Tastefully Yours – Souper Time: Make it Easy

As soon as the season defaults to wet, dreary, and cold, I default to soup.

Ask me what I want for lunch?  “Soup and salad.” Dinner? “Soup and something comforting.”

Most of us remember making the hearty, satisfying soups that bubble happily on the back burner, filling the house with smells that welcome you when you enter.

Those are great for crowds and planning ahead. But if you want something you don’t have to spend hours making, I have an approach that eliminates the front-end part and results in delicious, surprisingly satisfying soups that you can serve to guests without apologies.

Three of my favorites start with boxed soups that I “doctor up.” (That’s the term my grandmother used when she added extra ingredients to packaged cake mixes and passed them off as her own. She kept her reputation as the Queen of Cakes without anybody guessing.)

I always keep several boxes of different soups on my shelves, ready to use, along with the canned ingredients that take them up a notch. Adopt this basic approach to make boxed soups your own creations, and a wide world of possibility awaits you!

Additional liquid:  Most boxed soups can easily take another cup of liquid. My favorites are orange juice and white wine, but you can easily use carrot juice, beer, hard cider, or additional broth. If you don’t mind the calories, adding ½ cup of cream or half-and-half before serving most of these will add a silky and mellowing texture to them all. (Just remember not to boil after adding; just let it warm through.)

Canned ingredients: I keep a stock of canned ingredients at the ready to add to soups. They include green chilis, corn (not creamed), black beans, and other beans—white, garbanzo, or others you like.

Fresh cut-up vegetables: Most markets now offer cut-up vegetables that will cook quickly and add flavor and nutrition. Cut-up butternut squash, shredded cabbage, shelled edamame, or green peas and other seasonal choices are worth trying.

Leftovers: Leftover meats, cooked vegetables, rice, noodles, potatoes, etc. are always good as additions to boxed soup. They add flavor and texture and of course free up extra refrigerator space.

Herbs and spices: You can learn a lot about using spices and herbs by experimenting in a pot of soup. Think about favorite flavors in the cuisines you like. Cumin and cinnamon will impart Moroccan overtones. Cumin and oregano will lean toward the Latin. Garlic, ginger, and soy can give an Asian bent to simple broth-based mixes. Herbes de Provence will give a Continental flair and thyme and sherry are always welcome with anything that has mushrooms and cream.

Toppings: Try grated or crumbled cheese. My favorite is Unexpected Cheddar from Trader Joe’s, but you can use any grated or crumbled cheese—feta, blue, manchego. Other toppers might include chopped herbs: Cilantro, basil, parsley, or chopped green onions add tang and texture to a soup. Yogurt or sour cream add a creamy note that goes with the three soups below.

Brighten with Citrus: I often use orange juice as an additional liquid. It blends surprisingly well with most soup bases. And I might add the juice of either lemons or limes to brighten up what feels dull.

Here are three soups to get you started. Each of these will serve four as starters or two as a meal.

Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

1 box soup
1 C. orange juice
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cinnamon

Combine ingredients. (Use the cup of orange juice to swish out residue from the soup box.) Add cumin and cinnamon. Stir and heat.

Suggested toppings: yogurt or sour cream,  grated cheddar

Creamy Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup

1 box soup
1 can green chilis
1 can corn—not creamed
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. hot sauce—my favorite is Frank’s

Heat ingredients together.

Suggested toppings: Yogurt or sour cream, grated cheddar, chopped cilantro, avocado chunks

Black Bean Soup

1 box soup
1 cup orange juice, beer, or wine
1 can black beans or Spanish-style black beans
1 can corn
1 can green chilis
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano

Heat together.

Suggested toppings: Yogurt or sour cream, grated cheddar, chopped cilantro, chopped green onions, chopped tomatoes, avocado chunks, chopped green onions, lime quarters

In the beginning, there was food! Before Rebecca Crichton worked for Boeing, taught leadership development, or became executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, she was a caterer, recipe developer, and food journalist. She has taught cooking to seniors and others, and she can reel off food ideas and recipes for any part of a meal or event. She believes in easily prepared, healthy, and taste-filled food that delights and satisfies.

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