20 Ways to Soup It Up -- Without Leaving the House

With the exception of a few places in southern Texas and Florida, the nation is under a severe shiver watch. Soup, anyone?

If you're worried about having the time (or the ingredients) to whip up a pot of soup after a long day traipsing through the tundra, don't be. Chances are good that you have soup fixins waiting to be noticed in the fridge and the pantry. Soup is not meant to be complicated or over analyzed; make do with what you have on hand and you'll be delighted by the results, I promise you.

Okay, you argue; I've got a pantry full of soup stuff. But how do I get started, and more importantly, how do I get -- and stay-- inspired? It looks like this arctic blast isn't going away anytime soon, and the same soup day after day could get old real fast.

I am nodding my head in agreement, and I am feeling your pain. This is why I've compiled the following handy-dandy list of 20 ways to get your soup groove on, using ingredients already tucked away in your larder. Twenty different soups should take us into late February, give or take a few days, and if our teeth are still chattering, I'll book us all a flight to Cancun. Deal?

Here's how the list works: These are not recipes, but guidelines. That means amounts are not exact and cooking times are estimated. All suggestions assume seasoning with salt and pepper before serving, unless otherwise noted. And another thing: Everybody's pantry looks different. Don't bust my chops because I've suggested a can of Thai curry paste; some of you have it, some of you don't, and if you're curious, you can pick some up at your supermarket or nearest Asian grocery for less than a buck. And that comes to my main point: This is an opportunity to play, improvise and have fun. Imagine you're a contestant on "Iron Chef" and you've got to get dinner on the table in under an hour without a trip to the market. Come on, go for it! If nothing else, this exercise will make you forget about the cold for an hour.

And yes please, add your thoughts and ideas to the list in the comments area below. We all need more than 20 ideas, particularly for the poor souls in snow-covered Buffalo and the Siberian state of Minnesota.

Today is chat day; join me at Noon ET for What's Cooking.

Soup's on below the jump.

1. Sweet potato: Boil three peeled sweet potatoes, quartered, until fork tender. Puree, using cooking liquid, until smooth, Add a chipotle chile in adobo sauce, smidge of honey, a squeeze of ½ lime, puree.

2. Southeast Asian-style variation: Sweet potato, use half a can of coconut milk, plus water for cooking, plus some very finely chopped lemongrass and a few tablespoons of Thai red curry paste. Simmer until sweet potatoes are tender. Puree or leave as is. Tofu is a nice addition to broth-y version. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

3. Potato: Boil three-five medium peeled waxy potatoes, with one cleaned, chopped leek, 2 whole peeled garlic cloves, until potatoes are fork tender. Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme if available. Remove herb sprigs, if using, , and puree until smooth. Add ½ bunch fresh parsley , the juice of ½ lemon. Cayenne and/or paprika is nice here. Substitute a quartered onion for a leek.

4. Parsnip-y variation: Add 2 chopped parsnips, replace leek with a quartered shallot, replace black pepper with white pepper. Spritz lemon just before serving, with chopped minced rosemary.

5. Portuguese-style variation: Simmer potatoes in chicken stock. In a separate skillet, cook sausage until brown. Remove, and reserve. Add a splash of white wine or a spoonful of stock to deglaze, add onions, garlic, chiles if desired and chopped, stemmed kale. Toss to coat with seasoning, then add contents of skillet to saucepan with potatoes and bring up to a boil. Cook until potatoes are fork tender. Add sausage.

6. Broccoli: Separate florets from stems and coarsely chop stems. Place in saucepan. Add a quartered medium onion, 3-5 garlic cloves, 1-inch hunk of peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped. Add just enough water to barley cover. Bring up to a boil, simmer until stems are fork tender. Puree until smooth, add cayenne to taste, as well as small amounts of cumin and coriander.

7. Cauliflower: Boil florets in water or stock, with one medium or 2 small peeled waxy potatoes, quartered. Add a quartered onion, a few cloves of garlic, a parmigiano rind if you have. Cook til fork tender, remove herb sprigs, rinds. Puree until smooth. Add dairy or plain soy milk - this is one of the few purees that benefit from dairy or a soy equivalent. Season with grated nutmeg and small amounts of cayenne; garnish with bread crumbs and/or grated parmigiano.

