Updated on 12.08.11

The Soup Kitchen

Trent Hamm

From about mid-October to roughly the end of March, we have some form of soup for dinner two or three times a week. It’s incredibly easy to make, has infinite variations, and is really inexpensive. What’s not to love about it?

Here’s exactly how we do it.

The Basic Tools
Obviously, the most basic thing you need to have is a soup pot or two. We often make soup in these 5 1/2 quart enameled cast iron pots, but any pot that ranges from five quarts or so on up will be sufficient for making soup. I highly recommend having a lid.

You’ll also need to have a ladel, as it makes serving the soup into bowls much easier. You’ll also, of course, need bowls and spoons for eating and a spoon for stirring the soup.

That’s really all you need in your kitchen (aside from a stovetop) to make soup pretty much any time you want.

The Basic Ingredients We Always Have on Hand
We keep a steady supply of a few key ingredients on hand at all times for soup making.

Our three most frequent soup ingredients are barley, egg noodles, and dried beans. These form the backbone of many of the soups we make, plus they store quite well in the pantry in their dry form. When we find a sale on these, we stock up every time.

We also keep a few basic seasonings on hand, such as salt and pepper. In addition, we also usually keep some homemade vegetable stock around for the liquid of the soup. We also keep some vegetable boullion around in case we’re out of stock.

If you like beef soups, use beef stock or boullion instead. If you like chicken soups, use chicken stock or boullion instead. Keep whatever it is that you like around.

In addition, we keep a few basic spices around: thyme, sage, and bay leaves, for starters. These work well in most soups.

We also keep oyster crackers around as a condiment for the soup.

This is actually all you need to make a flavorful passable soup at the drop of a hat. Just cook the main ingredient, add some herbs and pepper, and simmer for a while until it smells too good to resist.

Varying Things Up
Of course, you’re going to want to vary this for variety’s sake. How do you do that?

The way we do it is that we simply watch for vegetables that are on sale at our local grocery stores. If potatoes are on sale this week, we use potatoes in a batch of soup. The same goes for almost any vegetable, from turnips to kale to spinach to corn. Whatever’s fresh and inexpensive, we try it and use it.

You can also include meat in your bargain hunting, too. If you find chicken or beef or pork on sale, pick it up and use it as an ingredient. If it sounds good to you, it probably is good.

How do you cook it? The first step is to simply boil your liquid ingredients – water and/or stock. You’ll start with this, then likely add more liquid during the cooking process if the soup gets too thick. Don’t worry about evaporated water – the flavor will just get richer over time.

The easiest way is just to search for your ingredient on Google with the addition “time to boil.” So, if you want to know how long to make soup with, say, turnips in it, you’d search for “time to boil turnips.” You’ll find that turnips take 25-30 minutes to boil.

Then, just make a list of all of your ingredients and how long they take to boil. Add the ingredients in order so that they all finish cooking at the same time. So, for example, if you have beans that take two hours, turnips that take 30 minutes, and potatoes that take 20 minutes, you’d start the beans, let them cook for an hour and a half, add the turnips, and then ten minutes later, add the potatoes.

The exception to this is the meat. If you’re adding meat (I actually also do this with onions and a few other things, too), I suggest cooking it separately until it’s done, then adding it with about ten or fifteen minutes left to go for the soup. Take some of the soup broth you have going, pour it in the pan that you cooked the meat in while the pan is still hot, then pour it back into the soup pot to add some delicious flavor.

It’s incredibly easy, incredibly tasty, and incredibly inexpensive – my kind of meal!

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  1. kc says:

    Ladel. THUD. Attempting to reattach jaw. Thanks also for pointing out that I’ll need a spoon for eating soup. Deeply

  2. David says:

    I imagine that if you use a ladel to make soup, you would need a spono to eat it.

