I’ve lost count of how many times I have carefully planned a week’s worth of meals for my family, but when the day comes to make the pre-scheduled dinner, my motivation dwindles. Usually, it’s because I’ve planned something like “taco salad” or “hummus and veggie platter” and it’s 3 degrees outside. On those nights, the only thing that sounds good is a piping hot bowl of soup. Not only is it warm and comforting, but soup is a great way to use up any “odds and ends” you may have in the fridge that you don’t want to waste!
Since the idea of following a recipe usually sounds tedious and unnecessarily precise to me (unless I’m baking!), I tend to follow a certain formula for how to create a delicious soup for my family. This formula should feed a family of five and provide some leftovers:
1 yellow onion + 2 celery stalks+ 2 carrots + 2 cloves fresh garlic + 2 boxes chicken broth + 2 cups fresh or frozen vegetables + 1 can of beans (optional) + 2 cups cooked chicken, beef or sausage (omit for vegetarian)
*You may also want 3-4 cups cooked pasta or grain (cooked separately) to ladle into individual bowls. Don’t add this directly to your soup pot or it will absorb all of your liquid!
Using the ingredients listed above, follow these basic steps to create your soup. More detailed ingredients and notes are found below.
- Use your soup pot to brown any meat you plan to use in your soup first, breaking it apart as you go. Once it’s cooked, set it aside and continue using the same pot (no need to dirty another pan).
- Heat 1-2 T oil in your soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, cook until beginning to soften (1-2 minutes). Add carrots and celery, cook for another few minutes until carrots begin to soften. Add minced garlic, stir for one more minute.
- Add any vegetables you plan to use. Add fresh vegetables first, cooking until soft (if adding greens like spinach or baby kale, wait and add these just before serving). Season with salt, pepper, and any other spices you plan to use (see notes below). Add frozen vegetables. Stir to combine.
- Add cooked meat and broth (add beans and/or diced tomatoes now, if you are using them) and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, stir in greens (if using), and simmer with lid partially on for at least 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender (but not overcooked). Adjust seasonings if needed.
- Add cooked rice or pasta to individual bowls, then ladle in your soup and add toppings (if desired).
There are some things you always want to have on hand if you like the idea of making soup last minute without much planning:
- Low Sodium Chicken Broth
- Chopped celery, carrots and onions *If the idea of always having fresh onions, celery and carrots in the fridge just doesn’t sound like you, then please feel free to use a tip my mother in law shared with me. She buys all three, and chops all of them up into a huge ziplock bag which she keeps in the freezer. Then, when she’s ready to make soup, she grabs a couple of scoops and she’s good to go. Don’t worry about the celery getting a weird texture when freezing, you won’t notice when it’s added to a soup!
- Fresh vegetables, perhaps leftover from other meals (zucchini, yellow squash, spinach, bell pepper)
- Frozen vegetables (corn, peas, cubed butternut squash, minced cauliflower)
- Canned tomatoes
- Canned beans (garbanzo beans, black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans)
- Pasta (smaller shapes work especially well, like elbow macaroni or mini shells)
- Grains such as quinoa, barley or rice
Using the above formula, plug in these quick swaps and you’ll already have 3 great soups up your sleeve! Happy souping!!
1 yellow onion + 2 celery stalks+ 2 carrots + 2 cloves fresh garlic + 2 boxes chicken broth + 2 cups fresh vegetables + 1 can of beans (cannellini or garbanzo) + 2 cups cooked Italian Sausage
Notes: In addition to the above ingredients, add 1 T Italian Seasoning (or more if you like), 1 can diced tomatoes with juice (optional; add along with the broth). Top with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty bread. If you’d like to add a pasta or a grain, mini pastas work well (like elbow macaroni or orzo) or Israeli cous-cous. Tortellini is delicious and will make the soup even more filling. Cook separately and ladle into individual bowls.
1 yellow onion + 2 celery stalks+ 2 carrots + 2 cloves fresh garlic + 2 boxes chicken broth + 2 cups fresh vegetables (use at least 1 cup frozen corn) + 1 can of beans (black beans or pinto beans) + 2 cups shredded chicken or ground beef
Notes: In addition to the above ingredients, add cumin and chili powder (adjust to taste, start with 1 tsp of each), 1 can diced tomatoes with juice (add along with the broth). Top with sour cream, shredded cheese and lime wedges. Serve with corn bread, tortilla chips, or quesadilla triangles. If you’d like to add a grain, rice or quinoa works well.
Classic Chicken Soup:
1 yellow onion + 2 celery stalks+ 2 carrots + 2 cloves fresh garlic + 2 boxes chicken broth + 2 cups fresh or frozen vegetables (feel free to simply use more celery and carrots, or even frozen peas) + 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (use rotisserie as a shortcut)
Notes: Use your favorite pasta or rice to ladle into bowls before adding the soup. Simplicity is key with chicken soup. You don’t need tons of veggies and spices, just be sure to season it well. Add 1 or 2 bay leaves along with the vegetables. If you prefer a creamier soup, feel free to add a splash of cream. Serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches for the ultimate cold weather dinner!