Mild-mannered neonatal intensive care dietitian Douglas Drenckpohl is a veggie warrior. He advocates on behalf of vegetables, especially the most downtrodden.


WITH SOUP RECIPES AT END OF STORY

Mild-mannered neonatal intensive care dietitian Douglas Drenckpohl is a veggie warrior. He advocates on behalf of vegetables, especially the most downtrodden.

It's a losing battle to crinkle your nose at kohlrabi, rutabaga, shiitake, okra, turnips, broccoli, Swiss chard or parsnips. Drenckpohl battles not only with science, but with taste.

He's written professional journal articles on the dietary benefits of vegetables. He cites empirical evidence from years modifying formula for struggling newborns. He used a puree of green beans added to formula to help local newborn twins surmount critical digestive problems. Today the twins, 4, are thriving. They still love green beans.

Drenckpohl spent the past few months tweaking and perfecting recipes for soup purees, elevating the most marginalized vegetables to star status.

He sighed mournfully when discussing the Thanksgiving classic of green beans, fried onion rings and cream of mushroom soup casserole: "It's not a vegetable! It's the transformation of nutritious, low-calorie foods into a high-fat dish with very little nutritional value."

For his Thanksgiving contribution to his sister's holiday meal, he plans to take his pureed corn and rutabaga chowder. His two nephews and brother-in-law are critical judges, but Drenckpohl feels confident this year.

"Great taste," he said. "Not overpowering."

During months of development, his pureed soup recipes were tested by colleagues in the neonatal intensive care unit at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Children's Hospital of Illinois. For the most part, these are meat-and-potato people. Their responses often sent Drenckpohl back to the kitchen for further tweaking.

His revisions often sent them back to the soup pot for seconds or thirds.

"They ate a lot of soup," he said about his research and development process.

When his recipes were perfected, he invited the children of colleague Deb Boisen for a final test. He knew the recipes passed the muster with adults, but were they kid-worthy?

Spencer Boisen, 4, and Sophie Jo Boisen, 3, arrived at Drenckpohl's place after a morning field trip with their day care.

As Drenckpohl prepared pureed tomato and eggplant soup for them, he suggested new parents break with the American cultural tradition of introducing babies to solid foods with fruit. He recommends vegetables first.

"When fruits are introduced first, children become used to sweetness," he said. "There is no reason to give apple juice. Start babies with vegetables first, and I don't mean just peas, carrots and green beans."

Diversity peaks interest, he said. Children and adults become bored with the same vegetable repertoire. He advocates expanding to broccoli, parsnips, eggplant, turnips, leeks, rutabaga, squash, red peppers, sweet potatoes and more.

A Drenckpohl credo: Don't flavor children's vegetables with salt.

"For kids, flavor vegetables with garlic or lemon with a little olive oil. Or canola oil, which is flavor free. Try herbs. Fresh basil provides a lot of flavor without salt," he said. "Parents need to avoid introducing salty foods to children."

Vegetables also help children feel full. On average, a cup of fruit is 60 calories but a cup of vegetables is only 20 calories.

"Children can eat fruit and in half an hour they are hungry," he said. "Vegetables, rich in fiber, help children feel full longer."

Another Drenckpohl caveat: Parents should avoid predisposing children against certain vegetables.

"Don't tell your children you dislike certain vegetables. Children mimic their parents," he said, recalling his nephews first reaction when he made them eggplant Parmesan.

"I'm not eating that!" both boys said.

"My nephews never had eggplant Parmesan, but they assumed they didn't like it," he said.

Drenckpohl took a pot of pureed potato-turnip soup to work, and the nurses loved it.

"I didn't tell them there were turnips in it," he said. "People think they don't like turnips."

His pureed roasted vegetable soup is especially loved by people.

"The high heat of roasting caramelizes and enriches the flavor of vegetables," he said. "Don't limit the vegetables you give children. When people only eat corn, peas and green beans, they get bored with vegetables. If your child loves macaroni and cheese, make it with whole wheat pasta or spaghetti squash."

He objects to the newest trend by food companies of promoting snacks that are, in fact, "mini meals."

Spencer and Sophie Jo were tired after a morning of running through pumpkin fields. Their mother, a neonatal nurse, apologized for some pumpkin cupcakes they had just eaten at pre-school. She said her children love macaroni and cheese. Spencer likes raw carrots with dip.

Spencer wanted to chase Drenckpohl's cat, Madison, who fled to the next room.

Deb Boisen marshaled her children and positioned Spencer and Sophie Jo at the table. The children eyed Drenckpohl warily as he brought them steaming bowls of pureed eggplant-tomato soup.

They examined the soup carefully. Sophie Jo was not interested in tasting it and slid back in her mother's lap. Spencer reached for his spoon.

"Blow. Hot," his mother said.

Spencer blew, licked the soup cautiously, blew more. Finally, one spoonful, then another and another.

"It's good!" he said, sensing the triumph of the moment.

