Red Eye Chicago

SOUP’S ON!

Stock your pantry with simple ingredient­s for budget-friendly, fast soups

- By Robin Mather

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.

Pantry staples

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.”

 ?? E. JASON WAMBSGANS/CHICAGO TRIBUNE; SHANNON KINSELLA/FOOD STYLING ?? The lentil stew is studded with carrots, potatoes and smoked sausage.
E. JASON WAMBSGANS/CHICAGO TRIBUNE; SHANNON KINSELLA/FOOD STYLING The lentil stew is studded with carrots, potatoes and smoked sausage.

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