If I have an onion, I can make soup. But I usually add much more than that to my pot. The soupe du jour at chez Bonneau depends on what else I find in the refrigerator and pantry.
Soup is part of the solution
Last week in California, we reached a grim and insomnia-inducing milestone: our first gigafire, as in one raging fire that has surpassed 1,000,000 acres in size. One fire. By comparison, the terrifying 2018 Camp Fire that razed the town of Paradise burned 153,335 acres. We actually needed the new gigafire classification for the seven-figure August complex fire. Megafire—over 100,000 acres—is so 2019.
Cooking a pot of soup may seem futile when faced with such depressing news. However, when Project Drawdown, a highly respected resource on climate solutions, released an update earlier this year, it listed reduced food waste as the number one solution to stopping climate change. (This is under the scenario of keeping heating below 2 degrees Celsius.)
Wasting food wastes not only the food itself but also all of the resources that went into producing it: water, energy, land, labor, capital and so on. When that wasted food decomposes anaerobically in a landfill, it releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet at a rate 86 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 10- to 20-year period.
With the average US household wasting 31.9 percent of its food, your pot of soup made with this and that before the food becomes waste not only tastes good but does good.
A basic soup formula
For a couple of soup workshops I recently taught, attendees Zoomed in from their kitchens, brought whatever random vegetables they had on hand and we all cooked a pot of soup together. We prevented food waste by cooking those last bits, we saved money and no two pots tasted alike. We followed my basic non-recipe recipe below.
Add fat to a large Dutch oven or stock pot
I use olive oil. For a large pot of soup in my 6 3/4 quart Dutch oven, I’ll use 3 or 4 tablespoons.
Sauté an onion
Or sauté shallots or leeks or a combination of Allium family members (including garlic). Sauté on medium-low heat until the onions become translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
One class attendee said she chops up parsley stems and adds them early on to her soup. Parsley stems have a much stronger flavor than the leaves so this is a great way to eat them. Always be sure to taste your random soup as you go.
In my classes, I added dried thyme to my soup because I had quite a bit of it. Other options include oregano, marjoram and rosemary—dried or fresh. Add some of each if you prefer. I love to add fresh rosemary to my soup. If you have a yard, a rosemary plant is a wonderful thing to grow. This perennial gives and gives and gives with little to no maintenance (aside from watering it once in a while).
If you’re adding tomatoes, add them now
Break them up with the back of a wooden spoon and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until cooked down. In my recent Zoom classes, I used roasted tomatoes that I had frozen last summer.
Add cheese rinds if desired
If you eat Parmigiano-Reggiano, save those rinds and toss a couple into your soup. They add lots of flavor.
If you soaked beans, drain, rinse and add them to the pot
Skip this step if you didn’t soak beans and will add cooked beans (or no beans).
Beans cooked from dried add so much flavor. If you soak them first, they will cook more evenly, especially if they are older—and bean age is difficult to determine.
Cover your beans with water, vegetable broth or bean broth. When I cook beans in my pressure cooker, I save that bean broth. It adds flavor and thickens soups. (But don’t save the water you soaked the beans in as consuming that can make you gassy. Your plants don’t mind so feed it to them if you like.)
Cover the beans with a few inches of your liquid of choice. Now cover the pot with the lid. Bring the beans to a boil, then turn them down to a simmer. Cook for about an hour until tender.
Add the random vegetables and, if using, dry grains and cooked beans
In the first class, I added sweet potatoes, celery, one chopped apple (honestly, a bit of apple tastes good and doesn’t make your soup taste at all apple-y) and hominy (cook dry hominy first) to my soup. Those added up to about 8 cups of chopped vegetables. If you have greens like kale or spinach, save those for the very end.
I also added 1/4 cup of uncooked farro. Soup loves mystery grains.
If you opted for cooked beans, add those now.
Add more water or broth to cover the ingredients. Bring them to a boil, then turn down to simmer. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Add leafy greens, if using
These wilt so quickly that I add them at the very end of cooking my soup.
Season the soup
You’re just about done! Add salt and an acid—vinegar (I add strong homemade apple scrap vinegar), lemon juice, preserved lemon juice or lime juice. Do not skip the acid. It makes a huge difference and brightens the soup’s flavor.
In my large vat of soup, I’ll start with a teaspoon or two of salt and a tablespoon of vinegar. After tasting, I may add more.
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 onions, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon dried herbs, such as thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary or a combination or use a smaller amount of fresh herbs
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes
- 2 cups dried beans, such as pinto, cannellini or borlotti beans, soaked for at least 6 hours or up to 14 hours, drained and rinsed, or 4 cups cooked beans optional
- 8 to 10 cups water, vegetable broth, bean broth, or a combination
- 2 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds optional
- 8 cups bite-size pieces of random vegetables, such as carrots, celery, bell peppers, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, bell peppers, squash, zucchini or pumpkin
- 2 cups torn leafy greens, such as kale or spinach optional
- ¼ to ½ cup orzo or other dry grain
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
- In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add herbs and stir for 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes, if using. Break them up with the back of a wooden spoon and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until cooked down.
- Add cheese rinds, if using.
- Add soaked beans, if using. Cover them with 3 inches of water or broth. Cover the pot with the lid. Bring the beans to a boil, then turn them down to a simmer and cook covered for about an hour until tender. Stir occasionally while they cook.
- Add chopped vegetables and, if using, dry grains and cooked beans. Add more water or broth to cover the ingredients. Bring them to a boil, then turn down to simmer. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
- At the end of cooking, add any leafy greens.
- Season the soup to taste with salt, pepper and vineger or lemon juice.