Stephanie Hill: Versatile Vegetable Soup will keep you warm and nourished
“Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it need time to simmer to reach full flavor.” — Marge Kennedy
“A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.” — Abraham Maslow
As the weather in southeastern Ohio this weekend played a mash-up mix of rain, snow, bitter winds, and plummeting temperatures, my mind churned with thoughts of ways to warm my icy fingers and toes. I drifted back to a conversation John, my husband, and I had regarding the ways in which his parents and my grandparents made their vegetable soup. As we swapped stories, we realized how similarly his parents and my grandparent “saved” for one their favorite wintertime go-to meals.
Both pairs had large, white plastic tubs with red lettering, about 5 gallons in size, that once held some sort of meat previously purchased at a local meat market. Once emptied of its contents, the tub was scrubbed clean and repurposed as the “vegetable soup” container. Then, throughout the year, but especially in the summer and early fall when fresh garden vegetables were abundant, they saved leftover vegetable from meals in this tub. Uneaten bits of green beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, and so forth, would be scraped from pots at the end of meals and into the tub. This container, which resided in their freezer, was gradually filled from week to week. Once full, there was typically another scoured-clean-container-in-waiting, ready to be filled as well.
During winter months, my grandmother often cooked up large chuck roast covered with carrots, potatoes, and onions. Once this meal was eaten, as best I recall, the leftovers from it were often the base of her vegetable soup. She’d cut up the meat and any leftover vegetables into bite-size chunks, open up a couple of cans of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup along with a can of Veg-all, and put those into her large pressure cooker. Next, she’d add water. Finally, out came the white, filled-to-the-brim-tub with all those frozen leftover vegetables; and, while I’ll never know how she determined the “right” amount, she scooped an undetermined quantity of vegetables from tub and into the pot until her cook’s eye told her the soup contained the right amount of those former garden gems.
I can still recall the way that little gadget on the top of the pot bobbled, hopped, and danced around on cloud of angry steam. Soon, aromas of comfort emanated throughout her cozy home. The ice that had formed on the inside of the single-pane kitchen windows was slowly transformed into condensation drops worthy of childhood finger drawings.
To be honest, as a youngster, vegetable beef soup was not my favorite meal. In fact, I found the meat impossibly chewy, and in my spoiled child mind, it seemed to expand the more I chewed. Plus, I was not a huge fan of all those vegetables mixed together. However, later, when I lived with my grandparents in my early adult years, I came to love my Grandmother’s vegetable soup, but I still attempted to furtively avoid the meat as I ladled out my serving of soup! Then, in true family tradition, I’d break up a handful of saltines into the soup before chowing down!
Oh, how I wish I could have just one more bowl of that soup and tell Grandmother how much I loved it and appreciated her loving planning and frugality. There’s something to be said about the skills of those who survived the Great Depression and truly knew how to not waste anything, and could thrive within their resources.
While I am still not a big meat eater, John is, so when creating this recipe, I tried to create a versatile blend to make both of us happy. Sometimes, I make a huge pot of this, but pick around the chicken-just as I once picked around Grandmother’s beef in her vegetable soup.
Other times, I drag out both the large Crockpot and my mini-Crockpot. In the larger pot, I make a version with the chicken thighs, but without the beans and potato. While in the smaller pot, I make a version with all ingredients, but no meat. This allows John to have a lower-carb variety of this healthy soup while still allowing me a hearty plant based version. Plus, both variations are naturally gluten-free. (Sigh, sadly, saltines crumbled into soup are NOT gluten-free, and I no longer add them to my soup due to celiac disease.)
If cold weather is chilling you to the bone, set up this soup in the morning or on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon; and, you’ll be noshing on warm, home-cooked comfort by dinner. In fact, you can even throw all of your ingredients in your Crockpot insert the night prior, and stow it away in your fridge overnight. In the morning, simply add it to cooking base, select your setting, and dinner will be ready after work. Additionally, while I do not yet have an Instant Pot, I am told this handy kitchen tool will allow you to prepare this soup in less than hour! Wow!
Play with the ingredients of this recipe - add more of some ingredients, or remove any ingredients that do not suit your tastes or dietary needs. Make this recipe work for you and yours, as it is versatile. Then, drop me a line and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear about your variation!
From our home to yours, John and I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!
Versatile Vegetable Soup
Serves: 6-8 generous servings (depending upon serving size).
1-2 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (optional) 1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 russet or sweet potato, chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cup chopped carrots
2 cups broccoli florets (Can substitute equivalent amount of favorite green vegetable, such as green beans, spinach, kale, peas.)
1 zucchini, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 large can (28 ounces) pureed tomatoes
1 can (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes
2 cans (14.5 ounces) cannelloni or garbanzo beans (optional)
4 cups of broth - either chicken or vegetable, depending upon preference
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper 2 bay leaves
1-2 cups additional water
First, prep vegetables that need chopped and set them aside.
Next, in large pot, over medium heat, add oil if using, or spray pot with nonstick cooking spray. If using chicken, arrange meat all along the bottom of pot and place garlic on top of it.
If not using meat, place garlic on the bottom of pot.
Next, add in onion, celery, potato (if using), carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and squash. Pour in both cans of tomatoes, beans (if using), and broth.
Gently stir in, avoiding the chicken layer if using meat; sea salt, Italian seasoning, black pepper, and red pepper
Add additional water until desired soup consistency is reached. Gently place bay leaves on top
Cover and allow to simmer (gently bubble) 60-90 minutes, or longer, until chicken, if using, is cooked through, and vegetables have reached desired level of softness.
If using Instant Pot or Crockpot, be sure appliance has an 8-quart capacity, and follow manufacturer’s suggested cooking time.
Remove bay leaves before serving.
Tastes even better reheated!
Can be stored in refrigerator for up to a week or stored in freezer for up to a month.
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at email@example.com. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.