by Rachel Keller
One of my favorite things about the winter season is making and eating homemade soup. Not only is soup economical, but it is so easy to make. And when you're feeling a little sick, some fresh chicken soup hits the spot. Homemade soup tastes great, plus, you won't have to worry about all those unknown ingredients and high sodium content.
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You can purchase canned broth, but making your own is so easy and economical. You just need bones (with a little meat, preferably), some seasoning, and vegetables.
I like to purchase whole chickens on sale. Our family of seven consumes nearly the whole chicken, but there is always enough meat left to make a pot of homemade chicken soup the next day or so. I place the carcass with the meat attached, along with the neck and giblets in a pot of cold water and simmer on low heat for several hours. (You can also use the carcass from a store-bought rotisserie chicken and from your turkey at Thanksgiving.) I like to add a bay leaf or two and some vegetables. After simmering remove the bay leaf, vegetables, and bones. You can allow the bone to cool and pull off the meat to add back to the soup if you wish. (By the way, you can always freeze the carcass and giblets to save for a later date if you don't have time to make the broth right away.)
To make beef broth, place beef bones, bay leaf, peppercorns, or other desired ingredients in a big pot of cold water and simmer slowly over a low temperature for several hours or most of the day. Remove the bones, bay leaf, and vegetables when done simmering. Again, you can pick off the meat and put back into the soup if desired.
You can make vegetable broth with either fresh or older vegetables you would normally toss out (as long as they're not spoiled). Keep either a large resealable bag or a container in the freezer and put in leftover or wilted vegetables or the scraps you would normally throw away (i.e., broccoli stems and peels, carrot tops and peels, celery hearts and leaves, ends of cucumbers, onion skin, inside membranes of red, green peppers, etc). When the bag is full or when you need a vegetable broth, place the contents of the bag in a large pot of cold water. Just add some spices and simmer away. Remove and discard the vegetables when done simmering and you have a great vegetable stock.
You can even make your own fish broth using a couple well-rinsed fish bones and/or fish heads. Visit this homeschooling web site if you want more detailed descriptions or exact recipes for making any of these broths. (Editor's Note: I'm so glad we're not going to go into more details about those fish... my father loves to go fishing and when I was growing up I used to watch him clean them and that is as far as I will hopefully ever get to a fish head!)
After simmering your broth and discarding all the bones and vegetable scraps, you can choose to strain it with a cheese cloth for a clear broth. (You don't have to strain the broth. I never do.)
Add seasonings, meat, and vegetables to the soup. Be certain to add the vegetables that need the longest cooking time first. (I like to put hulled barley, brown rice, and/or dried beans in my soups, and they usually take longer to cook then the vegetables so I add those first. If you decide to add pasta, however, you won't need to put that in as soon.)
If you like a spicier soup, try adding onions, garlic, or red pepper. Dried herbs can be added at the beginning. If using fresh herbs, add up to three times as much and add near the end of cooking to preserve the flavor. Delicate herbs such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram, and mint need to cook only a couple minutes while herbs such as dill seeds, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme can cook 20 minutes.
Season the soup with salt near the end of cooking. Taste it before serving. If the soup lacks flavor, you will need to add more salt. If you happen to put too much salt in the soup, add a potato to it. The potato absorbs some of the extra salt.
Not all soups need homemade broth nor do they need to simmer all day. Some soups are quickly made using water and seasonings. Here is an easy, yet delicious recipe for Fasolatha, a national Greek dish. The soup cooks in about an hour, but if you have a pressure cooker, this soup (even with dry beans) cooks in 15 minutes! (Pressure cookers are easy to use and great time savers for making dried beans, soups, roasts, whole chickens, etc. When I'm in a hurry, and even when I'm not, I use the pressure cooker.)
Once you get used to making homemade soups, you will be able to "throw" together your own delicious soups. In the meantime, you can probably find all the soup recipes you want by searching the Internet or the library for a good recipe book.
Here is one of my recipes that was also featured in Reiman's Healthy Cooking.
Italian-Style Lentil Soup
CATEGORY: Lower Fat
TIME: Prep: 15 min. Cook: 40 min.
2 medium onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
5-1/4 cups water
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium beef bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan coated with cooking spray, sauté the onions, celery and carrot in oil until almost tender. Stir in the water, lentils, parsley, bouillon and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the tomato paste, vinegar, brown sugar and salt; heat through. Sprinkle each serving with cheese. Yield: 6 servings.
The next time you have some leftover chicken, vegetables, or bones from your beef, try making some homemade broth. You'll have the satisfaction of saving money while feeding your family a healthy meal. Nothing tastes better then a bowl of homemade soup!
Need some more tips on what to do with leftovers besides making soup? Check out Tasty Tips for Stretching Extra Food and Leftovers
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Copyright © 2009 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.