This soup consists of whatever needs to be used up in the refrigerator — the nearly forgotten onion half, the leafy center core of celery and those carrots that have become flexible but haven’t changed color yet. You can also add leftovers from previous meals such as cooked meat, vegetables and cooked grain.
If you are new to cooking or need a more inspiring way to prepare vegetables, this is a good one to do regularly. This meal may be old hat for regular cooks — people have been making soup with leftovers since the dawn of time; however I hope I can offer some new ideas as well.
The basic guidelines:
1. Go through your refrigerator every week or two and throw out whatever is clearly over the hill.
2. Examine what is left and put together a combination of ingredients that would make a decent soup. It’s okay to purchase additional ingredients like onion or garlic to ensure your soup really sings.
3. Chop ingredients and put them in a pot of broth or water and let simmer until cooked. Add a little salt and acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to taste and enjoy.
Here are some tips to ensure your soup tastes like an enjoyable meal, not a weird experiment:
- Be honest about which vegetables are still good candidates for the soup. It’s fine if they are little flexible, but anything that looks faded, wrinkled or discolored should be thrown out.
- Use a 2-quart or larger sized pot to cook the soup, and have some wide-mouth, freezable containers with lids to store leftovers. This soup is a life saver for when you don’t have time to cook.
- Chop about ½ cup of each vegetable to into bite sized pieces if you want a balanced soup that is easy to eat. Buy pre-cut vegetables if you hate to chop. A cup or more of one ingredient will make it the main focus of the soup. Think about how it will taste and whether you still have enough room in the pot for other ingredients you wish to add.
- Limit yourself to 3-6 different types of vegetables. Try not to use more than two starchy ingredients, such as drained canned beans (not refried), potatoes, yams or corn. Rice and pasta also count as starchy ingredients.
- Onion, celery and carrots are a classic combination and mild vegetables like green beans, potatoes and mushrooms work in most soups as well. Garlic becomes mild and even sweet when simmered in soup so add several peeled and chopped cloves if you wish.
- You can use ground meat or sausage in soup. Be sure to chop or crumble or meat into bite-sized pieces before adding it to the soup. Chopped pieces of boneless meat are a favorite as well.
- Cover ingredients with water, broth or a combination of broth and water. If boxed or canned broth has been opened and sat in the refrigerator for more than four days, give it a smell or toss it and start a new box. If you use water, consider adding bullion or add a spoonful of a concentrated paste like “Better than Bullion” which can live in the refrigerator for over a year.
- Add 2 tablespoons of an acid such as wine, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The right amount of acid will make the soup more flavorful, not sour.
- Let the soup cook for at least 30 minutes or until firm vegetables like carrots and potatoes become tender. Give it a taste before adding salt. If it needs to be saltier, add only ½ teaspoon at a time, give it a good stir and taste again before adding any more.
For More Adventurous Cooks
- Start your soup by placing chopped onion, mushrooms and two tablespoons of oil in the pot on medium heat and stir occasionally for 2-3 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms brown. Then add your liquid and remaining ingredients.
- Add 1 tablespoon of dried herbs or ground spices to the pot and stir for a couple of seconds before adding the meat, broth and vegetables. I love Italian seasoning, which is a blend of thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage. I also like to use a teaspoon each of cumin, paprika and turmeric. Herbs and spices lose potency with time, so toss any seasonings that are over a year old and purchase small amounts of your favorites so they are used up before the go stale.
- If you wish to add uncooked brown rice and dense vegetables like potatoes, beets or carrots, add them immediately after you add the liquid since they will need at least 30 minutes to cook.
- Soak a cup of dried beans, lentils or quinoa in a quart of water overnight in the refrigerator to prevent gassiness and speed cooking. Drain and discard soaking water before adding them to the soup.
- If you want to make your own chicken broth, place a left over chicken carcass in a pot and cover with water. Add tablespoon of acid and simmer for at least an hour. You can also add a few peppercorns, a cinnamon stick or a bay leaf for more flavor. Strain the spices and bones before adding the broth. Pick remaining bits of meat off the bones and add it to the soup.
- Think of favorite dishes you can replicate in soup form. I like pumpkin curry, so I combine left over cooked winter squash, coconut milk and curry powder to make a soup. If you love Italian food, then tomatoes, basil, zucchini and garlic would be a good mix.
- Let strong flavored vegetables be the main focus of the soup. If you have beets, make borsht. This also goes if you want to use a lot of a particular vegetable. If you have lots of mushrooms, let it be a mushroom soup. Look online and in cookbooks for inspiration.
- If you have any leftovers, pour them into in wide mouth plastic containers allowing at 2″ of space if you plan to freeze them. Fluids expand when they freeze, and using a flexible container with extra space allowing this space will prevent the container from cracking.
- To cool leftover soup more quickly, fill the sink with 3-4″ of ice water. Place the containers in the ice water for 20 minutes. Move the containers to the refrigerator once they are no longer hot. Do not let soup sit out at room temperature for more than three hours or it may go bad.
- Once soups are completely cool they can be moved into the freezer. To thaw soup, place them in a pot of warm water. The wide mouth and allows the slightly thawed soup to slide out of the container and into a microwave safe bowl or saucepan to be reheated. Soup can stay frozen for over a month.