Clare Howard can be reached at 686-3250 or choward@pjstar.com.

Potato and Turnip Soup

2 leeks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 lbs of turnips, peeled, chopped
2 lbs of potatoes, peeled, chopped
2 quarts chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Place butter in a large pot and cook until melted. Add leeks and onions and saute over medium heat until soft. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Add turnips and potatoes to leeks and onion mixture and cook for 5 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add chicken stock and garlic and simmer until turnips and potatoes are thoroughly cooked, about 15 minutes.

Puree in a blender until smooth or pass through a food mill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If too thick for your taste, add one pint of Half & Half).

Makes 6-8 servings. Per serving: 311 calories; 17.3 grams protein; 9.9 grams fat (28.6 percent of total calories); 38.2 grams carbohydrate; 5 gram fiber; 21 milligrams cholesterol; and 1,897 milligrams sodium.

Tomato and Eggplant Soup

2 small or 1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 medium onion, peeled, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 red pepper, chopped
4 1 pound 12 ounces canned whole tomatoes
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
3 ounces fresh basil leaves
2 quarts chicken stock

In a large pot, add olive oil and heat until hot. Add onion and cook until soft. Add red pepper and eggplant. Cook until eggplant is tender approximately 5 minutes. Add 4 cans of whole tomatoes with juice, garlic and basil leaves. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Puree in a blender until smooth or pass through a food mill. Then pass soup through a strainer to remove seeds. Can serve immediately or chill and reheat when desired.

Makes 8 to 10 servings. Per serving: 176 calories; 11.2 grams protein; 10.5 grams fat (53.9 percent of total calories); 9.1 grams carbohydrate; 2.7 grams fiber; 3 milligrams cholesterol; and 1,400 milligrams sodium.

Corn and Rutabaga Chowder

6 ounces Tofu Taco Meat
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled, diced
1 medium green pepper, minced
1 medium red pepper, minced
1/2 cup flour
2 quarts vegetable broth
3 pounds corn kernels
2 pounds rutabaga, peeled
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 quart Fat Free Half & Half

In a large pot, add oil and heat until hot. Add tofu taco meat and cook
for 5 minutes. Stir frequently. Add onions, green pepper, and red pepper (it's helpful to mince onions and peppers in food processor). Cook until onions are tender approximately 5-8 minutes. Add flour and cook until ingredients form a roux-like consistency.

Add vegetable broth and whisk to work out any lumps. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Puree 2 pounds of corn. Add to soup with remaining whole kernel corn. Puree rutabaga and add to soup mixture along with bay leaf. Bring to a boil then simmer for 25-30 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Soup can be chilled and served at a later date.

When ready to serve, simmer and add Half & Half to soup. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

(Can use chicken stock in place of vegetable stock. Also, may use ground pork sausage instead of tofu taco meat)

Makes 10 to 12 servings. Per serving: 428 calories; 15.6 grams protein; 12.2 grams fat (25.3 percent of total calories); 64.3 grams
carbohydrate; 8.9 grams fiber; 2 milligrams cholesterol; and 1,251 milligrams sodium.

Broccoli and Parsnip Soup

4 pounds fresh broccoli, peeled, chopped
6 ounces vegetable oil
1 pound parsnips, peeled, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
1/2 cup flour
2 quarts chicken stock
1 quart Fat Free Half & Half
Salt and pepper

Add oil to a large pot and heat until hot. Add onions and leeks and cook until soft. Add flour and cook until a blond roux forms, about 5-10 minutes.

Add chicken stock and whisk to work out any lumps. Bring soup to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Add broccoli and parsnips and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Stir frequently.

Puree soup and strain soup through a sieve for a smooth consistency. Can serve soup immediately or chill soup until later date. Before serving soup, add Half & Half and simmer until warm. Add salt and pepper until desired taste.

Makes 10 to 12 servings. Per serving: 352 calories; 17.5 grams protein; 18.4 grams fat (46.5 percent of total calories); 29.6 grams
carbohydrate; 7.7 grams fiber; 3 milligrams cholesterol; and 1,241 milligrams sodium.

Roasted Vegetable Soup

1 pound carrots, peeled, chopped
1 pound parsnips, peeled, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled, chopped
1 small (2 lb.) butternut squash, peeled, seeded
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut vegetables into 1 inch cubes. Place vegetables in a single layer on 2 sheet pans. Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper.

Bake for 25-35 minutes. Add vegetables to blender with some chicken stock and puree. Add vegetable puree to pot and add remaining chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Add parsley. Heat soup until hot.

If soup is too thick, may add more chicken stock until desired consistency.

Makes 6 to 8 servings. Per serving: 308 calories; 16.6 grams protein; 9.5 grams fat (27.9 percent of total calories); 38.9 grams carbohydrate; 7.9 grams fiber; 3 milligrams cholesterol; and 1,835 milligrams sodium.

(This last recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten.)