Don't want to cook but want a good dinner? Soup to the rescue!

When I worked I just crawled home exhausted most nights, and then collapsed in a corner! Soup was my salvation then in cool weather; big main course salads were my salvation in hot weather. It's winter now, so let's talk about soup first.

Even now that I am retired, there are many nights when I just don't want to cook; and yet I want a meal that has both great taste and good nutrition. Soup fulfills both these requirements. It is also very cheap, and most soups freeze very well.

I'm not talking about little watery soups, but big hearty soups with some substance to them...soups that are a complete meal with a whole wheat roll or a slice of whole wheat bread. (Or even white bread, if you must!)

There are many different soups that are good for this purpose; I'll mention just a few:

  • Beef Vegetable Soup
  • Chunky Calico Chicken Soup
  • French-style Vegetable Soup - my current favorite! (Recipe follows.)
  • Lentil Soup - there are many lentil soup recipes
  • Split Pea Soup
  • Hearty Tomato Soup
  • Black Bean Soup - my recipe is here, down near the bottom of the page:
  • Hamburger Soup - ground beef and many vegetables
  • Ribollita - Italian-style vegetable soup with Italian bread.
  • Minestrone

There are many more. But even with only the soups I have listed above, you can have lots of variety and you won't be bored eating the same thing all the time.

First, a few general tips on making and freezing your soups:

1. Don't use pieces of potato in soup that you will freeze. Pieces of potato turn into nasty horrible cardboard (bad texture, bad taste) when you freeze them.

2. The more fresh veggies you can use in your soup (as opposed to frozen veggies), the better your soup will be. But hey, we live in the real world; not the ideal world. Sometimes I have to use some frozen vegetables, but I can always use fresh carrots, onions, garlic, celery, and cabbage.

3. If you put frozen peas in soup, cook them separately and just put them in the bottom of the bowl you will eat the soup from, then pour the hot soup over them. They don't reheat well, they get nasty, and they don't freeze well either. This way, they won't be in the soup that you either freeze or reheat.

4. To make the soup hearty, you can add a drained, rinsed can or two of beans. I prefer cannelini beans for this. My second choice would be other white beans. Dried, home-cooked beans are even better. But again: we live in the real world. Sometimes I have home-cooked beans and sometimes I do not. You can cook and can beans at home, but I've not reached that exalted state of organization yet. It would be A Very Good Thing to have home-canned beans and maybe someday I will. In the meantime, canned beans are fine if you drain and rinse them to remove most of the added salt.

5. If you have a food processor, you can grate up a pound or two of cheddar (or other cheese) and freeze it in plastic freezer bags. Then you just need to take out some grated cheese when you start heating your frozen soup. The cheese is put in the soup when you dish it out. This also adds heartiness to your soup.

6. I don't like to use plastic containers in the microwave. So I bought several small glass (Pyrex) containers of various sizes and shapes. One is just the right size to heat a one-person-meal amount of soup (for us, this is two bowls of soup per person). This is very convenient. Of course, you can reheat soup on the stove top also, if you prefer.

7. Soup can be frozen in the small Zip-Loc (or other brand) 'disposable' containers. In spite of the fact that the manufacturer would like you to dispose of the container after one use, you can wash them and re-use them indefinitely. They stack in the freezer, which is good. I have a lot of these containers in a 'one meal size'. Theoretically, you can heat soup in the microwave in these, but I prefer to put the container in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, then slide the soup out of the container, and heat it in a glass container in the microwave.

8. You can also freeze soup in plastic freezer bags. In that case, when the bags are sealed, put them all flat on a cookie sheet or plastic tray and freeze them that way. Otherwise, they slump down between the bars of the freezer shelf and stick to the bars. When your bags of soup are frozen, and nice and flat, then take them off the cookie sheet and stack them on the freezer shelf. You cannot reheat in the frozen bags - just put the frozen bag of soup in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, and then you can slide the soup out of the bag and reheat in the microwave (see #6, above) or on the stove top.

9. If you make a big pot of soup, don't wait for it to cool down naturally - it can take too long to become completely cool: this gives bacteria too much time to grow. Put the pot in a sink of cold water (with ice cubes, if you have them), and stir the soup gently. Replace the water with fresh cold water if it gets warm. Then freeze your cooled soup. Or put the pot outside for a while in the snow, if you have deep snow. (At the moment, we have about two feet of snow on the ground! That would cool a big pot of soup pretty fast, I think.)

