We finally have a spell of chilly weather here in Los Angeles, so the soup’s on! It happens to be one of my favorite things to make. This classic comfort food is so much easier than you may think, plus it’s a great way to use up ingredients you already have lurking in your kitchen. Soup is an extremely forgiving dish since omitting or substituting a few of the ingredients will not make a huge difference to the end result.
If you’re watching your pennies, it’s also a great way to provide filling meals inexpensively. Get creative, and remember the combinations of ingredients you can use are only limited by your imagination.
Here are my basics to making “everything but the kitchen sink soup” when you want to use up what you already have on hand. Think layers of flavor, and seasonal. Here are the types and timing of ingredients to consider. Cook in a large saucepan or Dutch Oven:
1). If using meat that is already cooked, you should wait to add it until the end, but if you’re making a soup with raw meat – like ox tail soup, beef & barley, or chicken tortilla soup – start with browning the meat in a couple teaspoons of oil, and don’t forget to season with salt and pepper. Once browned, remove to a plate tented with foil to keep warm. The meat will not be cooked all the way through, but it will finish cooking in the soup later. You should end up with some fond (brown gooey bits in the bottom of the pan) that will add flavor to the soup.
2). Next sweat (cooking until softened and no longer opaque, but not browned) onions, peppers (if you like heat), and/or celery in remaining oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once the onions have softened, add things like garlic and/or ginger and cook about 1 minute. If using dried herbs and spices you can add them now to toast them, livening up their flavor while stirring until fragrant. If using a thickening agent such as flour you may need a little more fat (butter or oil), but it would go in at this point too. I don’t like adding the unnecessary calories, and will often rely on pureed vegetables to thicken the soup, if it requires thickening.
3). Then comes your starchy vegetables – potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables that take a bit longer to cook. Amounts will depend on the kind of soup you are making, plus any grains that require 40 minutes or more to cook. You should add partially cooked meat back in at this point too.
4). Now you want to add your liquid. If using any wine, liquor, or liqueur you will want to add this first, while deglazing the pan (scraping up those brown gooey bits from the bottom of the pan), and allowing the alcohol to burn off, letting just the flavor flavor intensify while it reduces (cooking for about 5-10 minutes to allow some of it to evaporate). Then add your water, broth or stock, and bring the soup back to a boil.
5). Now add any other vegetables such as green beans, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower etc., lower the heat to medium-low, and let the soup simmer for 20-30 minutes depending on how you like your vegetables, using less time for crisper vegetables.
6). If using noodles or pasta you will want to add them 8-10 minutes before the soup is ready. If using already cooked meat, you can add that in at the same time to heat through as the soup finishes cooking. Some fresh herbs I like to add in at this point, but the more delicate ones like basil I’ll stir in when the soup is ready. Cream and cashew cream would be added at this point as well. Adjust the seasonings (taste to see if it needs salt or pepper), garnish however you like, and enjoy!
Now was that so hard? Don’t forget that almost all soups freeze well, so you might want to consider making double batches, and applying the Personal Chef Approach™ to have homemade soup available when you want it later, with absolutely no extra work. For more about how to to preserve the original flavor and integrity of your made-ahead meals, or for those of you who prefer to cook with great recipes, and menu plans to streamline your time – please join here. For a limited time you can “like” me on Facebook, and get your first month FREE.
I find it fascinating how the different parts of the United States, and indeed the world, are known for various soups. This of course originates with ingredients local to the region. You might have creole turtle soup in Louisiana, clam chowder in Boston, or cioppino in San Francisco. I hail from Iowa, so I suppose I would make a corn chowder, but this time of year I like to counterbalance the decadent holiday meals with my secret weapon chicken vegetable weight-loss soup. What regional soup would you make to highlight your city, state, or country?