Red Eye Chicago
Stock your pantry with simple ingredients for budget-friendly, fast soups
Whatever the reason, many’s the night you won’t feel like stopping at the store on the way home from work. Maybe you’re fleeing the flu, or self-quarantining with someone who’s under the weather. Maybe it’s miserably cold, or your cold is making you miserable; maybe you had to work late, or you had appointments to keep after work.
Still, you have to eat, whatever time you arrive home. With just a few staples on hand, you can choose any of these three budget-friendly soups, customize with other additions, and still have supper on the table in 40 minutes or less. Choose from a hearty lentil stew, cream of tomato or potato soup. They’re not high-end cooking, but they are fast and nourishing and soothing.
The first step is to pick up the staples on a regular shopping trip soon. These items aren’t expensive:
» 1-quart box of chicken broth, if you don’t routinely have homemade chicken stock on hand
» 1-pound bag of lentils
» 28-ounce can of tomatoes, diced or whole, in juice
» 12-ounce can of evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk!)
» Instant potato flakes
» Canned clams and/or shrimp
» A box or bag of frozen, chopped spinach
When you get home, stash these supplies away for future use. If you use up one of the items — chicken stock and tomatoes disappear quickly in my kitchen — replace it as soon as you can.
Some helpful tips
If you don’t have a fresh onion handy, dehydrated onion works fine in soups and stews and saves precious minutes.
When you have a bit of time, dice a couple of carrots and pop them into the freezer. Ditto onions and celery. Or buy these prechopped, tip them onto a rimmed baking sheet to freeze individually, then tumble into a zip-close plastic bag for longer freezer storage. These frozen vegetables won’t saute very well, so sweat them in a little wine or broth before proceeding with the recipe.
In a pinch, evaporated milk can stand in for cream or half-and-half. Add a tablespoon or two of butter to more fully mimic the missing ingredients.
Look around your kitchen to see what else you might have on hand to elevate these quick soups. Start with these ideas: » Croutons and grated cheese are perennial garnishes for soups.
» Chopped hard-cooked eggs are less common but equally good.
» Leftover proteins, such as cooked fish, chicken, beef or pork.
» Smoked sausage or tofu.
» Canned shrimp or clams will enhance any of these soups.
» Cooked or raw greens, such as kale, spinach, shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix, will add extra nutrition.
» A dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt will add richness.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes. In this case, an ounce of effort provides a pound of pleasure later.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist who is working on her third book, “The Feast of the Dove.”