (yes, the recipe is in the book.) Then, she was singled out in culinary school for her soup and risotto-making skills.

“Soup has always been in my wheelhouse,” Katz said matter-of-factly in a phone interview. “It’s something that comes naturally to me.”

Her soup secrets — start with a great stock, understand the common elements in each soup and how they come together, taste as you go, and don’t forget to garnish — are simple but can elevate a simple broth from thin and watery to vibrant and complex.

In addition to being healthy, soup is also fun to make, whether you’ve just gone to the farmers market or are trying to clean out the fridge. And people always love it, especially with some crusty bread for dipping.

“Soup making is one of the most forgiving of all the culinary techniques, the most creative, and the most alchemical for health,” she said. “Whether you are vegan or Paleo or gluten-free or a French cuisine devotee, soup is the universal language. Period. End of story. You can never go wrong.”

In January, when you want to shed a few extra pounds while staying warm, slurping some flavorful, nutrient-dense soups on a regular basis can nourish your body in a deeply satisfying way.

“Any time you are drinking a nice warm liquid, you are hydrating your body, and it’s almost like that liquid elixir is stopping along the way to talk to every one of those cells,” she said. “So soups are a great way to keep yourself hydrated, which is a big thing for firing the circuits in the brain.”

At the heart of Katz’s soup savvy is her Magic Mineral Broth, the mother recipe that she developed over time, then riffed off several variations that incorporate other ingredients, such as chicken bones or coconut milk.

“It is the basis of all my soups … the fulcrum of the wheel,” she said of the broth. “It became a thing … and now it has this cult following.”

The Magic Mineral Broth — also known as MMB or simply The Broth — was born back in 2001, before folks knew how to make healthy food actually taste good, Katz said.

While teaching a cooking class, she came across a recipe for a healthy Potassium Broth. But after she looked at it, she knew it was going to taste bitter. So she started to perfect it with her culinary sorcery.

“I threw in sweet potatoes and garlic, and some kombu and a bay leaf,” she said. “I wanted some aromatics, so I added allspice berries and peppercorns, and loaded it up with garlic and leeks.”

The resulting broth had a rounded, sweet and savory flavor — without losing any of the minerals and trace minerals that made it healthy. The response of the students was so positive that she decided to continue to road test and tweak the recipe until she nailed it.

“It took me 60 gallons to perfect the recipe and six trips around the world,” she said. “I felt like I had 10 grandmothers channeling through me from different parts of the world.”

The recipe was completed just in time to be published in her first book, “One Bite at a Time,” which came out in 2004, with a revision in 2008.

The four variations on that broth came about when Katz was writing her second book, the award-winning “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen,” which came out in 2009, then was revised and republished earlier this year.

“The head of Ten Speed Press was dealing with a blood cancer, and I knew a beef broth was going to be helpful, because of the iron and the collagen and the marrow,” she said. “Then I did it with chicken, and when I was working on ‘Clean Soups,’ I started doing one with ginger and burdock root and shiitake mushrooms, so it was super immune boosting … and one with lemongrass and ginger for a Thai Coconut Milk Broth.”

In “Clean Soups,” Katz suggests that true soup fanatics make 8 quarts of Magic Mineral Broth a month and freeze it. Then they can take out a couple of quarts at a time and turn it into one of her tasty variations.

To help you along the way, the book includes a “Soup Tool Kit,” with pantry items, equipment, storage tips and a plan for a “Weekend Jump-Start Cleanse” for those looking to lose weight this winter.

Katz also outlines the common elements found in each soup — fat, aromatics, dried herbs and spices, deglazing liquid, vegetables and meats, broth or stock and finishers like salt, acid and garnishers — and explains how the fat, acid, salt and sweet work together to build what she refers to as the “Yum.”

In addition to the mother broth and its four variations, there are recipes for blended soups like Coconut Cauliflower Soup and Turmeric and Moroccan Carrot Soup topped with Chermoula.

“With the topping, you’re adding another level of flavor, and I’m all about dollops of Yum,” she said. “I’ve always given my soups an accessory … it takes it to another level, and you’re getting another level of nutrition.” The cookbook also includes Traditional Healing Soups, like Nana’s Chicken Soup with Zucchini Noodles and a different riff on the old favorite: a Latin American Chicken Soup with Greens that gets a little kick from chiles and limes.

The back of the book is dedicated to Soup Toppers, including some addictive Crispy Shiitake Mushrooms, Crunchy Kale Crumbles and Parsnip Chips along with the Polenta Croutons.

“I’m a crispy, crunchy girl, so I want something textural on top of my soup,” she said. “I’m a big proponent of adding more taste and texture.”

The following recipes are reprinted with permission from “Clean Soups” by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson, 2016, Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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“There’s a misconception that in Mexican cooking the only greens used are herbs, such as cilantro,” Katz writes. “In fact, gathering and consuming greens goes back centuries in Mexico. Swiss chard is a hugely popular Mexican green, and it’s the base green in this soup. This is like tortilla soup without the tortilla. It’s refreshing and invigorating, and after eating it, you’ll never think of Mexican food quite the same way again.”

Latin American Chicken Soup with Greens

Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced small

— sea salt

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes

6 cups Chicken Magic Mineral Broth (see recipe below)

1/2 bunch Swiss chard, stemmed and thinly sliced

1 cup cooked and thinly sliced cooked chicken (see Cook’s Note)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

1/2 avocado, diced, for garnish

— polenta croutons, for garnish (see recipe below)

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat, then add the onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, carrots, celery, bell peppers and jalapeño. Sauté the vegetables until they begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, and oregano. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the chard and cook until it’s just tender, about 1 more minute. Stir in the chicken, lime juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Serve garnished with the cilantro, avocado, and polenta croutons, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Cook’s note: If you don’t have leftover chicken on hand, you can quickly poach two skinless boneless breasts. The following method produces a delicate flavor by infusing the flavor of the stock liquid into the chicken.

