I’ve been talking about soup all month, including sharing some specific soup recipes with you (Toscana Soup, Butternut Squash Soup with Chicken, and Instant Pot Chicken Corn Potato Soup, which actually started as a Master Soup Formula concoction), and those are delicious, but let’s talk about what really happens at least half the time I go to make soup.
I open the freezer to see what veggies I have already chopped and/or frozen. I see what proteins I have – chicken, beans, extra meat that isn’t assigned to a specific meal. I check the fridge for extra veggies. I check the pantry for canned tomatoes, potatoes, onions, rice, pasta, or anything else that might work.
And then I throw stuff together.
Some of you are nodding with me right now. Soup is one of the best “lead with your heart” kind of cooking meals. And some of you want to know how many 1/2 teaspoons of which spices I add to that so you can maybe figure out the recipe.
Whether you’re a recipe cook or a wing it cook, it’s a good idea to have a basic formula for how to put certain foods together. I’m certainly not saying this is the only way to make a good soup. But I will tell you that my master soup formula has never steered me wrong.
Protein + veggies + tomatoes + broth + seasonings.
Let’s break this down.
Protein. This doesn’t have to mean meat, although in my house, it often does. But I’ve also made many delicious bean-based soups, depending on what cooked beans I have in my freezer. I tend to go mostly for chicken and/or beans, but one of my examples below is beef-based. Use what you have.
Veggies. The end of a bag of frozen veggies that’s a little freezer burnt? Use it. Random carrots and celery from your ingredient freezer cooking? For sure. An onion from the pantry? Of course. Whatever veggies you have, chop them up and throw them in.
Tomatoes. The tomatoes are optional, but they add a depth to the flavor. But I know some people can’t have them. It’s okay. I typically go with a can of diced tomatoes, but not always. Salsa, tomato paste, even spaghetti sauce work!
Broth. I make my own chicken broth, and we always have that on hand. I also save the drippings/broth when I make a roast in the crockpot, so those come in handy too. Whatever I have a jar or two of in the fridge or freezer. I usually just add enough to cover the rest of the ingredients. I don’t measure.
Seasonings. Depending on your ingredient choices so far, you might want to go for one of a few different flavor profiles. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Italian: Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper
- Mexican: chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper
- Basic American (think chicken noodle soup type flavor): dill weed, garlic powder, salt, and pepper
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. But it’s what I typically go with. They’re basic and easy, and again, I don’t measure.
Extras. At this point you can also add extras. Maybe a can of green chiles to a Mexican soup. Rice or pasta or potatoes can help bulk things up. And you can always add toppings or bread sides later. Whatever you have that you think would taste good.
Ready for some examples?
Veggie minestrone type soup. I got this prepped in the morning before a school day, and set it on a delay in my Instant Pot so it would be ready around lunch time. It included things that were extras in my kitchen – I didn’t buy anything special for this soup or plan it ahead of time.
Veggies: onion (pantry), carrots (fridge), spinach (freezer), half of a green pepper that my kids didn’t finish from a snacky lunch (fridge)
Protein: chickpeas (cooked and in the freezer)
Tomatoes: can of diced tomatoes (pantry)
Broth: enough to cover the rest of the ingredients (fridge)
Seasonings: garlic, salt and pepper (pantry)
I gave it 15 minutes cooking time in the Instant Pot to make sure the carrots and onions were nice and soft, because that’s how I like them.
Turkey vegetable soup. This was an instance of poor planning – I was making dinner and realized I didn’t have anything for Jesse to take for lunch the next day. Sometimes he has leftovers, sometimes I batch cook something, but in this case neither of those was an option. So I looked to see what I could throw together quickly.
Veggies: carrots and celery (chopped in the freezer), an onion (pantry)
Protein: a bit of ground turkey was in the spaghetti sauce
Tomatoes: a jar of leftover spaghetti sauce with ground turkey and veggies in it (freezer)
Broth: 2 jars of leftover beef broth from cooking roasts (freezer) and a tiny bit of chicken broth in a jar in the fridge that needed to be used up
Seasonings: none, but that’s because both the beef broth and the spaghetti sauce had been fully seasoned so there was plenty of flavor
I threw everything in a pot on the stove and simmered it for a bit while I was cooking dinner. I don’t think it was the best soup ever, but my husband had lunch for a few days and I made something out of basically nothing since we were actually out of both chicken and jars of chicken broth at the moment (unusual for my kitchen but it happens occasionally).
Chicken and veggie soup. This is a pretty typical combination for me to make when I need a quick lunch soup for myself or my husband.
Veggies: onion (pantry), carrots (fridge), green beans (freezer)
Protein: cooked shredded chicken (freezer)
Tomatoes: can of diced tomatoes (pantry)
Broth: 3 jars of chicken broth (freezer)
Seasonings: garlic powder, salt and pepper, Italian seasoning (pantry)
I threw everything in the Instant Pot for about 10 minutes and let it natural pressure release for 10 minutes as well. I also added some leftover cooked jasmine rice from a dinner a few nights before. Might as well use it up! I just stirred that in right at the end so it would heat up since it was already cooked.
Whatever your favorite soup flavors, and whether you wing it or not, I hope this post and my examples have given you the confidence you need to make your own soups from whatever you have in your kitchen. Using the master soup formula, you’ll have delicious results every time!
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