Making Soup

Happy New Year!! If you’ve made some New Year’s resolutions, at least one probably involves healthier food or healthier finances. Today’s blog will help you with both.

For years, soup was the refuge of thrifty cooks. There’s a reason places that offer free meals are called “soup kitchens.” With a tiny bit of effort, you can make a great-tasting new meal from leftovers, and it costs practically nothing.

I was at the market the other day, helping my elderly dad pick out some easy meals he can just heat and eat, and we ended up at the soup aisle. I guess I hadn’t looked at pre-made soups in a while. The prices were exorbitant. Why should a can of soup—not even condensed—cost $3.00? The ingredients are probably worth more like a quarter.

You do not need to buy canned or packaged soups. You can make your own. You don’t even need a recipe. It’s that easy.

Remember the children’s story about Stone Soup? The village was starving. A man came to town, realized no one was going to offer him dinner, and decided to take matters into his own hands. He put a stone into a pot of water simmering over a fire, and claimed he was making soup. All the townspeople were curious. They thought he was crazy, but maybe he had a secret. The stranger told them he’d be happy to share his soup when it was ready, but would they consider bringing something to add to the pot? Everyone did,. When they had eaten, they all agreed that the “stone soup” was delicious.

Making soup really does work something like that. You just don’t need the stone!

To get started, you will need some sort of broth base. Bouillon cubes are fine, but I prefer the paste-based soup stock concentrates. Use one cube, or one teaspoon of paste, per cup of water. (Buying canned broth is tasty but expensive; we’re trying to save some money here.) I often use some sort of canned vegetable juice. You can make your own soup stock, but it takes more time.

Take a large pot. Put broth in it. You can use all meat-flavored broth, a vegetarian version, or a combination of the two. Heat on the stove. Now, add things to your broth. This is a great opportunity to clean out the fridge (just check first to make sure nothing is growing green fuzz).

There is one rule of soup-making: add things that take longer to cook first. Then add already-cooked leftovers. You don’t want to turn your veggies into mush. (Or, maybe you do.)

If you are using raw beef or pork, the cheapest cuts are best. Just remember they take a couple of hours to become tender. I like to put a bottom round roast in my crock-pot at bedtime. In the morning, it’s tender and falling apart. Use some for soup, and the rest for other recipes such as Mexican food with shredded beef. I can get about a dozen servings from a 2-lb. roast.

If you are adding raw chicken, don’t boil it too hard or it will become tough. Simmer it gently. You can shred the meat after it’s cooked, or cut into bite-sized pieces.

Not sure what to add? Here are some suggestions:

  • Raw or cooked beef, chicken, pork, etc.
  • Slices of sausage
  • Raw, frozen, dried, and/or cooked veggies, any kind. (I particularly like the Italian veggie mix for making minestrone. I usually add onions, no matter what else I’m throwing in.)
  • Raw or cooked pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Chili or leftover taco filling
  • Canned beans; refried beans
  • Tomato sauce, tomato puree, diced tomatoes, etc.
  • Herbs and spices that go with the other ingredients. Don’t forget the garlic!

If you prefer thick soups, you can puree part or all of your concoction. Use a blender (be careful to hold the lid on, as hot soup can really burn) or an immersion blender. If your soup is too soupy—you were hoping for a nice thick potage—add a tablespoon or two of instant potato flakes or couscous.

To make a cream soup, use… yup, cream, in place of some of the broth. Add it at the end so it doesn’t boil. I splurge on the nonfat “half and half” to get the flavor without the calories.

If you want something you can grab and heat, make soup when you have the chance, and freeze some of it in zipper freezer baggies. The flat packages thaw quickly in the microwave (then transfer the soup to a microwave-safe bowl to reheat). Just remember that liquids expand when they freeze, and don’t fill the bag too full. I often make soups with extra-concentrated broth. Then I add water when I reheat them. They take up less space in the fridge or freezer that way.

That’s really all there is to it. Sure, there are specific recipes for making particular soups, and you can find some wonderful ones in my cookbook. But for a delicious, inexpensive, easy-to-make meal that uses up the scraps, homemade soup can’t be beat.

Do you have a favorite soup you make? What’s your recipe?

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