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A winter soup starter kit

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Joanne Ciccarello/The Christian Science Monitor/File

(Read caption) Indian rasam soup includes a tomato base with ginger, tumeric, peppercorns, and various indian spices. For soup throughout the winter, you'll need to keep some basic ingredients on hand, including barley, egg noodles, and dried beans.

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From about mid-October to roughly the end of March, we have some form of soup for dinner two or three times a week. It’s incredibly easy to make, has infinite variations, and is really inexpensive. What’s not to love about it?

Here’s exactly how we do it.

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The Basic Tools
 Obviously, the most basic thing you need to have is a soup pot or two. We often make soup in these 5 1/2 quart enameled cast iron pots, but any pot that ranges from five quarts or so on up will be sufficient for making soup. I highly recommend having a lid.

You’ll also need to have a ladle, as it makes serving the soup into bowls much easier. You’ll also, of course, need bowls and spoons for eating and a spoon for stirring the soup.

That’s really all you need in your kitchen (aside from a stovetop) to make soup pretty much any time you want.

The Basic Ingredients We Always Have on Hand
 We keep a steady supply of a few key ingredients on hand at all times for soup making.

Our three most frequent soup ingredients are barley, egg noodles, and dried beans. These form the backbone of many of the soups we make, plus they store quite well in the pantry in their dry form. When we find a sale on these, we stock up every time.

We also keep a few basic seasonings on hand, such as salt and pepper. In addition, we also usually keep some homemade vegetable stock around for the liquid of the soup. We also keep some vegetable boullion around in case we’re out of stock.

If you like beef soups, use beef stock or boullion instead. If you like chicken soups, use chicken stock or boullion instead. Keep whatever it is that you like around.

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In addition, we keep a few basic spices around: thyme, sage, and bay leaves, for starters. These work well in most soups.

We also keep oyster crackers around as a condiment for the soup.

This is actually all you need to make a flavorful passable soup at the drop of a hat. Just cook the main ingredient, add some herbs and pepper, and simmer for a while until it smells too good to resist.

Varying Things Up
 Of course, you’re going to want to vary this for variety’s sake. How do you do that?

The way we do it is that we simply watch for vegetables that are on sale at our local grocery stores. If potatoes are on sale this week, we use potatoes in a batch of soup. The same goes for almost any vegetable, from turnips to kale to spinach to corn. Whatever’s fresh and inexpensive, we try it and use it.

You can also include meat in your bargain hunting, too. If you find chicken or beef or pork on sale, pick it up and use it as an ingredient. If it sounds good to you, it probably is good.

How do you cook it? The first step is to simply boil your liquid ingredients – water and/or stock. You’ll start with this, then likely add more liquid during the cooking process if the soup gets too thick. Don’t worry about evaporated water – the flavor will just get richer over time.

The easiest way is just to search for your ingredient on Google with the addition “time to boil.” So, if you want to know how long to make soup with, say, turnips in it, you’d search for “time to boil turnips.” You’ll find that turnips take 25-30 minutes to boil.

Then, just make a list of all of your ingredients and how long they take to boil. Add the ingredients in order so that they all finish cooking at the same time. So, for example, if you have beans that take two hours, turnips that take 30 minutes, and potatoes that take 20 minutes, you’d start the beans, let them cook for an hour and a half, add the turnips, and then ten minutes later, add the potatoes.

The exception to this is the meat. If you’re adding meat (I actually also do this with onions and a few other things, too), I suggest cooking it separately until it’s done, then adding it with about ten or fifteen minutes left to go for the soup. Take some of the soup broth you have going, pour it in the pan that you cooked the meat in while the pan is still hot, then pour it back into the soup pot to add some delicious flavor.

It’s incredibly easy, incredibly tasty, and incredibly inexpensive – my kind of meal!


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