French Style Vegetable Soup This is my current favorite soup; it is very loosely based on 'The Soup - French Style' from The Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon.

The amounts listed here actually made ten meals of soup. Each meal also included some kind of bread or roll, and often included grated cheddar served in the soup. Ingredients:

  • 2 very large onions or equivalent amounts of smaller onions
  • 8 small cloves of garlic
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 large handful of fresh green beans
  • 6 large mushrooms
  • about 1/3 of a small head of cabbage
  • 1/2 a 32-oz bottle of V-8 juice
  • about 1-2 cups of white wine (didn't measure)
  • 2 28-oz cans of whole tomatoes (or diced tomatoes)
  • 1 can of canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • various herbs - basil, thyme, marjoram, a little tarragon
  • tamari (also called 'shoyu' - a superior kind of soy sauce)
Pretty cheap! Very healthy! This is almost a minestrone - if you add cooked elbow macaroni, then it would be minestrone. It took about an hour's work. Well, I'll spend an hour to have ten nutritious and delicious meals meals any time. Warning: this soup is addictive. I've made it three times so far this winter, and will be making it again today. You can cut the quantities down, of course, and I usually make a smaller amount than given here.

By the way, this is one reason why I really love my food processor. You can cut all the veggies with a knife and cutting board and - indeed - you can do a more uniform and a prettier job with a knife and cutting board. But using the food processor makes the job go very fast. I don't care about pretty in soup; I care about taste. Obviously, if you don't have a food processor, slice or chop by hand.

OK, from the beginning, this is how I make this soup:

I use the food processor for every veggie in the soup (except the canned tomatoes).

Chop 2 large onions and 8 small cloves of garlic in the food processor, put them in a bowl. Slice two stalks of celery with their leaves (they were nice leafy ones too). Slice two peeled carrots.

Sauté all this in a a little olive oil. I do not have a large soup pot that will saute worth a darn, so I Sauté in another pan and then transfer everything to the large soup pot. I would like to get a better large soup pot someday.

UPDATE (10/26/07): I have absolutely beautiful soup pots now that cook very well, in four sizes too. They were on sale at Macy's (online). They' re stainless steel with copper bottoms. I just love them. I have the 3-quart pot (very small, came as a set with one of the larger ones), 6-quart pasta cooker (has holes in the cover to drain pasta), 8-quart soup pot, 11 quart soup pot, and a 12" wok. They were all on sale, considerably less than half their normal price, so I grabbed them. I'm really delighted to have decent pots - I should have spent the money for them long ago.

Transfer the sautéed veggies to your big soup pot. Add two 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes - if using whole tomatoes put them in a bowl first and quickly chop them up. Top and tail the green beans, then slice them. Slice a peeled parsnip. Add the green beans and parsnip to the soup pot. Add a lot of white wine, maybe about 2 cups.

Add dried Italian parsley, basil, also some thyme, marjoram, and a little tarragon. Also some tamari. (When I made this soup, I wanted to measure to be able to tell you how much of each, but I couldn't bear to slow the process down; my back really hurt at the time.) Add about one pint (two cups) of low-sodium V-8 juice (tomato juice can substitute for this) and some water.

Bring the soup to a boil, then turn the flame down so it will just simmer. Cover the pot and let the soup simmer gently for about 40 minues.

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Slice the 1/3 head of cabbage finely. Add them to the soup pot. Drain the canellini beans in a colander and rinse them with cold water. Add the mushrooms, cabbage, and beans to the soup pot. Bring to a simmer again, and let the soup simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes - just until the mushrooms and cabbage are soft and taste cooked.

Taste - add more herbs or tamari if you think it needs them.

Frozen peas: just a few. I don't like frozen peas when reheated, whereas the rest of the soup reheats just fine. So I cook the peas separately, and just put some peas in each of the bowls before I dish the soup out.

Add grated cheese to the soup after it is dished out, if you wish. Grate black pepper over your bowl of soup.

This seems like a lot of work, but I want to emphasize that you are making about ten meals at a time. It's really not that much work considering how many meals you are making and how good it is.

16 February 2007

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