8. Chicken Rice: Can of your favorite commercial low sodium or sodium-free chicken stock, in a saucepan with a thumb-sized hunk of peeled ginger, a whole peeled garlic clove. Bring up to a simmer, and allow broth to infuse with aromatics for about 15 minutes, over low heat. Meanwhile cook your favorite grain - rice, quinoa, pearl barley, and keep on standby. Steam your favorite quick-cooking green in the chicken stock - spinach, tatsoi, bok choy leaves, baby kale - for 1-2 minutes. Spoon grain in soup, pour stock and greens on top. Season with soy sauce or fish sauce, spritz with sesame oil, garnish with sesame seeds. A squirt of chile sauce is nice, too.

9. Chicken rice variation : Fry an egg, cut into strips and top over rice. Maybe you've got some leftover chicken from last night's dinner. Add it to the mix.

10. Chicken rice -- vegetarian variation: Make a quick veggie stock with a quartered onion, 2 whole peeled garlic cloves, that hunk of peeled ginger. Bring up to a boil, simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain and use as soup base.

In addition to greens, add diced tofu. In addition to sesame oil and seeds, chopped scallions are a tasty garnish here.

11. White bean puree: In a saucepan, cook ½ chopped onion and 1-2 cloves chopped garlic in olive oil. Add ½ chopped seeded chile, if you like it hot. Cook until onions are soft, about 3-4 minutes, then add 1-2 cans of drained white beans and enough of your favorite canned stock to cover. Add a sprig of rosemary and cook until at a lively simmer. Remove rosemary, and puree until desired consistency. Add a few strips of roasted red pepper for beautiful color and richness. Add more liquid as necessary. Return to pot, and warm until ready to serve. Garnish with olive oil and coarse salt. Croutons are nice here as well.

12. White bean variation: Chopped ham and/or bacon cooked with onions and garlic. Remove meat, reserve as garnish. Cook beans and broth together, add chopped bok choy, garnish with ½ lemon and chopped fresh cilantro and/or parsley.

13. Canned chickpea concoction with an Indian twist:
Cook onion, garlic, ginger and chile in oil. Add ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne, and stir with a wooden spoon. Add drained chickpeas, stir to coat, and add a 28-ounce can of tomato puree or chopped tomatoes. Bring up to a boil, then cook at a simmer, until desired texture. Garnish with toasted caraway or cumin seeds.

14. Chick pea variation, with lots of lemon and garlic: Cook 6-8 cloves of chopped garlic and an onion in oil. Add chopped fresh chile or red pepper flakes. Add 2 cans of drained chickpeas, stir to coat, then add choice of stock (enough to cover - at least six cups). Bring to a boil, then on a simmer, add one bunch of chard and cook til tender, about 10 minutes. Squeeze the juice of 2 lemons at end. For bulk, add pearl barley or orzo when adding chickpeas.

15. Variation, on a variation: Use spinach instead of chard; garnish with pine nuts and a smidge of feta cheese.

16. A carrot-y thing: In a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over medium heat, cook onions and/or leeks until soft, then add a handful of peeled chopped carrots. Cover with stock of choice. Add a bay leaf. Bring up to a boil, then cook at a simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Puree; season with cayenne or smoked paprika, ground ginger. In a separate skillet, toast caraway seeds or cumin seeds in a smidge of oil. Add seeds to warmed puree. Good garnishes include chopped fresh parsley or finely minced sage. I also like a little roasted garlic here.

17. Mushroom-barley combo: In oil, cook diced shallots (or onions), garlic and thyme, and cook until soft and a bit golden.

Add about one pound mushrooms (preferably mixed) and allow to brown. (Avoid pouring into one heap, as they'll be crowded and steam rather than saute). When mushrooms are good and brown, feel free to add a little red wine, sherry or stock to loosen anything stuck to bottom of pan. Add stock (water is acceptable, but your favorite veggie broth is good too), ½ cup of pearl barley, bring up to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook until barley is tender, at least 45 minutes.

18. Winter squash puree: Peel, seed and dice your favorite variety. Throw in a quartered onion, lots of thyme and/or rosemary sprigs. Add water, stock of choice. Cook until squash is tender, about 30 minutes. Puree; season with a smidge of cayenne or smoked paprika .

19. Squash variation: With liquid, add a can of diced tomatoes. When squash is tender, add a bunch of cleaned spinach, kale or chard leaves, torn, and allow to cook 5 minutes. For more bulk, add a can of white beans and cook for an additional ten minutes. Garnish: grated cheese of choice.

