Making a satisfying soup on a weeknight is a delicious possibility, as long as you've got a good game plan. Sometimes that's just as simple as having a good trick or two up your sleeve, like pre-chopping the vegetables ahead of time or gussying up a can or box of pre-made soup, and sometimes it means using your slow cooker. Here are 10 smart strategies to help you make weeknight homemade soup a reality.
1. Prep ahead.
Depending on what you're adding to the soup, prepping it can sometimes take longer than cooking. Get in front of the issue by peeling and chopping ingredients the night or morning before you want to cook it. Measure things out, pull things out of the freezer, and take a quick inventory of the fridge so you know what you might have to pick up from the grocery store after work. That way when you get home, there are no surprises and all you have to do is get things in a pot and turn on the stove.
2. Cut everything into small bite-sized pieces.
This is helpful in two ways. One, it's just plain easier to eat soup with ingredients that easily fit onto your spoon, and two, it will cook faster, which is one of the main goals of weeknight cooking.
3. Use what you have on hand.
Don't be afraid to make some substitutions to a soup recipe. Soup is very adaptable. There's no reason to run out and buy a missing ingredient or stop on the way home from work if you have a great option in the fridge already. Here are a few examples: Swiss chard can easily fill in for kale, part of an onion can sub in for shallot, and macaroni can take the place of penne pasta.
4. Keep a well-stocked pantry.
The ability to make substitutions comes with a well-stocked pantry. It's hard to keep lots of produce fresh in the fridge without a plan for it, but it's easy to keep dried pasta, rice, canned tomatoes or beans, or even frozen vegetables at the ready for a last-minute soup.
5. Consider leftovers.
Soups are extremely adaptable. Think of them as the perfect time to use up any odds and ends hanging in the fridge without a use. Half a cup of cooked rice left from stir-fry night? Add it to a chicken broth with frozen veggies and a few herbs to make it a soup. A few tablespoons of pesto? Stir it in a box or tomato soup for an easy upgrade. Last night's roasted vegetables? Simmer them in coconut milk with a bit of curry for a quick veggie chowder. Soup is one of my favorite off-script recipes and one of the best ways to clean out the fridge at the end of the week.
6. Use canned soup as a base and add to it.
Shhhh! We won't tell. Even canned soup can be doctored into something semi-homemade. Bulk it up with beans or pasta. or leftovers like pork tenderloin or a bit of cooked corn. Freshen up the flavor right before serving with a squeeze of citrus juice or a shower of herbs.
7. Freeze it.
Anytime you make a brothy soup, you can double the recipe and freeze half for later. Then it's ready and waiting whenever you are. Ladle it into single-serving airtight containers. It will thaw fast and you can reheat only as much as you'd like at the time.
8. Choose quick-cooking ingredients.
If you're starting from scratch the night of, it's best to avoid any tough cuts of meat, dried beans, or any other ingredient that requires hours of cooking unless a pressure cooker is part of your game plan. Otherwise, for weeknights soups that cook up quickly, think lean meats and fresh or frozen vegetables for bowls that will come together in a flash.
9. Use the slow cooker.
Let the slow cooker do the work for you! In recent years, I've become a slow-cooker convert. It really is an appliance that can do almost anything, and soups are a natural choice. Set it when you walk out the door in the morning and come home to dinner ready and waiting. Just make sure you're cooking a recipe that's going to be tasty for the amount of time you'll be away from the house!
10. Use a pressure cooker.
In recent years, we've seen the pressure cooker shine. With so many good models on the market now, it's worth the investment. Anything that requires slow, low, and moist heat cooks so much quicker. That means your weeknight soup featuring dried beans or tougher cuts of meat just got a little bit more interesting.