Chilly weather just cries out for a hot bowl of soup. Soup for supper can be an inexpensive, healthful, hearty meal for a family, with leftovers for lunch another day.
Soups can get by with a small amount of protein; you have savings right there! They can be totally vegetarian (and possibly no carnivore will notice, if you do it right). Pair them with a warm roll, a slice of garlic bread, a corn muffin, croutons, or even crackers, and they’re filling and satisfying.
Soups also can be a great way to use up leftovers. I never roast a chicken or turkey without making a pot of noodle soup with the carcass and leftover meat. And never throw away a ham bone. Making vegetable soup? Toss in leftover green beans or corn to bulk it up. Soup offers a great way to get more veggies in your kids’ (or your own) diet.
Most soups include a hearty element: noodles, rice, beans, lentils and such. All are inexpensive and stretch the final product. And they taste good, too.
Here are some of our favorite frugal soup recipes for you to try:
Simple chicken-rice soup
Chicken soup is good for the soul, right? It’s also good for your wallet. Use leftovers from last night’s chicken dinner to make a hearty and frugal soup. It’s a great way to get a meal out of the carcass and other parts of the chicken (or turkey) that would otherwise go to waste.
Carcass (leftover meat and bones) from one four-to-five-pound roast chicken (or a mild-flavored rotisserie chicken)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
4 cups water
2 or 3 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 medium onion, chopped
One bay leaf (if desired)
1/2 cup white rice*
Two tablespoons chopped parsley or 1 tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Chicken bouillon cubes or granules, if desired
Put the carcass from a leftover chicken (broken into in pieces) into a large pot. Cover with the broth or stock and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Skim any foam or fat from the broth with a ladle as necessary.
Remove carcass with a slotted spoon; set aside to cool. Add the carrots, celery, onion and bay leaf, if using, to the broth. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are about half cooked (they will still have resistance when tested with a knife but be somewhat pliable when bent), about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the rice to keep it from sticking to the bottom, and cook another 10-12 minutes or until the doneness you like,
Taste the broth. If it needs more flavor, add a few chicken bouillon cubes or a couple of tablespoons of chicken bouillon granules, if desired.
Meanwhile, when the carcass is cool enough to handle, pick off the meat and shred it into bite-size pieces. When the rice is done, add the meat to the broth and simmer until warmed through, about 1 minute. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
*If desired, swap egg noodles for rice, adding about 1 cup to the soup and cooking till tender.
Chicken soup variations
Another simple and similar soup I make is Wild Rice Soup. When I roast Cornish game hens, I always make a package of long grain and wild rice with it (I use Uncle Ben’s original). I put about half a cup of the leftover cooked rice (with some of the leftover game hen meat, chopped) into a saucepan with the cream of chicken soup, mixed with a soup can of milk and heat gently in a saucepan. It makes a hearty, dinner-worthy soup. One can of soup with additions makes two servings. It’s easy to double the recipe if you have more leftover rice.
For another twist on simple chicken soup, add some spices and other ingredients to turn it into Tortilla Soup or Mexican Chicken Soup. Click on the second link for a video on how to make it in a slow cooker. Make some simple cheese quesadillas to pair with it if you like.
If you’re in more of an Italian mood, make a vegetable-based minestrone and add your own leftover diced chicken. Add some garlic bread for a full meal. No chicken? Add some cooked Italian sausage toward the end for a kick. Be sure it gets cooked through.
Chowders are just thick, hearty soups, like clam chowder or corn chowder. They are easy to make and taste better than anything you can buy in a can.
Try this corn chowder for a vegetarian meal where no one will miss the meat. Or, if you must have a protein, it’s a great way to use diced leftover ham, crisp bacon crumbles or even diced, browned sausage. But try the vegetarian version first — bet you won’t miss the meat!
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only (or one teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups canned vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if you’re not going vegetarian)
2 cups heavy cream
2 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
6 ears corn (or four cups frozen corn)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves or chives
Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and thyme and cook until the vegetables are soft, 8-10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat well. Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, bring to a boil and continue to boil for about seven minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).
Add cream. Cut the corn kernels off the cob (if using fresh) and add to the soup, or add frozen corn kernels at this point. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is tender, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the parsley or chives. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. Top with more parsley or chives to serve.
And what lineup of soup recipes would be complete without that good old standby, tomato soup? Try this one; it doesn’t get much easier than this:
Easy tomato soup
2 (15-ounce) containers, chicken or vegetable stock/broth
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
Coarse salt and black pepper
Garnish as desired with shredded fresh basil leaves, grated parmesan cheese or croutons.
Combine broth and tomatoes in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When soup bubbles, stir in heavy cream and reduce heat to low. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer gently 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. With an immersion blender, puree soup. (If using a standard blender, puree in small batches and be careful to put a towel over the lid while blending.) Serve hot. And pass the grilled cheese sandwiches.
Cream of anything soup
A staple in my repertoire is what my kids called “Mom’s Cream of Anything Soup.” I would take leftover spinach, asparagus, cauliflower or broccoli and put it in a blender with two cans of cream of chicken soup and two cans of milk (for four servings). I’d add some seasonings (maybe onion powder or a pinch of some herb, like tarragon or thyme), put it all in a blender and blend it till the veggie was pureed in the mixture, and heat gently in a saucepan. I often threw in a handful of grated cheese just at the end.
It didn’t matter what vegetable it was, they’d gobble it up. Add a grilled cheese sandwich or a dinner salad and you have a quick weeknight meal.
More frugal soup ideas
Try the packaged soup mixes in the grocery store, such as split pea soup or HamBeens (or their 15-Bean Soup). Dinner may cost just a few bucks and feed the whole family. Same goes for lentil soup — there are a variety of recipes on the Taste of Home website.
Kale has become very popular, and it’s good for you. Try it in soup for something very different but very healthful. Whether you want a creamy soup or a tomato-based broth, most pair with one kind of sausage or another. Meat eaters may enjoy this sausage-and-kale soup recipe, while vegetarians will enjoy this meatless kale soup, packed with hearty and cheap ingredients like beans and potatoes.
I’ve also been known to dress up canned mushroom soup by sautéing finely minced shallots or onion and fresh sliced mushrooms in a bit of butter, then adding the soup from the can and milk as called for.
Most soups reheat well, though you have to be careful not to overcook the ones with noodles and rice. A gentle reheating will do the trick. For soups with hearty legumes, such as black beans, lentils or split peas, you may have to add a little water or broth to get them back to the right consistency.
Whichever soup you choose, know that it will be relatively inexpensive with almost guaranteed leftovers for some lucky person’s lunchbox.
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