How to make soup without a recipe

Original post title: Soup, deconstructed

One of the important things to learn, when you are practicing Lean at Home, is how to not follow a recipe. 🙂 Why? Because you want to use up your current inventory (groceries) without having to run out and buy more.

A great way to do this is to learn the structure behind cooking, instead of just following a recipe each time. As I have said before, this isn’t the place to learn in depth cooking methods. However, as meal prep continues to be the number one challenge that mothers tell me about, we will take a look at how to make some good soup – knowing that the variety of what is in your kitchen, is different than what is in mine.

I almost always have an onion or two on hand, and onion is the base of almost any soup I make, so I always start by chopping it up and sauteing it in a little olive oil. By the way, I always use my biggest 2-handled pot, as that gives me the flexibility to add more broth or water or what-have-you. Once the onion is coated in oil, I add a little milk – just a little! Small known fact is that cooking onion in milk leaves the flavor but takes out the bite, which makes the kids in our family a lot happier.

As the onion cooks, chop of your other ‘hard’ vegetables. This might be carrots, parsnips, broccoli, and so on. The harder ones need to cook longer, so by doing it in this order you end up with everything cooked about the right time. I’ve found that if I shred the carrots in my Cuisinart food processor, the pickier eaters in the family don’t even try to pull them out!

Every time you add the veggies to the pot, add enough water or broth to cover them. If you’re using water, add a little garlic powder or other seasoning as you go, but only add bouillon at the end.

Once you have finished adding the firm veggies, you keep going on chopping and adding softer ones: celery, zucchini, tomato, whatever else.

Finally, add any really soft veggies like some chopped spinach or other green leafies. You now have a vegetable soup…but where’s the protein and starch?? Don’t worry, they’re coming!

Part of my minimum inventory is some cooked, frozen, ground meat. I really don’t mind what kind it is – if boneless skinless chicken breasts are on sale, I will buy a couple of packs of them, and grind, cook and freeze the lot. I don’t like working with raw meat on busy weeknights, so this way I can get my convenience fix without spending a ton on prepackaged expensive tiny single serve portions. It works just as well with boneless pork or beef, though, so whatever boneless meat that’s on sale is fair game for my KitchenAid!

Which is a long way of saying, at this point of the soup-making process I add a portion of ground meat – whatever that meat is. And depending on what meat I am using today, I use an appropriate flavored broth or bouillon to season it. My favorite is a refrigerated paste concentrate called ‘Better than Bouillon.’

And the last step is some pasta! I have found that if I use angel hair, my family doesn’t complain about me using whole wheat. At least…not too much.