Updated on 09.10.14

Dinner With My Family #6: “Anything” Soup

Trent Hamm

“Anything” Soup

We live in Iowa. This winter has been a long one and, for the past week or two, incredibly cold. Of course, that means we’ve been cooking a lot of warm, hearty winter meals recently.

One of my favorites among these is what we call “anything” soup. Simply put, it’s a simple soup where we add “anything” we have on hand to make it more delicious. We have, on occasion, made it with a stone in the pot, which is a very fun thing to do with children in the tradition of the classic children’s book Stone Soup.


This recipe is stunningly easy.

What You Need

You don’t really need anything other than what you find in your cupboard. If you have an extra tomato left over, perfect. Extra potatoes? Perfect! Spices in the cupboard? Perfect? An extra carrot or stalk of celery? Perfect! Onions? Perfect! Spinach? Perfect! Beans? Perfect!

Here’s some of the stuff we had on hand.

barley?  rice?  beans?  sure!

We had barley, rice, and some dried split peas in the cupboard.

Extra fresh veggies

We have a leftover onion, a leftover tomato, and some carrots and celery for other recipes that won’t require all of those vegetables.


We also had some soy sauce in the fridge. Interestingly, we’ve discovered that many kinds of beef bullion are just spice mixes, containing no meat at all, so we’re using a bit of that, too.

The Night Before (or Early That Day)

The only thing you might need to do is that if you’re using dry beans, you could put them in water and allow them to soak overnight and throughout the next day.

Preparing the Meal

We started off by getting the liquid hot. In our case, the base of the soup is our homemade vegetable stock, which we’ve frozen and are now quickly thawing (hence the large stock “ice cubes” floating in this picture).

frozen vegetable stock

For your liquid, you can use pretty much anything – beef broth, water with some bullion in it, chicken broth, whatever you’ve got on hand or can find for cheap.

Next, once the soup is up to a boil, we just add ingredients according to their cooking times. Usually, this means starting with beans, adding barley and such a bit later, and eventually putting in vegetables. Check the boiling time for vegetables online using Google if you’re unsure – follow the directions on the package for beans, barley, macaroni, and the like.

Once it’s done, toss some crackers in it and enjoy!

What I’ve found is that as long as you stick to vegetables you like, you can almost never go wrong with this soup. It’s pretty much impossible to really mess this up. Whatever you come up with will be good – sometimes it will be great, and other times sublime.

Optional Ingredients

It’s “anything” soup, so you can put anything in it. Chicken, ground beef, leftover steak pieces, sausage – all of it is just fine for “anything” soup.

This is a spectacular way to use “miscellaneous” leftovers on a cold winter day.

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  1. Ailis says:

    Our family name for that is “Zuppa de what’s in the fridge.” (Since, in our house, it’s usually based on leftovers and veg that need to be used before they go bad.)

    (And, via a friend, the dinner-the-night-before-food-shopping-from-whatever’s-around is “Cheesy Grapefruit Surprise”)

  2. Jenny says:

    One (non vegan) addition that I love to add to this kind of soup is egg drop. I also use it as an alternative to noodles in chicken ‘noodle’ soup.

    Just take an egg or two and mix it really well with a fork. Then when your broth is boiling, stir it quickly and very slowly pour the egg in the broth while continuing to stir. The egg cooks into long strands very quickly in the hot broth.

    It is a great job for youngish kids to have them (carefully) stir the soup while you pour the eggs. It is very cool to watch them coalesce.

  3. Interested Reader says:

    There’s a better way to add flavor to your soup, it will take more time but not really that much.

    You want to dice the onion, celery, and carrots (for the mirepoix traditional French route) and saute them in oil along with some garlic. Or you can add onion, celery and green peppers (the Holy Trinity route used more in Cajun cooking) and saute that with garlic (or you could just add everything and saute). This will help bring out the flavors.

    If you are using dried spices, add them to the oil and veggies and cook them for a minute or two (for example if you are going Southwestern and using chili and cumin) this will help release the oils and make the spices tastier and more fragrant.

    Then you add the liquid, and scrape the bottom of the pot (unless you are using non stick) this will scarpe off anything that’s been cooked and that part is called the fond – it’s also flavor.

    If you are using meat ths is a really important step. You’d add oil to the hot stock pot, then in small batches brown the meat on all sides (just to brown not cook throgh) and small batches because if the pot is too full things will steam.

    Place the meat on a dish and cover with foil.

    Then add the base veggies (celery, onion, etc) and more oil and saute. And spices if you want.

    Then add a small amount of liquid and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom. Add more liquid, veggies, and when you add the meat you can also add any juices that have accumulated.

    Instead of goign the spice route for flavorign you can go the herb route either fresh or dried. If you do dried you can make a boquet garni or other bundle of fresh herbs to that are simmered with the soup and then removed.

    A rule of thumb for the veggies is that tender, delicate veggies cook quicker so add those last.

    Also taste as it cooks so you can adjust your seasonings. And a little fresh parsley is great finishing touch.

  4. Priscilla says:

    Trent, do you make your own stock? I find that that takes a long time, so I usually use bullion. Also, I like quite a bit of spice, so I’d add chili powder, a touch of tabasco, and paprika if I want to go the Mexican flavor route. Or, I use Herbs de Provence or Italian herb seasoning, crushed up, if I want more of a vegetable soup taste. Point is, “Anything Soup ” is a great way to use up those leftovers, and you can put it in the crock pot on low. Coming home after work to your dinner already prepared is worth a little extra time in the morning.

  5. Sarah says:

    Great idea, but I can’t help but think that Trent has been pulling his readers’ collective leg with the photos he has used in this series. It looks like a pile of crackers, which is not the best way to advertise the potential flavor of the soup.