20. Canned tomato goodie: In a saucepan with a few tablespoons of oil, cook chopped onion, garlic and bell pepper. Add celery if this is of interest. When onions are soft, add a 28-ounce of your favorite canned whole tomatoes. For extra flavor, a splash of wine is nice here. For brothier results, either add water, stock or an additional can of tomatoes. For bulk, add ½ cup orzo or barley to the broth and allow to cook. Orzo will take about 15 minutes; barley takes at least 45 minutes. Possible add-ons: grated cheese, chopped anchovies, capers, chopped fresh parsley.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 22, 2008; 10:51 AM ET Hot Pot , Winter
Previous: A Feast Fit for King | Next: Chat Leftovers: Peeling Ginger and "Lost" Cuisine


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I am going to print this out and put it on my fridge! I love sop and am very excited to try out some of these variations.

Now, what about dried mushrooms? I love reconstituting dried shiitakes and using the soaking water to add flavor to soup and rice. Maybe I'll experiment with those, too.

Posted by: Violet | January 22, 2008 11:26 AM

How fitting since January is National Soup Month! My favorite quick soup is frozen corn in broth with chili garlic sauce stirred in. It's especially good partially pureed and with a bit of coconut milk.

Posted by: mollyjade | January 22, 2008 11:27 AM

When I feel lazy, I mix some marina sauce with chicken stock and then add cooked pasta and white beans - instant pasta e fagioli.

Posted by: Kelly | January 22, 2008 11:31 AM

Thanks, Kim, for your generosity and creativity. This has good ideas simmering in my head and warm thoughts swirling.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 22, 2008 12:23 PM

You inspired me! Tomato soup simmers as I type. Half an onion, limp celery, a carrot, garlic, a can of diced tomatoes and some left over chicken stock. Add a few spices and lunch will be ready shortly.

Posted by: fraley | January 22, 2008 12:43 PM

This got cut off during the chat, but a great way to incorporate apples into soup is in Curried Cauliflower w/ Apples -- Basically, sautee cauliflower florets and chopped peeled apples in tiny bit of oil along w/ some curry & garam masala. Then, right as the veggies are all coated, smelling aromatic w/ the curry, and starting to stick, add veggie stock, bring to a boil and simmer until everything is tender. Then puree. Delicious!

Posted by: Bloomingdale DC | January 22, 2008 1:08 PM

A 15 minute soup for you... sauted onion, frozen corn, cumin, chili powder, veggie broth, jar of salsa (if you want your soup spicier use medium or hot salsa). Heat 5-10 minutes, add 1 c milk and 8 oz cream cheese. You could use half-half,instead of the cream cheese but once I didn't have any on hand, but I always have fat free cream cheese, so I substituted and from then on I find something lacking without the cream cheese.

Posted by: Julie | January 22, 2008 1:18 PM

This month's Martha Stewart Living has a great article (similar idea) with 20 different pureed vegetable soups. Easy, low maintenance, I'd recommend it. :) Thanks for everything, Kim. Your suggestions and ideas seem to fit the weather and our moods perfectly! Enjoy your time off. (We'll miss your blogs and chats!)

Posted by: Betsy | January 22, 2008 1:35 PM

A follow up from your chat for things to do with ground turkey. My favorite is what I call faux moussaka. Saute ground turkey and chopped onions in olive oil. Add tomato sauce, salt and a bit of ground cinnamon and cook down. Put mixture in the bottom of an oiled baking dish. Make a medium white sauce, remove from heat and stir in some grated Parmesan cheese. While doing this, cook some macaroni. Combine macaroni with white sauce and pour over the turkey mixture. Bake in a medium oven till bubbly.

And if you have leftovers and a cat well... (We recently brought home a shelter cat that had been a stray. Apparently, she had once been someone's little princess and seems to have been fed only table scraps. I don't know how she survived in the shelter. She nearly exploded in happiness when I finally gave her some faux moussaka turkey mixture.)

About soup - my husband doesn't like pureed soups. He likes soup with stuff in it. Any ideas would be gratefully received since I'm not much of a soup person and lack soup imagination.

