As the days get shorter and the holiday season gets more hectic, comfort food is more in demand. And there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of hot soup. Soup, paired with a side dish or two, can be a hearty, nurturing meal in itself.
No time! Need to eat!
But who has time to cook? Who even has time to wait? Never fear, there are ways to produce warm, wonderful soups that are meals in themselves. Most of these suggestions take less than 15 minutes to prepare and less than 30 minutes to cook. Make sure you've got a good supply of canned and frozen vegetables and beans, some prepared chicken or vegetable broth, different types of pasta, a selection of canned or frozen soups and a variety of herbs and spices.
Use a fork
Chili or bean stews come to mind when thinking about working with almost-ready ingredients. Create a mild vegetarian chili by combining canned white and kidney beans with chopped, canned tomatoes (use the juice) and some tomato puree, chopped fresh onions and celery. Season it according to your ability to handle "heat" with chopped bell peppers, chopped canned or fresh chilies, chili power, red pepper flakes or hot sauce. Spices can include cumin, black or white pepper, onion powder and garlic. Add sautéed soy crumbles (or soy sausage) to keep it vegetarian or add cooked, shredded chicken or turkey or ground beef. Top with shredded cheese and serve with hot corn bread and a green salad for a full meal.
Raid the freezer
Frozen meatballs or veggie burgers change soup into a full meal. Add meatballs or chopped veggie burgers (you can cook them separately or allow them to cook in the soup; either way, be sure they are thoroughly cooked) to canned or frozen chicken or beef vegetable soup, bean soups or cream of potato soup for a fast meatball stew. Serve with steamed or grilled vegetable blends and garlic bread. You can purchase ready-to-use meatballs or vegetarian versions made from soy or vegetables. If you are cooking a batch of meatballs, set some aside for freezing.
Frozen pasta is a great add-in to soups. Purchase frozen tortellini, mini ravioli or gnocchi and add to tomato soup or vegetable soups to create a pasta "stew" that is a meal in itself. If you really want to soup it up, add both frozen pasta and frozen meatballs. Lentil or bean ravioli soup, cream of broccoli with tortellini, vegetable-ravioli soup and cream of potato with gnocchi come to mind.
Soy be it
Low-fat tofu has the health benefits of soy and is a vegetarian source of protein. Silken or soft tofu can be used to replace some or all of the milk added to condensed soups, such as tomato or cream of mushroom. Simply stir and mix tofu into soup or puree (in a blender or food processor) tofu with a small amount of soup, adding it to the total amount of soup after pureeing. Tofu can also be used as a base for creamless cream soups. We like to blend tofu, tomato puree, chopped canned tomatoes, diced cooked potatoes and cut corn in a soup pot and allow it to simmer until a creamy tomato-potato chowder is born. If the mixture is too thick, it can be thinned with water, tomato juice, vegetable juice cocktail or soy milk. For a fast "cream of" soup, puree some leftover broccoli with canned cream of broccoli (or cream of celery) soup and tofu. With a little stirring, you'll have a thick, creamy soup that won't separate and can be used for low-cholesterol, high-fiber and texture meals.
If you've ever tried to perfect your soup stock skills and have come up short, here are some suggestions and tips for making the most delicious stock you will ever taste. My recipes are only a guideline, so feel free to add your own herbs and vegetables to make a truly unique stock.
Pasta e fagioli is an Italian soup-stew. Save broken pasta (such as lasagna) and leftover beans to use in this pasta e fagioli recipe. It's thrifty, flavorful and versatile. It can be made from just about any kind of pasta and beans, and can be made vegetarian by omitting the bacon and using vegetable stock. Serve half the batch for dinner and freeze the other half for when you need a fast meal.