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 pureed vegetables. Winter vegetables - such as butternut or buttercup squash, pumpkin or even sweet potatoes - can be roasted to intensify the flavors, then run through a food mill, blender or food processor to make a velvety, creamy base.
Beans, pureed with a bit of broth or water, also make a thick, flavorful 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 pureed 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 flavor.
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 SCALLOP CHOWDER
Start to finish: 25 minutes (10 minutes active)
2 cups peeled and diced butternut or other squash
2 cups medium or hot tomato salsa
14 1/2-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup crumbled reduced-fat corn tortilla chips
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound bay scallops
1 tablespoon lime juice
Lime wedges for squeezing
In a large pot over medium-low heat, combine the squash, salsa, broth and tortilla chips. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and cook until the squash is tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the corn, oregano and cumin. Return the soup to a simmer, stir in scallops and cook until they are opaque at the center, 2 to 3 minutes more. Stir in the lime juice. Serve with additional lime wedges for squeezing.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 258 calories; 30 calories from fat (12 percent of total calories); 3 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 37 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 23 g protein; 6 g fiber; 1,165 mg sodium.