  3. Michelle says:

    Seems strange to me to fry onions separately and add them later. I always fry onions in some olive oil, maybe with some chopped celery and carrots, directly in the pot that is going to hold the soup. Then I add the rest of the ingredients: broth, pasta, other vegetables,etc and let it simmer for awhile and serve.

  4. EngineerMom says:

    @#1 – I think Trent was just trying to include all the equipment necessary in case someone who has never made soup has the appropriate utensils. Having taught several people how to cook in college, I’ve learned you have to be VERY specific when addressing an audience that may include people who have never cooked in their lives.

    I would also include canned petite diced tomatoes in the pantry stock. Adding them to a soup can dramatically change the taste (for the better, in my opinion), making it very easy to make up a huge batch of soup, then modify it slightly as the days pass so you aren’t eating the exact same thing every night for dinner. My approach is to make a basic chicken-based soup one night (carrots, celery, barley or rice, green beans, peas), add the tomatoes and a dash of hot sauce the second night, and soy sauce and sesame oil the third night.

    Different-tasting meals from the same basic soup.

  5. lurker carl says:

    An interesting juxtaposition to mention the incredibly expensive pot he uses for making incredibly inexpensive soups. Sell the pot and use the money to run the furnace this winter!

  6. Vanessa says:

    I use No-Chicken Broth by Imagine in all my soups. So good!

  7. AnnJo says:

    @5 lurker carl – I noticed the same thing. If the French brand name isn’t worth $200 or more, you can get a perfectly decent enameled cast-iron pot for around $40-50 new. Besides, an even more economical pot for preparing soup, especially if you’re using beans, barley or similar long-cooking food, is a pressure cooker.

  8. Karen says:

    I work from home but I’m usually running in and out all day or jumping from one thing to another. My life doesn’t support cooking by stopwatch ;-) So I often make soup in the crockpot, using the ‘drive by’ method. Put the broth in on low in the morning, and throw in an ingredient or two whenever I’m walking through the kitchen. As long as the starches (potatoes, beans, but not small pasta) get in by noon, it all turns out fine.

    For a good starter recipe, Google ‘Susan’s Dirty Little Secret Soup recipe’

  9. Nick says:

    This is a good start to some decent soup. If any readers are more visual, I’ve posted about 30 different soup recipes on my site over the last few years.
    A link will get sent into the moderation nebula here, but hopefully you can figure this out if you’re interested!


  10. valleycat1 says:

    It’s odd that Trent is so specific about the equipment needed, but entirely vague on the quantities for the ingredients – at least relative to each other. Most rank beginner cooks stress out about exactly how much of what is needed, and don’t seem to have much of a clue regarding how to figure out how much to make for a given number of servings. He could have given one example recipe or some links.

  11. em says:

    Trent has mentioned many times why he chose that cast iron enamel pot(he even wrote a whole post about why he decided to save up for it) and I completely agree with him. They are worth the price if you take care of them properly.

  12. Steven says:

    I guess I’m not alone in feeling like Trent thinks his readers are complete idiots. We need a bowl to eat soup? And spoons to eat it too?

    Come on, Trent. Try just a little harder.

  13. cindy says:

    Didn’t Trent write a whole post recently about using spell check? I guess his spell checker didn’t work on “ladel”. It is very boldly spelled incorrectly. I rarely post a comment, but I have to say many of these posts seem thrown together with no regard for proper spelling, grammar, or coherence. Many times these posts seem as if they could have been written by a middle school child for an assignment. I know this is a blog and the content is free, but Trent is making his living as a writer from it and claims to want to continue writing. It seems he could have enough respect for his readers to try and present a quality product.

  14. Gretchen says:

    I feel like a complete idiot after wondering what 12 people had to say about soup.

    Cast iron is not worth it, imo, and if I were the kind of person that needed this basic of a series that’s certainly not the pot I would start off with.

