We’ve had an extra cold winter in South Carolina—it even snowed, which is pretty unusual. But that just means I’ve had lots of excuses to make soup. I’ve made Mock Minestrone with my New Year’s leftovers, Chicken Soup for when Mike got the flu, Potsticker Soup when I was craving Chinese food, Miso Soup when I needed an immune boost, and a concoction of chicken broth, garlic, ginger, sage, mushrooms, fennel bulb, and mizuna greens for when I had a 24-hour stomach virus.
I am a huge fan of homemade soup, mainly because of my mom, who is the Queen of Soup. You might think that’s your mom, but you’re wrong. My mom’s soup would make fun of your mom’s soup on the playground and send it crying to its mother, who isn’t the Queen of Soup either.
I’ve grown up with her various clean-out-the-fridge, never-the-same-twice soups. Sometimes they have beans in them, sometimes chicken, sometimes ground beef; sometimes they are just good old veggie. Sometimes she adds tomato, but they are always broth based. None of this creamy business or blended vegetable BS. This is real soup. And she usually makes her own broth from chicken bones, which means it’s extra healthy.
So I have had lots of practice eating soup, which makes me something of an expert on it. In fact, you could call me the Princess of Soup. And that’s good for you because soup is one of the easiest-to-make, budget-friendly, and creative things to cook, and I’m going to teach you the basics of how to make it. You will never have to open a can of unsatisfying, weird-aftertaste canned soup again.
Delicious Clean-Out-the-Fridge Soup
To start out, you need your base. I tried to think of a clever metaphor that compares your base to sports or music or something else essential, but I couldn’t so suffice it to say that this is the foundation of your soup. If you leave part of it out, you’re going to have some problems. It won’t make your house fall down around you, but it’s going to be missing something.
1. Soup Base
- coconut oil, olive oil, or butter
- some kind of onion (yellow, white, Vidalia, shallot, scallion, etc.)
First you’ll heat the coconut oil or butter over medium heat, or medium-low heat if you’re using olive oil, which burns easily. Add the onion and celery and cook for at least 5 minutes until it softens, stirring pretty much constantly. Add the garlic for about 1 more minute.
2. Raw Meat (if using)
At this point you’re going to want to add any raw meat you have, such as ground beef, stew beef, chicken, sausage, etc. This will brown the meat and add some juice and flavor to the base. Stir the meat around for about 5 minutes, making sure it browns on more than one side.
Next you’ll pour in your stock—4 cups if you’re making just a small pot, and 8 or so if you want a lot of soup.
Homemade stock from animal bones (chicken, beef, fish, whatever) is extremely good for you. I do use store-bought boxed broth if I’m in a hurry because it tastes better than water, but whenever I can I make chicken or beef stock. You ask for soup bones at the butcher counter—sometimes they will give them to you for free—or by saving bones from a roast chicken or other animal you’ve already cooked, and then simmering them in water in a pot on the stove or in the crockpot along with vegetable scraps like those bitter outer pieces of celery, kale stems, carrot peels, broccoli stems, whatever you have. I recommend cutting up at least one onion and adding it to the stock as well. You’ll want to cook the broth several hours at least, and if you’ve got it in the crockpot you can simmer it for several days and add water to replace the broth you take out. If you want a more straightforward recipe, check out the Perpetual Soup from The Nourished Kitchen.
4. Heavier Starches
Bring the broth to a boil, and you can add any uncooked ingredients that will take a longer time to cook, such as the following:
- chopped root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, rutabaga, etc.)
- pasta, quinoa, or rice (you’ll need to cook rice the longest)
This is also where you’ll decide if you want this to be a white soup or a red soup. White is just broth, and red means you add tomatoes.
- 1 15.5-oz can diced tomatoes for 4 cups of broth
- 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes for 8 cups broth
Once you’ve put in the stuff that needs to cook for a while, you can turn the broth down to a simmer on about medium heat. You want the liquid to be bubbling a little but not boiling. Simmering meat like this makes it very tender.