  6. shris says:

    We do this fairly regularly–not just as soup, but as a sort of one-pot mishmash or stove top casserole.

    I love being able to take leftovers nobody wants to eat again and incorporate them into something yummy they devour. So it ends up being a midweek sort of meal for us–early in the week or over the weekend is the simple roast chicken/single veggie dish, then in the middle of the week make a multi-ingredient mishmash to make the same old stuff taste different. :)

    A lot of these unusual combinations make great fillings for burritos and enchiladas, even if the flavor isn’t chili powder and cumin..


  7. NCN says:

    We do something similar, turning a basic chili into a soup… Make chili, w/ tomatoes, beef, and beans – then add corn, potatoes, and onions. Oh, and add enough chili powder to make it very spicy, then a bit of sugar, and it’s awesome.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever made the same soup twice ;) Due to food sensitivities, I can’t eat canned soups so I always have something on hand in the freezer. My soups often end up with ancient grains in them — like spelt penne noodles or kamut fettucini.

    One thing I like to do is add a little pureed cooked carrot or celery to the broth for added flavour since I can’t use spices.

  9. rianne says:

    Growing up we called this fridge-cleaning soup! It always amazed me that my mother could take anything and make great soup out of it.

  10. Teresa says:

    @#6 – We had the same thing at my house when I was growing up. It was called “leftover” soup at our house. A pound of hamburger and whatever vegetables were leftover from the week along with tomoto juice.

  11. DeeBee says:

    Stone Soup is a wonderful book for kids, and can be turned into a project to volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate soup to a church/activity group, etc.

  12. Jen says:

    This is a great idea! I would call the ingredients of any boullion “chemicals” rather than “spices” though. I always use homemade beef or chicken broth in my soups, then add real herbs and spices for seasoning.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I have a pot of lentil soup on the stove right now. New recipe, so hope it turns out. I can say it smells wonderful!

  14. Nick says:

    I find it hard to believe that any doctor would say you can’t have REAL beef broth but manufactured fake beef bouillon is A-okay…

    But yea, this is an awesome way to eat, use leftovers, and make a really good meal plus you’ll probably have leftovers!

  15. kat says:

    My neighbor made mustgo stew on a regular basis. I make a ot of soup, and I use the crock pot, it makes great soups, cooks barley or beans and is ready when I get home.

  16. lurker carl says:

    We’ve used soups (and casseroles) for years to eat up leftovers and scraps without them tasting or looking like leftovers.

    It should have been a no-brainer to spell the ingredients correctly since the labels are easily read in the photographs. And the very first photograph makes the meal look like cracker soup rather than a delectable and wholesome dish. Both as a writer and cook, presentation matters.

  17. Joni says:

    I do this deliberately, not just cleaning out the fridge. Every time I cook a meal, I imagine a little soup gremlin that is very hungry. I take out a spoonful of rice, beans, or a couple of bite size pieces of meat, a bit of leftover onions from whatever recipe I’m cooking, etc. and I pop it in the freezer in ziplock bags or a plastic quart jar in which the soup gremlin lives in. I do this every meal I make and at the end of the month, I add a can of tomato soup, simmer till it’s hot through and through and voila! Surprise soup! A gift from the gremlin. I know this sounds goofy, but I collect fairies and gnomes, so gremlin soup is not exactly that off the wall for me. LOL

  18. deRuiter says:

    Agree with #2!!! Caramelize the onions and celery, at the last minute add finely diced garlic (garlic burns easily, so add it at the last minutes of the caramelization process), THEN make your soup. The flavor will be much better. Want a thicker soup? Mash a boiled potato and mix it in to the soup.
    Also agree that a beef broth would be superior to chemcical powdered faux beef stock / fake bullion. All those chemicals, ugh! We call this “All Good Things Soup”!

  19. LC says:

    noone in our family will eat leftover vegetables, so I put them in a ziploc bag that I keep in the fridge. When I get enough bags, they go in the soup. I make it in the crockpot so its ready when I get home. I always add sage and basil frozen from my summer garden. I call it “free soup”.

  20. Brittany says:

    I love Anything soup! I also have an unhealthy love of generic bouillon, which makes a great base. However, I have been making a lot of soup variations based off my Moosewood cookbook (very highly recommended for someone trying to make delicious, inexpensive creative vegetarian food with plenty of vegan options) that use just water as a base. It’s interesting to learn new techniques for bringing out flavors. I maintain attachment to the chemical awesomeness of generic bouillon, however.

    I also enjoy the very “real” pictures you put on here. Yes, presentation is important, but presenting your kitchen and meals as they are rather than in a dolled up food magazine way is also a legitimate presentation choice. (It also seems much more in line with the philosophy of the Simple Dollar.)

  21. dorothy says:

    We call this “Round-up” soup at our house. (It was stone soup when the kids were little) It almost always has a base of EVOO sauteed onions and garlic, and many times a can of organic diced tomatoes and lots of cumin for a more “Southwest” flavor. In fact we make it “Mediterranean style” more beans, garlic and tomato, top with romano and chopped fresh parsley, “Mexican style”- thrown in some diced green chilis,cumin,corn-more tomatoes, black beans (or hominy maybe) and serve with tortilla strips.
    The possibilities are endless. And, this soup can be as down home as diner style or dressed up so that you would find it in an upscale restaurant with a fancy name.

  22. AH says:

    We discipline 1 simple meal a week to remember those who are hungry & give $ saved to charity. These days most meals are simple but1 intentionally do. Like, share 1 pkg. Of ramen noodles & 4 saltines each & 1 glass of water.

  23. Nicole says:

    Look at that gorgeous tomato and onion.

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