It's wintertime, which means soup is a mainstay at our house. I find soups to be the gold star winner for fast, frugal, and freezer-friendly. Sceptics may doubt that a soup can truly be a filling meal, but as my friend Jude said recently after eating a bowl of my homemade, from-scratch soup: "I feel like my insides are alive!" I often serve soup alone or with basically sauerkraut and creme fraiche. Read on for some tips and recipes on fast, easy, and frugal soups:
Soups are easy. They are forgiving. That's what I want you to take away from this post. You can make a soup that's worth your while; i.e., it will fill you up at dinner.
What makes these fast is that they can be whipped together in a very short time (provided you have done a minimal amount of prep and have the ingredients on hand). I try to be frugal with my soups and plan them into my weekly meal plan following some leftover-intensive meals. So, if I know I'm making a roast, steak, chicken, rice, etc. I anticipate leftovers and build them into the soup recipe. Even leftover veggies from a previous meal can be thrown in as is or pureed to form a thick, vegetable-based soup broth!
Here's my basic formula for a 4-step main-dish soup:
1) 2 Quarts Homemade chicken, beef, or fish stock, or water (more flavorful soups come from using homemade stock, which is very easy. I will devote a whole post to this in the future, but suffice to say, if all you can do is boil some leftover bones for 6 hours in a pan of water with a splash of vinegar and an onion, you'll have a workable soup base. We'll move on to more "advance stock options" in a future post!
2) 1-2 cups of something "meaty": Leftover red meat or chicken make delicious soups. Lentils or white beans also add a lot of "meat" to a soup. Do make sure, if using beans, to soak them overnight in a little lemon juice to help deactivate enzyme blockers. (Beans/legumes: 1 cup, Meat: 2+ cups)
3) Add 3-4 cups of veggies: As I mentioned above, choose one or more veggies based on what you have on hand (be frugal, use what you have!). Be creative! Broccoli and chicken can be great together! Using red meat? Match it with some red-skinned potatoes, carrots, and celery for a beef stew! Use leftovers or fresh; both will tenderize in no time!
Hint: The blend of celery, carrots, and onions is magical in soups. These three seem to give that classic, rich "soup base" that we all love and will stand in if you aren't using homemade meat/chicken broth.
4) Season to your heart's content: Decide what "taste" you're going for. For me, it's usually a choice between Indian (turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon,ginger), Mexican (cumin, oregano, coriander, chili pepper, garlic powder) or Asian (soy sauce, miso, or Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste, Coconut Milk). Sea salt for all of the above.
So, here's my basic process:
1) Boil Stock.
2) Add meat (if uncooked, allow to boil for 10 min. if already cooked, add with veggies) or beans/legumes.
3) Add veggies.
4) When veggies are tender, add seasonings to taste.
Here are some basic outlines I love:
1) Mexican Soup:
Stock Type: Chicken
Meat: Chicken (leftover from a roasted chicken, preferably)
Veggies: black beans, corn, cilantro, red and green peppers, tomatoes, onions
Seasonings: cumin, oregano, coriander, chili pepper, garlic powder
Bonus: tomato paste
2) Thai Coconut Soup
Stock Type: Beef
Meat: Leftover steak or roast beef
Veggies: red pepper, onion, corn, broccoli
Seasonings: Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste (about 1-2 tsp, depending upon taste)
Bonus: 1 can of coconut milk
3) Easy Lentil Soup
Stock Type: Vegetable (for fasting days) or just water
Meat: Lentils, red or green
Veggies: onions, carrots, garlic (lots of cloves!), celery, spinach
Seasonings: Just salt, but sometimes curry powder
Bonus: 1 can tomato paste.
Yield: All of these recipes seem to unfailingly yeild plenty of soup for 2 or 3 more meals. I always put any leftovers in old yogurt containers in the freezer. Soup has an amazing way of actually improving its flavor over time, so you'll be in for a treat when you pull these out of the freezer to enjoy!
Also, these soups have the added nutritional advantages of being rich in easily aborbably minerals and vitamins, protein, and healthy vegetables! The variety of spices you use can also be somewhat medicinal; and the fact that they are warm is balancing for our bodies in the winter.
Frugal menu planning tip: Try to plan 2-3 soups into your weekly meal plan (choice from the variety offered above, or create your own!) Once you have a good freezer stash, you can quickly access a healthy soup for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast! These are truly nourishing, but also very light on the budget.
In Conclusion: Obviously this post is not the end-all be-all of soup recipes; it's just my offering for fast, freezer-friendly , tried-and true simple to make soups. Of course there are much more gourmet soups, but I'll save those for another post!
This post has been part of two carnivals this week; one featuring Freezer-Friendly Nourishing Food and one featuring Real Fast Food. Please visit Passionate Homemaking and Kelly the Kitchen Kop, respectively, to see more Fast and Freezer-Friendly meal ideas!