Now you’ve come to a very important ingredient. Bay leaves are part of the development of the flavor of your soup. In every soup she makes my mom uses a bay leaf or two (or three). A while back The Kitchn posted an article about how there’s no noticeable difference if you use a bay leaf or not. Now, I love The Kitchn, and they have a lot of other articles about how bay leaves are essential, so I’m going to forgive them. The bay leaf is a magic ingredient. Not the magic ingredient—you can’t make a great soup with just a bay leaf, but seriously, there’s something about it. If my mom puts them in every one of her queenly soups, you’d better seriously consider putting them in yours.
You’ll also want to add some additional spices at this point.
- My favorite soup spices are oregano, sage, and thyme, in that order. You can combine these.
- If you’re making a red soup, consider an Italian herb blend.
- Dried basil and parsley can also be excellent, though if I have them fresh I prefer to add that later on.
You should also add a generous amount of salt (think a tablespoon to start) and pepper (about a teaspoon).
Once your spices are in, you can let your soup simmer for a while.
6. Other Uncooked/Frozen Vegetables, Beans, and/or Cooked Food
About 10 to 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat is when you add the less-starchy vegetables—whatever you have in the house that sounds good to you, except greens, which go in last.
- In a white soup, I like stuff like carrots, yellow squash, fennel bulb, broccoli, corn, and mushrooms.
- In a red soup, zucchini, okra, and bell pepper are often good additions—and of course, you can overlap.
If you’re adding beans to your soup, now’s the time, along with any cooked leftovers you’ve got, from meat to pasta or grains to vegetables. This will ensure they get heated up enough but not cooked too much.
At this point you should taste the soup and make sure it’s salty enough.
Add whatever dark leafy greens you have (kale, Swiss chard, collards, arugula, etc.) right before you’re ready to serve the soup. Sometimes I actually put individual servings of about 1 cup of chopped or torn greens in a soup bowl and pour the soup over it. This ensures that you won’t have any soggy, overcooked greens if you have any leftovers. If you want your greens in the soup itself, mix them into the liquid thoroughly and then cover and turn off the heat, letting it stand about 5 minutes.
- Kale and collards are heartier greens and can be really good in red soups.
- Swiss chard and arugula are more delicate and are delicious in white soups.
One final note: while the purpose of soup is definitely to clean out the fridge, often less is more when it comes to something really delicious. If you keep it to two or three vegetables, one starch, and one protein source, you’re likely to have something with a distinct flavor that’s quite delicious.
I’ve got two recipes for you below, plus you can check out my Carrot Immune Boost Soup, which is delicious on a cold day with or without a cold.
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1 sweet onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1/2 cauliflower
- 1/2 lb. okra
- 1 zucchini
- 1 summer squash
- 4 mushrooms
- 2 cups cooked chicken optional
- 1 tsp oregano
- 2 quarts broth
- sea salt and black pepper
- Chop onion, garlic, peppers, cauliflower, okra, zucchini, and squash. Wash and quarter mushrooms. Shred chicken. Heat oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion and peppers and cook 5 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook 1 minute.
- Add broth and bring to a boil. Add cauliflower and mushrooms and cook 5 minutes. Reduce to a simmer and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Add okra, zucchini, squash, parsley, and cooked chicken. Cook until vegetables are tender, 10 minutes, and then taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1 medium onion
- 3 stalks celery
- 1 medium rutabaga
- 1 clove garlic
- 8 cups broth
- 1 15.5- oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 cup leftover starch: rice pasta, beans, quinoa, etc.
- 12 premade meatballs optional
- 1/2 bunch kale
- parsley for serving
- Chop onion, celery, rutabaga, and parsley, and dice garlic. Strip kale leaves from stems and chop roughly.
- In an 8-quart stockpot, melt coconut oil on medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook until tender, 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
- Pour broth into pot and turn heat up to high. When boiling, add rutabaga and tomatoes, and reduce heat to medium-high. Add oregano, salt, and pepper and simmer 5 minutes, then add starches and meatballs if using.
- Reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook 10 minutes, then add kale, stirring to mix completely. Cover pot and turn off heat, leaving pot on the burner for an additional 5 minutes before serving. Top with chopped parsley.