You knew that food you cook from scratch is healthier and tastier than prepared food. But did you know that it can be almost as convenient?
If you make soup in large enough quantities, it’s just as good for a later meal. And nuking a bowl of soup from your refrigerator is even faster than opening a can.
Some kinds of soup are ready in half an hour or less. Others have to cook longer, but even they require more time than attention. You don’t exactly need a recipe, either. As long as you know a few simple procedures, you can vary the ingredients any way you want.
Starting with olive oil
Let’s start with a vegetarian soup. I say vegetarian because the olive oil provides all the fat and flavor you need. If you have some kind of cooked leftover meat or poultry, go ahead and use it if you want.
- Brown some onions and garlic in olive oil.
- Add water.
- Add whatever else suits your fancy.
- Add some kind of seasoning.
- Bring it to a boil, then simmer until everything is cooked.
If you intend the soup as an introduction to a larger meal, fresh spinach and diced tomatoes make a very fast and easy soup. Basil or some other Italian herb makes a wonderful complement.
There’s not much point in listing other vegetables. Use whichever ones you like, as few or as many different kinds as you feel like. I have only one word of warning: wait to add quick-cooking vegetables like peas or summer squash until longer-cooking vegetables are almost done.
I don’t recommend using fresh mushrooms because I don’t like the color of the resulting broth.
What else can you add?
- Noodles, tortellini, or other pasta (being careful not to overcook them
- Quick-cooking barley straight from the box
- Any other grain that’s already cooked.
If you choose to make enough to freeze, my experience is that potatoes become really disgusting. A rutabaga or turnip in soup (or stew) looks and tastes like potato and freezes better.
Meat broth soups
For chicken or turkey broth soups, prepare the broth separately. Once you have picked all the meat off the bones of a whole chicken or turkey, simmer the bones (with whatever herbs and spices you want) until it tastes as rich as you want it. It’s best to add salt at the very end—just a little at a time.
The bones will collect at the bottom of the pot, so you’ll have to strain the broth and then discard them.
Besides chicken noodle soupor chicken vegetable soup, chicken or turkey broth can be the base for egg drop soup. Whatever else you put in it, bring the broth to a boil and pour in beaten eggs. How many depends on how much you’re making. The egg cooks instantly when it hits the broth.
For other meats—or if you want to use boneless poultry—put the meat in a soup pot along with whatever other vegetables you want. Cover it all with water and simmer until the meat is cooked. You’ll still have to remove the bones before serving this vegetable soup, but unless you use neck bones, they’re much easier to remove than chicken bones.
If you use a slow cooker, add the vegetables first and put the meat on top. It cooks more evenly that way.
I have only used beef for this kind of soup, but pork or lamb probably also make excellent soup.
Low-fat cream soups
These soups are low-fat because they don’t really have any cream in them. Different soups require slightly different procedures, but there is a strong family resemblance.
For cream of chicken soup, start with chicken broth. Add cooked chicken, perhaps some rice or noodles—whatever else suits your fancy. After everything is cooked, bring it to a boil. Thicken it with a mixture of 1/4 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every pint of broth. Then add a can of evaporated milk.
For cream of broccoli cabbage, celery, potato, spinach, etc.,chop the vegetables (or shred the cabbage finely) and cook them in water. Reserve the cooking water and add instant milk powder to it. Or use evaporated milk as above. Thicken the soup with cornstarch and water.
Actually, there’s a better way to make potato soup.
- Cut the potato into small cubes and cook them in water, along with some chopped onions. And garlic, if you like.
- Remove half of the potatoes with a slotted spoon and set them aside.
- Pour the rest of the potatoes, the cooking water, and some instant milk powder into a blender or food processor and puree it. If it’s too thick, add some milk. If it’s too thin, add a little bit of instant mashed potatoes.
- Return the puree and reserved potatoes to the pot.
- If you like, add some cooked corn.
- Bacon bits are good, too.
Add a can of clams, juice and all, to either kind of potato soup and you can call it New England clam chowder—unless, of course, you live in New England and know a good authentic recipe.
Here’s an alternative cream of cabbage with barley soup:
- Cook 1/2 cup of quick-cooking barley in 2 cups of some kind of broth.
- Sauté shredded cabbage (you can use packaged cole slaw), onions, and garlic in 1/4 cup of olive oil or butter. Use a good-sized soup pot.
- When the cabbage is soft, add 6 tablespoons of flour and gradually stir in 2 cups of milk. The result will be very thick.
- Add the cooked barley and broth to the pot.
- Stir and season to taste.
For cream of mushroom soup, sauté chopped fresh mushrooms in one tablespoon of butter or olive oil for every cup of soup you’re making. Add an equal amount of flour to make a roux. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly. In other words, making this soup is just like making gravy, except you use half the amount of flour and fat so that it won’t be as thick.
Bean or pea soups
How many kinds of bean soup are there? As many as there are kinds of dried beans (or peas) plus as many combinations as you can think of. They’re all made the same way.
- Soak the beans overnight and discard the soaking water. (This step is not necessary for lentils or split peas.)
- Put the beans in a soup pot or slow cooker.
- Add sliced carrots and chopped onions. (The carrots are more important for flavor than even the onions. I learned that one time when I had everything in the slow cooker before I found I didn’t have any carrots.)
- Add soup bones if you want, or some olive oil for a vegetarian soup.
- Cover with water and cook slowly until the beans are tender.
- Remove the bones, if any.
- Let the soup come to a boil.
- Mix some water, cornstarch, and whatever seasonings you want.
- Pour it into the boiling soup to thicken it and bind the fat.
A final instruction and a bonus
I have mentioned soup bones a couple of times. If you use anything very fatty, you’ll need to remove most of the fat before serving the soup. The easiest way is to cook the soup the day before you intend to serve it and refrigerate the soup pot. The fat will rise to the top and congeal. Remove it all with a slotted spoon.
The next easiest way is to use a defatting pitcher. On mine, the spout comes out from the bottom of the pitcher. The fat will rise to the top, so you can pour out the broth and stop pouring just as the bottom of the fat approaches the spout. Other designs accomplish the same purpose. Get a glass one. All the plastic ones I ever had leaked after a while.
Here’s a fast and easy tomato soup. I can’t think of any other kind of soup to make this way: Combine pasta sauce and milk. Heat and eat.
Now isn’t that as easy and better tasting than opening a can of concentrate and adding water?
If you have some leftover vegetables or cooked meat, add them if you want.