I’ve become acutely aware of food waste these days and am doing everything I can to avoid it. One of my favorite ways to use leftovers that might otherwise go to waste is to turn them into a delicious pot of “Quarantine Soup”. A steaming bowl of flavorful soup and a couple of homemade biscuits, a slice of fresh-from-the-oven bread or piece of freshly made cornbread makes a tasty dinner that doesn’t feel like deprivation in any sense of the word.
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I’ve always enjoyed turning leftovers into soup but I’m taking it to a whole new level these days. Last night I pulled a week’s worth of leftovers from the fridge:
- part of a red onion
- a couple of tablespoons of mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, green beans)
- a couple of tablespoons of California Blend veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots)
- about a tablespoon of chopped green onions
- a couple of small peppers
- a handful of grape tomatoes with slightly wrinkly skins
- a portion of Swiss Steak with about 3/4 cup of the tomatoes/onions
- leftover rice from two different meals (total of about a cup and a half)
- about a cup of leftover seasoned lentils from Lentil Tacos
I think the best soups start with sautéed onions so that’s how I began. In my Le Creuset Dutch oven I heated a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then added diced red onion. I cooked it over medium heat until the onion was starting to get translucent – a minute or two.
I then added the rice, stirring constantly for a minute or two.
I had an 8 ounce carton of chicken broth in the pantry so I poured that in, scraping the bottom of the pot.
I finely chopped the small piece of Swiss Steak and add it, along with all the rest of the ingredients.
I then poured in several cups of hot water, stirred and brought to a simmer.
Then comes the fun part – boosting the flavor. You may not need much salt when using leftovers because they have already been seasoned. However, you are also adding a lot of water (unless you have plenty of stock on hand).
Here is a partial list of seasonings and flavor boosters you can add to soup:
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- cayenne pepper
- black pepper
- chili powder
- minced garlic
- soy sauce
- Worchestershire sauce
- tomato paste
- hot sauce
- Italian seasoning
- Creole seasoning
- ketchup (a squirt of ketchup is great in tomato based soups)
- chicken, beef or vegetable bouillon
- parmesan cheese
- heavy cream (add just before serving)
Those are just a few of MANY options. Get yourself a tasting spoon. Using your large stirring spoon, pour a little into your tasting spoon. This allows you to taste multiple times without having to wash a spoon each time.
As you taste, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there enough salt? This is probably the easiest to determine. But don’t go overboard with salt at the beginning. As a soup simmers and reduces, the salt content will increase. You can always add more at the end.
- What about spiciness? I happen to love spicy foods but everyone’s tolerance is different so take into account your family’s preference. You can always add more spice via hot sauce, Creole seasoning, cayenne, black pepper, etc. to individual servings so gear it toward the preference of the family member with the least tolerance for spice.
- Does it taste watery? If you’re trying to stretch leftovers into a big pot of soup you might need a couple of tricks to give the flavor more substance. A tablespoon or two of tomato paste, a tablespoon of soy sauce or Worchestershire sauce, a couple of squirts of ketchup, or bouillon cubes are all ways to counteract a watery flavor. Use one or several, tasting after each addition.
To add more substance to a big pot of soup add rice, pasta, lentils, beans, or potatoes.
Consider keeping a container in your freezer for leftovers that can be turned into soup. That tablespoon of cooked vegetables leftover after dinner? It’s not enough for a serving but you can add it to your soup container in the freezer. The same is true for spaghetti sauce, tiny bits of meat, rice, pasta, etc. When you have a few cups worth, sauté a chopped onion, add the thawed ingredients and some water then start tasting.
If you’re new to soup making without a recipe this might seem a little intimidating. But keep practicing. With time you’ll be able to taste a simmering soup and know just what ingredient it needs. And even a lackluster soup can often be improved with a hearty sprinkling of grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Eventually your family will be begging for “Quarantine Soup”.
The only downside to this soup making method is that there will be times your husband will tell you how wonderful it is then look sad because he knows there is no way you can duplicate that particular soup exactly. This happens all the time at our house.
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