Cal cooking chronicles: How to make soup from your leftover food

Infographic depicting four tips for making soup
Quynh Truong/Staff

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Cooking in college can be tricky. It’s easy to buy cheap, microwavable and ready-to-eat food, but it’s not always very nutritious. And when you do buy fresh vegetables, they somehow always go bad in a matter of days. If you’re on the lookout for a meal that uses up your weird leftovers, soup is the way to go. Soup also is a great way to make use of a bunch of food that you can save in the freezer or fridge. Though there are some pretty good soup cans and box mixes, it’s fun to use things you already have to try and make the soup on your own. Here are some tips on using ingredients you might already have to make a delicious soup!

Start with a base

Starting a soup with just some water and vegetables can be a little tricky. It takes a long time to draw the flavor out of things, and I’ve definitely ended up with a soup that just tastes like celery before. A good tip is to start with a store-bought broth or base of some kind. This does half of the flavor work for you, and it’s way easier for college students who don’t always have the foresight to start cooking a soup hours before dinner. If you want to create your own flavor but don’t want to deal with cooking meat or bones, a simple stock might be perfect. If you really don’t want to put much work in, getting a soup base with some more flavor is a great idea. You can always add more spices, flavor and ingredients to really make it your own. 

Spices and aromatics

Don’t underestimate the power of some onions and garlic in a soup. They can take a soup’s flavor a long way, and they are also pretty cheap and accessible. You don’t have to have a stocked spice cabinet to make something super yummy. Just have a few go-to spices that you really enjoy. Depending on what flavors I’m looking for, I tend to use a lot of garlic powder and various peppers. I’ve also had some fun using ginger powder, soy sauce and lemon juice. And if you are using vegetables such as onions and certain whole spices, cooking them with a little oil in the pot before you throw in your broth can bring out a lot of flavors. Though it’s not necessarily the advice a chef would give you, if something sounds good, throw it in! What you’re really trying to do is make the soup as flavorful as possible. You can also look at recipes for some inspiration, and build off of them with your own ingredients. 

Vary the contents

When it comes to making soup, you shouldn’t feel compelled to stay on any traditional route. This is where you have the opportunity to use up all the food items you already have. Bulk up your soup with some potatoes or noodles, throw in carrots, celery, a handful of spinach or mushrooms. Whatever you have around is great, especially when you have a good flavor basis. Remember to think about textures — it’s nice to use some ingredients that are a little crunchy, and others that are a little softer. You can also blend up some or all of the soup to make it a smooth texture. There are lots of ways to use what you have to make something really fun.

Toppings

Don’t underestimate what toppings can do for your soup. Think green onions, parsley, eggs, crunchy chips or even a sauce to drizzle on top. Toppings and sides such as bread can make your soup even more fun to eat, and can also help add a little fun to those soups that contain mostly unfortunate leftovers. Though you might not always have typical toppings laying around, get fancy with what you do have. Frying up a little crunchy onion or making your soup look fancy with a spicy sauce drizzled on top can elevate your soup to the next level.

Soup might just be your new favorite food! Make a bunch for your friends and family, and save it in the freezer for those random springtime cold days. Enjoy your new soup-making abilities!

Contact Elysa Dombro at [email protected].