Over the years I’ve had comments from folks who’ve said, “When there seems to be nothing to eat, time to shop for groceries, you put a great meal together out of what appears to be nothing.” As I finished the post below, I realized that these are some of my secrets to whipping up good grub out of “nothing”. Read through. Cherry-pick what you can use and add to your own treasury of secrets.
My “Almost Instant Soup”
Don’t you love a five-minute meal? One of my great kitchen pleasures is putting a meal on the table in just a few minutes and have everyone smacking their lips telling me how tasty it is. “Make this again!” I chuckle knowing there is little chance we will ever have this combination of leftovers and seasonings available at the same time again.
What I call “Almost Instant Soup” comes from your refrigerator. You probably have the makings for one right now. Here are some considerations.
Broth for a Base
With just a little forethought, a soup of leftovers can be a one-of-a-kind gourmet experience. If you make your own bone broth you already have the most critical component of a good soup. Got broth? You’re on your way to a memorable instant soup.
Beans and Grains
Next you need a leftover or two. That cup of rice pilaf or cooked beans is a lovely addition to soup. An addition of cooked grain or beans gives texture, weight and flavor, besides giving the appearance of a long-cook soup.
The soup pictured here has some garbanzos left over from a campaign of hummus-making. There were too few to make a stand-alone dish, but perfect as a soup addition. You can be very intentional with these leftovers:
- Every time you cook any bean or grain, cook extra so you can freeze the excess in small portions. Have a little stash, a variety.
- Keep them together in the freezer so they are easy to locate and inventory. Mark the dates so you can cook with the oldest ones. These frozen soup additions will stay in prime condition for about 6 months.
- Think outside the usual soup box. What about using wheat berries, rye berries, freekah, or quinoa? You could end up developing soup recipes that make you famous among your friends and family.
If meat and fish is part of your diet, it will take very little of either to make a big impression in your soup. Consider:
- Crumbles of meatloaf, even the scrapings from the baking dish.
- Chicken picked off the bones of a first-run of chicken broth.
- Bits of fish, like trout, that stick to the string of small bones and get thrown away.
- Left-over Thanksgiving turkey, especially the dark meat that no one seems interested in.
No matter how a vegetable is cooked, there is room for it in a soup. Even leftover mashed potatoes have a place. Use them as the thickener! In the soup pictured we added oven-roasted zucchini slices. It’s rare that any roasted vegetable becomes a left-over in this house. The pic documents that it can happen…occasionally.
With cooked vegetables remember:
- They are cooked and need only to be heated. Add them to the soup last.
- Cut the vegetables in whatever way makes sense as a soup ingredient. A couple of long spears of asparagus make no sense, but bites of asparagus do.
- Create the illusion of vegetables prepared specially for your soup. This is part of the trickery and the fun.
The concept of adding fresh vegetables to an already prepared soup is a rather new on in North America, especially for those of us who grew up on canned supermarket soup. Now that we have become more global influences like the Mexican soup, Posole, are causing us to consider the fresh vegetable option.
Among the most common fresh vegetable additions:
- Onions of all sorts, sliced, minced or diced.
- Tomatoes of every color, cubed.
- Cabbage of every type, very finely shredded.
Often your instant soup will have plenty of flavor by virtue of the seasonings used initially in cooking your leftovers. If one of your leftovers is highly seasoned, other additions should have little seasoning or complementary seasonings.
In the event that your soup is pretty bland, turn to your spice mixes and decide what to sprinkle in. With the pictured soup we added tomato powder and a bit of Cajun seasoning (here). With a bland soup, you have a blank canvas. Paint with bold strokes. Try something you have not tried before like Ras el hanout (here). It’s all part of the fun and discovery!
Such creative soup deserves a creative bowl. I’ve had almost childish delight picking up bowls and cups from thrift stores for this very purpose. “Almost Instant Soup” is usually lunch for 2 or 3 in our family, making it simple to to build a collection of “almost free” soup service items. When we get bored with them, we donate the bowls or cups back to the thrift store and buy some different ones. (A low-cost hobby.)
Garnish is such a finisher for any soup, even if it IS served in a thrift-store bowl. Not garnishing is like spending time on your makeup and then forgetting to put on lipstick. Garnish! It’s so easy. Most garnishes have a little flavor, so the garnish should sit well with the flavors in the soup. Some garnish suggestions:
- Seeds or nuts such as sesame seeds or pine nuts
- Paprika, sweet or smoked
- Herb sprigs like oregano, basil, thyme, dill, fennel, mint, and parsley
- Drizzle of cream
- Drizzle of olive oil, flavored or not flavored
- A thin slice of something fresh, like cucumber, lemon or lime
- Thinly sliced rounds of green onion or chives
- Edible flowers like calendula, nasturtium, or rose petals
Remember, garnish is like lipstick. It can work magic, but apply it lightly. Turn your “Almost Instant Soup” into a work of art, an edible one.
Have I made a point of how much fun this is, possibly an addiction? 😉