  15. Vanessa says:


    Trent has said that he is focusing on his novel now, so he has whipped up a bunch of posts in advance so there will not be a break in posting. I think he said he’s written posts well into the new year. At least that what I think he said, someone else can clarify.

    That might explain the quality of some of the posts lately.

  16. AnnJo says:

    @11, em, I’m a huge fan of enameled cast iron and the owner of both a Le Creuset dutch oven and a Lodge one. They both perform fine – equally fine as far as I can tell – but the latter costs about 20% of what the former does. Is the French version really five times better, or are we just being expected to pay for the French labor force’s eight weeks per year vacations?

    I’m also the past owner of a Le Creuset casserole/braising pot, and let me tell you, it hurt badly when that thing was damaged beyond use and I realized that it would cost close to $300 to replace it (which is what led to the discovery of the Lodge alternative). As a matter of fact, I replaced it with the Lodge for a only few dollars more than I would have paid just in sales tax on the Le Creuset.

    In the post Trent wrote justifying his purchase, he commented on the 101-year warranty Le Creuset offers. Well, the warranty does not cover damage from mis-use, and what are the odds that in 101 years or even 50 years, no one will distractedly turn the knob on high instead of low and walk away, or a helpful guest or visiting relative won’t take a steel-wool potscrubber to it while doing the dishes for you (which is what happened to mine)? As I learned when my Le Creuset was damaged, they cannot be re-enameled and the warranty is going to be useless under all the most common scenarios.

  17. deRuiter says:

    “boullion” is generally spelled bouillon which a person who ran spell check would know. “…have a ladel, as it…” Isn’t spell check a wonderful, easy to use tool? Now I personally would use a ladle and spell check if I were a person with a passion for writing and soup making, but that’s just me.
    WHAT ABOUT A KNIFE TO CUT INGREDIENTS TO PROPER SIZE? Dicing onions with the spoon for stirring looks like a slow starter.
    For an article on thrifty soup making this says nothing about making stock from scraps and things like the leftover turkey carcase or the end of the ham’s bone. The article does not mention a big container in the freezer into which odds and ends of cooked vegetables are added to save up enough for a vegetable soup. It doesn’t mention that the fish monger will often give you a meaty fish head for free if you are buying something else, and this makes a wonderful fish stock for the cost of an onion, carrot and the heat to cook the fish head with water. Cooking shrimp? Boil the stock with a couple of vegetables and have shrimp stock. Have a chicken for dinner? Pressure cook the bones and scraps for stock. I have a smaller pressure cooker for little lots like this, and a big one for doing the turkey carcase. Packaged bouillon is mostly salt and artificial flavor so it’s bad health wise and bad taste wise, but in an emergency…… Store your meat stock in the refrigerator with the layer of congealed fat on the top and it keeps fresh longer because of the airtight seal. Remove the congealed fat just before using the stock. Soup generally tastes much better the second day, so making it in advance, storing overnight in refrigerator results in even better tasting soup.
    Like some soups made by those during the Second World War food shortages in Europe, this column was a bit thin.

  18. deRuiter says:

    Sorry, did not proof read my comment, mea culpa! Above, boil the shrimp SHELLS which you’ve shucked off the shrim which you are going to cook, and then BOIL THE SHRIMP SHELLS with a couple of vegetables and water. You can tell I don’t have a passion for writing, but I do like to eat well, so have passion for cooking from scratch. Cheaper that way too!

  19. littlepitcher says:

    I’m not a language Nazi, but this column reads like a seventh grade student’s slapdash assignment.
    Thanks for the Lodge recommendation. Their plant is less than an hour from here and this region desperately needs more jobs. Soup cooks fine, though, in my secondhand Revere kettle.

  20. kristine says:

    I second the Lodge recommendation. We have some le crueset we got as a gift, and Lodge. No discernable difference in performance at all. And Lodge is made in America- which I deeply appreciate when so many of our countrymen are struggling. We also have a le-cruest 5qt casserole knock-off in red from Marshalls that is fabulous and gorgeous.

