Did you love the story of “Stone Soup” as a kid? I did 🙂 I remember imagining all the ingredients that each person brought, plopping, one by one, into the big empty pot with the rock at the bottom … three beans … a carrot … two potatoes … and so on … I still love the amazing alchemy of soup. Start out with a bunch of ingredients that by themselves seem not that special — and by the time they’ve all combined in a big pot, they’ve become something that’s much more than the sum of its parts … it’s as if they make friends in there, and you can taste the vegetable love!
Making good soup can be one of your biggest allies in the quest to eat more veggies, eat better in general, save time, lose weight, make healthy food on a budget, feed a family, stock a freezer for an elder … you name it, soup is a life-saver! If you’re busy and need food to grab for lunches or nights when you get home late, start the habit of making a big pot of soup on the weekend; eat one night for dinner, then store the rest in serving-size tupperware in the freezer. Before you know it, you’ll have a freezer stocked with healthy choices for times when it feels impossible to cook.
Soup can be nursed along on a lazy afternoon as you slowly add one ingredient after another to a simmering pot — OR — with the right ingredients on hand from your pantry and freezer, you can throw a soup together in as little as 15 minutes. I always keep frozen vegetables, canned beans and tomatoes, and plenty of bouillon cubes, vinegars and spices to use in a pinch. So here’s what to keep on hand in your kitchen so you can always have a pot of healthy homemade soup just minutes away …
Kitchen List to Gather over Time:
- 28 and 15 oz cans diced tomatoes (or whole ones; you’ll just have to cut them up!)
- bouillon cubes or cans/boxes of broth — look for lower sodium; you can add your own salt!
- Bags of frozen vegetables (string beans, peas, spinach, kale, collards, broccoli, cubed squash, carrots … you name it!)
- Dried and/or canned beans (kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas …)
- Vinegars: try balsamic, apple cider, brown rice, red wine, ume plum
- Other condiments: things like soy sauce, mustard, curry or chili paste, Thai fish sauce, coconut milk, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers …
- Olive oil, coconut oil, leftover bacon drippings (I store them in a jar in the fridge — a dollop adds flavor)
- Dried herbs & spices (cumin, coriander, chili, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, turmeric (or a curry blend you like), ginger, garlic powder, black pepper, paprika, dill & cinnamon are good ones to start …)
- Turkey or chicken scraps left over from roasts — store in freezer (make broth from the carcass!!) Frozen pre-cooked sausage is nice to have. Also, I keep a block or two of tofu in the cupboard (it does come in boxes that don’t have to be refrigerated).
How-to-Build-a-Soup: The Super Flexible Basics …
- Get a big pot with a fairly heavy bottom.
- Put in a little oil, enough to coat the bottom — or a few slices bacon, diced.
- Dice an onion and a few cloves of garlic, and toss in, saute over medium heat a few minutes til soft. Grated ginger root works well here too. If you’re using mushrooms, slice and add now. Add a few tablespoons of spices — experiment!
- If you’re using dried, pre-soaked beans, add them now — a few cups — together with enough water or broth to cover them by a few inches. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer (just bubbling). Cook til beans are tender when you try one — lentils cook in under a half hour — chickpeas can take several hours. Check periodically and add more water as needed. *Tip: Don’t add anything acidic til beans are done — it will be much harder to get them tender!
- Meanwhile if you’re using fresh veggies, chop them up. Add in order of hardness — ones like carrots or winter squash first, tender ones like zucchini or bell peppers last. Greens like spinach or kale should go in at the very end; they barely need any cooking time. Add a can of diced tomatoes with the veggies.
- If you want to add pre-cooked sausage or chicken/turkey scraps, add with the harder veggies. If you want to add tofu, add with the tender veggies.
- When everything is tender and looking nice and friendly in the pot, taste. Now is the time to add vinegar, condiments, more herbs/spices, salt, a squeeze of lemon juice … taste and add, taste and add …
Okay, now for the reeeeally speeeeeedy version:
- Saute onion and garlic, stir in spices.
- Add broth/water, can of tomatoes, 1 to 2 cans beans, rinsed and drained, and as many cups of assorted frozen veggies as you want along with diced tofu or sausage if using.
- Simmer just 5-10 minutes until veggies are tender. Add vinegar and condiments, and adjust spices.
There you go! Soup! This version is the time to use time-saving luxuries like jarred pre-chopped garlic, olives, or sun-dried tomatoes — things you can just toss in and give a stir for instant flavor. If you want to add something fresh, use a bag of pre-washed baby spinach, arugala or other baby greens. These can just be put in at the end, and then turn off the heat. The warm liquid will wilt the greens without actually having to cook them.
Soup will almost always taste better the next day — again, something about hanging out together in the pot and getting to know each other brings out the best in all those vegetables and spices. If you’re filling containers for the freezer, wait til the soup is cool and leave an inch at the top of container for expansion. Happy, healthy, soup-making, folks!!