Tips for a Successful “Leftovers” Soup

IMG_2079Leftovers are the problem child of the kitchen. They throw tantrums and fall all over the floor when forced to share space in the fridge. They stubbornly refuse to go away and seem to bring out the worst in other family members forced to coexist with them. Clearly, something needs to be done about them.

While simply reheating that leftover enchilada or half serving of peas is certainly an option, I prefer to disguise my leftovers as soup. Depending on your perspective, this is either a creative and frugal way to reuse ingredients or a shady practice that comes dangerously close to being dishonest. I am loyal to the first camp, but must admit that some of my leftover soups have made me feel mildly criminal, as they tasted like I just dumped all my disparate leftovers into a pot of broth and called it soup.

To avoid such a dinner, I have been collecting tips, tricks, hints, clues, pointers and words to the wise concerning making leftovers into a successful soup. Some of them I have learned the hard way while others I was lucky enough to learn from someone else’s mistakes.

  1. Choose a theme for your soup. No, not Batman or a masquerade ball. A food related theme. Choosing a theme gives you a foundation to build on. It adds cohesiveness to your soup, even if the specific ingredients don’t really match. There are many options for food themes, from historical periods to foreign holiday foods. However, I find geographical regions to be most helpful. Choose a region of the world and create your soup using spices and flavors connected with that region. For example, make a Southwestern style soup using cayenne pepper, cumin, and coriander. Or make an Asian soup using soy sauce, five spice powder, and cilantro. Or an Italian soup with basil, olive oil, and oregano. This step might take some research, but to me that’s part of the fun. Once you’ve covered the basics (like Asian and Italian) you could move on to specific countries. Like, what makes Argentine food different from Colombian food?  This is a great excuse to check out ethnic cookbooks from the library.
  2. Always start with a fresh base. In all my leftover soups, I try to have some kind of fresh mirepoix (pronounced “mirror-pwa”), the traditional trinity of carrots, celery, and onions. Sometimes this means just a palmful of chopped onions sautéed in butter. Maybe a little garlic. But always start with something fresh. You’d be surprised at how that freshness gets breathed into the rest of the soup.
  3. Be mindful of how long different ingredients need to cook. Overcooking and undercooking are both enemies of the successful leftover soup. There is nothing worse than greens that have been cooked so long they’ve turned bitter, unless of course it’s biting into a chunk of potato that’s still cold in the middle. This seems like a basic law of cooking, but one that I often forget when using leftovers. Add the things that need to cook longer first, like potatoes. Add the things that cook quickly near the end, like spinach.
  4. Vary the texture of your soups. While brothy soups with bits of vegetable and meat floating around are good, they can get boring. Try pureeing your soup either with a bar blender or a hand held immersion blender. (Be sure to do it in batches with a towel over the lid if you use a bar blender.) While the ingredients might be pretty similar, blending a soup can add just the right amount of psychological difference to ease the ennui that leftover soup can cause. Blended soups are also a great way to use up stale bread. What looks unsightly in a brothy soup makes an excellent thickener for a blender soup. So do mashed potatoes, by the way.
  5. Serve your leftover soup with a garnish. This can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. It’s amazing how much better a soup looks and tastes with just a little something on top. Think of the garnish as a preview for the soup. Use the same ingredients. For example, save some of your chopped carrots to sprinkle on top. Or roughly chop your celery leaves. Or a fresh sprinkle of the herbs and spices you put in the soup.  This is another great way to use your theme. Garnish your Mexican soup with some pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) or fried tortilla strips. Pureed soups look great with a drizzle of olive oil or soy sauce. Most of my soups get a last minute dollop of yogurt or sour cream. Maybe a sprinkle of an herb. Just that little effort can improve the aesthetics of your soup, which should not be belittled because, as we all know, we eat with our eyes first. There’s also nothing else quite like a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of herbs to make you feel very accomplished and successful at finally making that problem child behave.

This post is part of Pennywise Platter Thursday at The Nourishing Gourmet.

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Posted in Uncategorized 14 years ago at 5:38 am.


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2 Replies

  1. I love making soups out of what I have on hand! But I love any type of soup. :-)

  2. Great ideas!

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