    Funny thing is, the only part that struck me as weird was the title. I expected to find out how they were participating in feeding the local hungry, and tips on feeding large amount of people in a cooperative kitchen-or starting one locally- which would make a great post this time of year!

  21. kevin says:

    This pointing out the need for a spoon to eat soup reminds me of his tip to shower daily in his tip-a-day book of frugal ideas. Alas, I bought that book when I was fairly new to this blog.

    I don’t know that Trent is lazy, I just don’t think he has a talent for writing. (Neither do I, but then I don’t claim a “passion” for writing.) Of course you can’t deny the success of this blog. According to feedburner he has as many readers as Get Rich Slowly. I will never understand that.

    (Of course I contribute to his success by visiting the site to read the comments. But I doubt that most of his readers are here for the comments.)

  22. Priswell says:

    I have to put in a good word for the use of the pressure cooker. A rich tasting soup can be made in 15 minutes or so, after chopping the veggies.

  23. That Other Jean says:

    Explain to me the point of enameled cast iron, please, except to look pretty? Plain cast iron cooks great, lacks chemicals to leach into your food, is non-stick when it’s seasoned, and is easy to take care of. Not to mention it’s a minor fraction of the price of Le Creuset. If you’re just starting to cook (and if you’re not, you probably already know how to make soup), or you’re on a tight budget, or you want cookware that lasts, cast iron is great; expensive enameled French cast iron, not so much.

  24. AmyG says:

    IMHO, a good chef’s knife and utility knife are far more important in soup preparation than the pot. Whether you use a $20 stockpot from Walmart or a pricey Le Creuset cast iron piece, you get comparable results for soup. Ever try to cut up a bunch of vegetables or a piece of meat with sub-par or dull cutlery? Definitely takes the joy out of DIY.

  25. cindy says:

    Except you don’t want to cook with acidic ingredients like tomato in a plain cast iron pot because the iron will leach out. That’s okay in small doses but over time, you could be ingesting too much iron.

  26. ellie says:

    Comment to #21 Kevin – For months I have visited Trent’s site only to read the comments – wish he would go back to the kind of writing he did a year or so ago.

  27. em says:

    @#16 Annjo and #20 kristine:in my experience with the 2 lodge enameled products i’ve had they are cheap and I’ve had the enamel come off on both of them. and krisine, Lodge cast iron enameled products are made in China! the rest of their stuff is made in America and I do like the quality of the rest of their stuff just not the enameled cast iron things.

  28. Steven says:

    Isn’t it good to have high iron concentration in your blood? I could be wrong, of course. I usually am. ;-)

  29. Johanna says:

    In my experience, a good vegetable peeler is even more important than a good knife. I’ve gotten blisters and cuts on my hands from using poor quality peelers, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually injured myself with a dull knife (and I’ve used some pretty dull knives).

    And compared to knives, peelers are cheap. I use a Chef’n Palm Peeler that goes for about $6.

  30. kristine says:

    em- I have the cast iron, not the enameled iron lodge.

  31. cindy says:

    Steven @#28, it is good to have the right amount of iron in the blood but there is some evidence, for men in particular, that iron can accumulate too much and cause heart problems. Like other metals, iron, over and above your daily needs, builds up in the body, and the only way to get rid of it is to lose some blood. So, if you give blood frequently it probably won’t be a problem and go ahead and cook spaghetti sauce in your iron pot.

  32. valleycat1 says:

    #23 – the enamel on the cast iron gives you the heating qualities of the cast iron but easier clean up of the inside with the enamel, & no rust issues if you need to let it soak.

    I have a great Le Crueset small pot that we have used regularly for almost 40 years, but a few years ago bought a larger enameled cast iron stew pot at Target for a fraction of LC’s price & it’s working perfectly well.

  33. AnnJo says:

    Another great tool for soup-making is an immersion blender.

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