Posted by: Fran | January 22, 2008 1:37 PM

For Fran:

Soup with stuff in it (and easy to do):

1. Sautee for 1 minute minced garlic & 4 links chicken/turkey sausage. Add 2 cups broth (veggie, chicken, half of one and half water if you like), one can rinsed/drained canellini beans. Boil. Add several handfuls of fresh spinach (or kale), salt, pepper, red pepper flakes all to taste. Bring to a boil, then cover for 5 minutes on lower heat until spinach wilts. Yum!

2. Bring 2 cups broth (I use chicken, can certain use veggie) to a boil. Add tortellini or tortelloni. When pasta float to top, add several handfuls of spinach & finely grated parmesan cheese. Cover and simmer until spinach is wilted.


Posted by: soupson | January 22, 2008 2:48 PM

Great idea. One of my favorite soups is butternut squash!!

Since you'll be stuck inside anyway, take your time in making it.

Roast butternut in oven for 15-20 minutes. Sauté onion in a large pot with butter over medium heat. Add in garlic, thyme, and sage. Once onions carmelize, add in roasted squash and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes of until everything is very tender.Puree the soup until completely smooth in a blender. Add milk and nutmeg and stir.

I share this from a friend of mine who just prepared and it looked really good...



Posted by: Flanboyant Eats | January 22, 2008 4:51 PM


Love the soup ideas! If anyone has a recipe for a tangy lemony spicy vegetable soup (with some Thai influence - lemongrass, Thai basil...) please do share!

I had this soup at a restaurant in Las Vegas and wish I had the recipe. It had carrots and green onions and potatoes in a really tangy broth.

Thanks so much.

Posted by: Craving Thai Soup | January 22, 2008 5:24 PM

Not quite the quick easy soup, but I found a delicious way to make a vegetarian onion soup so that you won't miss the beef broth. I made my stock using dried porcini mushrooms instead of beef (and various random veggies, like onion, garlic, parsnip, parsley, and a little tomato). Carmelized mixed onions (Vidalia, red and yellow) in olive oil with basil and oregano. Mixed together. Was told by several people (including one carniverous eater) that it was the best onion soup they had ever had.

Posted by: dadwannabe | January 22, 2008 7:13 PM

this is a perfect time of year for sweet and sour cabbage soup..

i do a very quick version, enough for 1-2 people, with 3-4 cups of chopped cabbage, 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes, a Tbsp of some type of vinegar, a Tbsp of lemon juice, a cube of chicken bouillion, some smoky sausage or bacon. brown sugar to taste.

toss out the cube of seasoning and use good beef, chicken, or vegetable broth if you want, but i find the cabbage and tomatoes give up enough liquid for my purposes.

Posted by: cabbage soup | January 22, 2008 11:34 PM

Hey Kim,

Down here in SA have to read your chats in transcript. What's up with 15th? Seems to have only a single post?

Posted by: Andrew - SA | January 23, 2008 6:58 AM

My husband, not a soup lover, adores what I call "clean out the fridge" soup.

I use ground turkey, but ground beef or chicken is always good.

Brown the meat with some onions and garlic. Add stock or water and some wine.

Proceed to clean out your fridge. Any little smidge of leftover veggies you have left over is perfectly fine, or throw in some frozen ones.

Add a can of crushed tomatoes and perhaps a little barley or rice.

Season with whatever herbs you like - they're almost all good.

Simmer and serve.

Posted by: Judi | January 23, 2008 8:22 AM

Hi Kim,
I am just sitting here finishing up a black bean soup I made in under a half hour last night. I had no time to make dinner because I had my book club, our book took place in the Southwest..
Saute a med onion in olive oil till translucent. add diced red pepper, cook till soft. add 3 crushed garlic cloves-more or less- and butternut squash cubes. Cook till browned. take the squash out and puree with a can of black beans and water. Add to the soup a cup of veg stock, 3 more cans of drained black beans and some water. Put the butternut quash back in (no one will know ) add cumin, coriander, cayenne,maybe some wine, and a bag of frozen corn. Simmer until well blended and warm.

Stay warm

Posted by: valvoci | January 23, 2008 1:22 PM

I was inspired by your post to make some lentil soup with sweet potatoes, onion, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, kicked up with some garlic pepper and red pepper flakes. Yum!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 23, 2008 5:00 PM

When I cook dinner I always make dishes that are at least four servings. Two each for my partner and me for dinner and then lunch the next day. I love to have a homecooked meal for lunch instead of buying a salad or sandwich. But when I was working from home for a year I would enjoy taking my lunch break to transform my leftover meal into either homemade soup or salad, depending on what I had on hand, just as Judi posted above.