Season the breasts with salt and pepper. In a straight-sided skillet, bring 3 cups of stock to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, cover, and decrease the heat to low. The liquid should be just below the boiling point, with its surface barely quivering. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and let cool.

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“From a taste and nutrition perspective, adding chicken bones to Magic Mineral Broth really kicks everything into overdrive,” she writes. “A hit of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or white or apple cider vinegar) is added to encourage the bones to give up their essential calcium and phosphorus.”

Chicken Magic Mineral Broth

Makes about 6 quarts

6 unpeeled carrots, cut into thirds

2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered

2 leeks, white and green parts, cut into thirds

1 bunch celery, including the heart, cut into thirds

4 unpeeled red potatoes, quartered

2 unpeeled Japanese or regular sweet potatoes, quartered

1 unpeeled garnet yam (sweet potato), quartered

8 unpeeled cloves garlic, halved

1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 8-inch strip of kombu

12 black peppercorns

4 whole allspice or juniper berries

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or white or apple cider vinegar

1 organic chicken carcass, or 2 pounds chicken bones

8 quarts cold, filtered water, plus more if needed

— sea salt

Rinse all of the vegetables well, including the kombu.

In a 12-to 16-quart stockpot, combine the carrots, onions, leeks, celery, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, garlic, parsley, kombu, peppercorns, allspice, bay leaves, lemon juice, and chicken carcass. Add the water, filling the pot to 2 inches below the rim. Cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the lid, decrease the heat to low, and skim off the scum that has risen to the top. Simmer, partially covered, for at least 2 hours. As the broth simmers, some of the water will evaporate; add more if the vegetables begin to peek out. Simmer until the bones begin to soften and fall apart, about 4 hours, or as long as you’re willing to let it simmer away. Strain the broth through a large, coarse-mesh sieve, then stir in salt to taste. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. Skim off as much fat as you can from the top of the broth (see Cook’s note), then portion into airtight containers. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Cook’s note: Here’s a trick from Ma’s kitchen: once you’ve skimmed the fat from the surface of the broth, you can remove even more by dabbing the surface of the broth with paper towels to sop it up.

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“Bread croutons are so yesterday, but these are a fantastic update, especially if you can’t eat gluten and are normally crouton-deprived.” Katz writes. “ In the old days, I used to stand by the stove stirring polenta forever. Now it’s so much easier, as precooked polenta logs are available in just about any supermarket. Cube ’em; add olive oil, salt, and spices; and toss — then bake. Best of all, you can make a lot because they freeze and reheat well.

Polenta Croutons

Makes 2 cups

9 ounces or 1/2 log precooked polenta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see Cook’s note below)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

— fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, or rosemary (optional), finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, toss all of the ingredients together until the polenta is well coated. Spread the polenta cubes on the prepared baking sheet, making sure they aren’t touching. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Cook’s note: Precooked polenta logs can be found in most grocery stores. I like Trader Joe’s organic polenta and Food Merchants’ organic traditional polenta.

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“The great thing about soup is that you can really stack the deck with a flavor you’re intent on bringing forth,” Katz writes. “I was looking for a lot of sparkle in this blend, a really big-tasting soup, and I found it with a huge hit of mint and ginger.“

Gingery Broccoli Soup with Mint

Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 yellow onion, chopped

— sea salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

6 cups of Magic Mineral Broth (recipe below)

2 pounds broccoli, cut into florets, stems peeled and cut into small chunks

1/2 cup of loosely packed, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon dark maple syrup

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat, then add the onion and a pinch of salt and sauté just until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Continue sautéing for 1 minute, until aromatic. Add the broth, cover and bring to a boil. Stir in the broccoli and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 minutes, or until the broccoli turns bright green.

In a blender, combine one-third of the broth and one-third of the vegetables. Blend until smooth. Pour into a clean pot and repeat with another one-third of the broth and the broccoli.

Then blend the remaining broth and broccoli with the parsley, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, maple syrup, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Pour into the soup pot and stir. Reheat the soup very slowly over low heat. Taste; you may want to add a pinch or two of salt.

Serve garnished with a drizzle of olive oil, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

___

Magic Mineral Broth

Makes about 6 quarts

6 unpeeled carrots, cut into thirds

2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered

1 leek, white and green parts, cut into thirds

1 bunch celery, including the heart, cut into thirds

4 unpeeled red potatoes, quartered

2 unpeeled Japanese or regular sweet potatoes, quartered

1 unpeeled garnet yam (sweet potato), quartered

5 unpeeled cloves garlic, halved

1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 8-inch strip of kombu

12 black peppercorns

4 whole allspice or juniper berries

2 bay leaves

8 quarts cold, filtered water, plus more if needed

1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more if needed

Rinse all of the vegetables well, including the kombu.

In a 12-quart or larger stockpot, combine the carrots, onions, leek, celery, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, garlic, parsley, kombu, peppercorns, allspice berries, and bay leaves.

Add the water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Decrease the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for at least 2 hours,

or until the full richness of the vegetables can be tasted. As the broth simmers, some of the water will evaporate; add more if the vegetables begin to peek out.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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