Design A Stew/Soup

Design a SoupWe eat a fair amount of soups and stews. Soups and stews are a great way to stretch a tight food budget. I use nutrient rich bone broth as my soup base, add a fair amount of vegetables and a bit of protein usually in the form of meat. And of course during the winter (my temperature at the moment is -9 degrees Fahrenheit, BRRRRR) nothing beats a hot bowl of soup.
Most of my soups/stews I throw together while standing at the stove. I look at the soup pot as a way to use up leftovers I have hanging around, kind of an opportunity to clean out the fridge and/or freezer. In this way I feel that we can help with reducing our food waste and in turn help with our budget. Once you get a feel for this way of cooking (using methods as opposed to recipes) it becomes easier and is a very frugal option.

Bone broth: I have a goal to have bone broth available at all times. Not the stuff that comes in a can or those little salty cubes but homemade broth that contains minerals in a form that the body can easily absorb. I use a rather simple method for making my broth which you can read about here. Kim, the Nourishing Cook posts a recipe for beef broth and chicken broth that are probably more true to the way that broth should be made per the book Nourishing Traditions. If you are not currently making broth on a regular basis I would suggest that you add that to your kitchen repertoire. My version of broth requires about 5 minutes hands on time (if that) and I get a half gallon (or so) of beautiful rich broth.

The Vegetables: Root vegetables are my first choice for soups and stews. Carrots, onions, potatoes which we always have on hand are my ‘go to’ vegetables. Celery is great too but it isn’t something we buy often. Sometimes I’ll also add tomatoes or tomato paste. And any leftover vegetables hanging out in the fridge are fair game for soups as is the remains of frozen vegetables (sometimes I will only use 1/2 or 3/4 of the bag). One thing that I have done in the past is keep a container in the freezer to add any bits of leftover vegetables served with meals and then thaw that (or not) and toss in the soup pot (this was a tip I got years ago from the Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn that worked pretty good for me and I’m not sure why I haven’t started doing that again).

The Protein: My husbands first choice for protein in soups (or anything) is meat. I tend to agree with that thinking. I will sometimes use stew meats if I have it on hand (I don’t buy stew meat but do have it from antelope and sometimes our beef CSA will put a package in for me) but the bulk of our stews and soups are made from leftover meats. I’ll cook a roast or a whole chicken and specify a portion of that meat to use later in the week for soup or stew (making one meal and turning it into additional meals is a great way to save on time and money). Sometimes I will plan a soup where the protein is beans or even eggs (like this Egg Drop Soup that is delicious and fast). And on occasion we will have a soup that is just bone broth and vegetables which we usually puree with our hand held blender to make a Cream of Vegetable Soup.

The Spices and Seasonings: I’ll admit that I am not very creative with spices and seasonings. I’m good with the basics (sea salt and pepper) but then the rest of the seasonings I cross my fingers and hope for the best thinking about how I want the end result to be and what meat and vegetables I’m using. Such as, if I’m wanting a taco style soup then I’ll use chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper.

Acid: A little bit of an acidic base really brightens up soups flavors. Lime juice is my favorite (about ¼ cup) but more often I use fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar since we usually have those on hand. On the very rare occasion that I have wine available, I’ll add that to soup. If you feel the need to be proper, use red with beef and white with chicken. I have also had great success with using kombucha as a flavoring. Please keep in mind that when heating kombucha you destroy the probiotic components of it but as a flavor enhancer only, it is spectacular.  If using wine, add it before the end of cooking so some of the alcohol can ‘burn off’.  All other acids should be added at the very end and the soup/stew removed from heat.

The Additions: An easy way to take a simple soup to a new level is by adding something extra to it past the basics. When I’m making a chicken soup my family loves the addition of dumplings (I have been working on a whole wheat soaked dumpling and I hope someday soon to have it to a point where it is reminiscent of a non soaked dumpling). After the soup is in the bowl is a great time to add other additions such as sprouts, chopped green onions, shredded cheese, sourdough croutons or my favorite, creme fraiche. Joe likes to add lacto-fermented sauerkraut to his soups.

How I cook it: I start with chopping up the onion (1/2 or a whole onion) and cooking it with a little coconut oil in my soup pot (if I’m using celery I cook it along with the onion). I keep it over low heat and cook it until just soft (about 7-10 minutes). While that is cooking I peel and chop the potatoes and carrots (I usually use 3 of each) and get out whatever other vegetables I’m using plus chop the meat into bite size pieces. Then I add in my broth (anywhere from 1/2 gallon to a full gallon or occasionally half broth/half water) to the pot. Next the carrots and potatoes go in so they can start cooking and I add salt. I do not pre-salt my broth so I am pretty generous with the salt. I let the potatoes and carrots cook about 10-15 minutes until they are just getting soft. Then I add in any other vegetables I’m planning to use, the meat and my seasonings. If I’m doing dumplings those go on next (they take 20-30 minutes to cook). If I’m not using dumplings then I cook the soup until the potatoes and carrots are soft and everything is heated through. That’s it. These soups are fairly quick and easy since a good portion of the work (cooking the meat) has already been done.

A few additional thoughts: Let your personal tastes and budget determine how much meat you want to use in your soup, I use anywhere from 1/2 cup to 2 cups. I also think it is important to taste test near the end so the seasonings can be adjusted. Sometimes I go totally rogue and mix my broth and my meat. I might only have beef broth on hand but use antelope meat or vice-versa. I haven’t had any problems with doing this but let your own preferences be your guide.

Do you like the idea of method cooking?
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Millie