Leftover protein (pork tenderloin, meatballs, chicken breasts, fish) can be so easily stretched into two generous servings of soup. Saute some diced carrots (or parsnips), onions (or leeks or shallots), celery (or fennel), and garlic in olive oil to soften. Then add a small can of crushed tomatoes, some stock (chicken, beef, or vegetable) and bring to boil. Season as you like using dried herbs/spices (herbs de provence, adobo, chili powder, thyme, tarragon, oregano, etc.) or fresh (thyme, oregano, parsley cilantro). Add any leftover veggies or starch (pasta or rice) and your diced protein to reheat through. Some canned or frozen corn or beans of any variety can also be used here. In fact, whenever I made soup this way, there was more than enough for my lunch and for my partner when he would return home from work.

Posted by: Sean | January 23, 2008 5:39 PM

Hi, Kim!
I was inspired by your soup blog and made the following concoction last night.

1) Saute in a bit of olive oil a chopped onion, a few sliced carrots, a few sliced stalks of celery, 1/2 of a chili pepper finely chopped and a few cloves of garlic thinly sliced
2) Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme (Note: after the soup is done, remember to remove them; some of the leaves may fall off on their own)
3) Add one can of chicken stock, the same amount of water, a can of tomatoes, and a rinsed & drained can of garbanzo beans
4) Peel, cube and microwave 1/2 of a sweet potato and add to the rest of the ingredients
5) Season with salt and pepper and a bit of cumin

And you are done!

One of the ways to serve the soup is directly from the pot garnished with some finely chopped parsley.

Another way, and this is what I prefer, is to puree the soup and then serve it garnished with parsley and a bit of olive oil on top. (Note: make sure to be careful when pureeing the soup in the food processor: don't fill it too much and to be extra careful, put the towel over the processor to prevent splatter)

Posted by: Olga | January 24, 2008 11:50 AM

Thanks for the great ideas. I've been totally uninspired with cooking lately, no motivation, creativity or interest. Could be cooking for the family has just gotten to me. Why bother with something new when they'll just complain. I just printed your ideas and am going to spice up my veggie soup from World's Healthiest Foods website. Thanks!

Posted by: maria | January 24, 2008 12:48 PM

I LOVE soup. I eat it at least once a day. To me, soups are perfect because I am always on a budget, and soups are filling, cheap, healthy, and can support an entire week of brown-bag lunches.

One of my favorites is cabbage soup, especially a recipe from Mark Bittman's book that uses cabbage, onion, ginger, lime juice, peanut oil, and soy sauce. A few potatoes added for complex carbs, and that's a complete meal for me.

A favorite method if I'm making bean soup or a vegetable soup is to mince and saute fresh garlic along with dried rosemary in olive oil at the bottom of the pan before I add my ingrediants. The garlic and rosemary get that extra kick from the frying, and the garlic gets crispy which is a nice textural contrast to the rest of the soup. Plus the oil gets warm and is easily absorbed by the veggies with no icky floating oil layer on top. Afterwards I add the rest of my stuff, get it coated and browned a little, then drown it with water and cook. (I rarely use stock, because I don't make my own and I hate using canned stock. I like to control exactly what I'm putting into my soup.)

Posted by: popslashgirl | January 24, 2008 4:05 PM

popslashgirl @ 4:05 pm -- share the Bittman cabbage soup recipe!! pretty please? :-)

Posted by: cabbage soup | January 24, 2008 11:34 PM

Great Pumpkin Curry Soup

1. Finely chop one small yellow onion and saute in olive oil and butter until soft and translucent.

2. Add 1 large can pumpkin (30 oz.) and 3 c. chicken stock, stir until blended and heat over medium-low heat until hot.

3. Season with herbs (the Herbs d'Provance mixture tastes great) and 2 T. curry (more if you like it hot).

4. Just before serving, mix in a dallop of sour cream or a couple T. of milk.

Posted by: washington, dc | January 30, 2008 5:07 PM

Love the soup ideas, but must confess the butternut squash recipes remind me of how much I love Wagshal's fantastic butternut squash crab soup; whenever I'm in DC I stop for some; any way to get the recipe?

Posted by: dorie | February 17, 2008 1:04 PM

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