A hot soup pick-me-up is a super supper option, but it’s too early for those stormy days with nothing better to do then boil up pots of bones. I’m always on the hunt for quicker alternatives, but I haven’t found many acceptable soup options in a can.
Not that I’m a can snob; I just see cans as ingredients, not end products.
Give one of these compromises a try — yes, a little more trouble than warming up the chicken noodle in the cupboard, but a lot more satisfying and not nearly as time consuming as you suspect.
One of the biggest impediments to short cutting soup recipes is short cutting the broth.
I have found two that I like: the little jellied cups that recently arrived in grocery stores, and the jars of paste, often found in the import section instead of with bouillons.
The canned and tetra pack varieties can be very good, or kinda skunky, and it’s up to you to find the options that suit you best.
If you discover a powdered version that’s acceptable, let me know.
Bok Choy, White Bean and Noodle Soup
Baby bok choy is fabulous in this dish, but if you can’t find it, the grown-up variety is pretty darned good. This will make 8 generous servings.
2 onions, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced — not minced
1/2 tsp. sesame seed oil
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 inch fresh gingerroot — no need to peel, just smack it with the flat of a knife blade
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium-sized can white navy or kidney beans, well rinsed
4 baby bok choy, coarsely chopped
1 small handful vermicelli noodles (or any noodle you like)
2 tsp. soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Fry onions and carrots in vegetable oil over high heat in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot until they are starting to brown.
Reduce heat to medium and add garlic; cook just until it is fragrant and beginning to take on a little colour.
Add sesame oil and red pepper flakes and cook another minute. Add gingerroot, broth, beans, bok choy and vermicelli and cook together until noodles are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add soy sauce, season to taste and serve. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, dress up the bowls with chopped green onion and maybe a handful of fresh cilantro leaves.
If I have leftover chicken from the night before, I shred it up with my fingers and add it at the end to turn this into more of a meal in a bowl.
Roasted Garlic Red Pepper Soup
Puree this fabulous concoction and stir in a little cream and you have a completely different dish — good enough for a special occasion.
I make this on a tired Friday night when I need comfort but can’t be bothered to spend any longer in the kitchen than I absolutely must.
Fresh basil isn’t easy to find, and it’s not standing by in my fridge for cooking on a whim, so I don’t hesitate to add a couple of spoonfuls of bottled pesto, which I do keep on hand for emergency pasta fixes.
I also always have a can or jar of roasted red peppers in the cupboard, because they make an instant — and elegant — sauce for meat, fish or vegetable dish.
They add tremendous flavour when you don’t have time to build it yourself.
Serve this as a main course to 4, or as a starter to 6.
1 head garlic, peeled but cloves left whole
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 large jars (at least 1 cup each) roasted red peppers, sometimes labelled pimentos
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Fry the garlic cloves in olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium low until they are golden brown and soft.
Remove from pot and set aside. Add onions and cook until lightly coloured and tender.
Add oregano and cook another minute.
Coarsely mash garlic with a fork and return to pot. Roughly chop the red peppers into bite-sized pieces and add, along with tomatoes, broth salt and pepper.
Simmer together 10 minutes — or however long you have — then stir in basil and serve.
Quick and Hearty Sausage, Lentil and Orzo Soup
Orzo is that tiny pasta that looks like rice.
You can buy it now in the bulk food store and sometimes the grocery store, but feel free to substitute any smallish pasta or noodle, or even rice.
I have also made this with chickpeas and black beans — just about any mix and match of beans and pasta will make 8 people very happy with you.
2 to 4 hot Italian sausages (or any you like)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, chopped
2 stalks fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1 small stalk fresh rosemary (optional)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup orzo (or other pasta)
2 cups canned lentils, rinsed and drained (1 largish can is fine.)
1 cup vegetable or tomato juice
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper (or to taste)
Remove casings from sausages and scramble fry in oil in a heavy-bottomed pot until brown and just about cooked through.
Discard any fat. Add onion and cook until soft.
Add garlic, red pepper, thyme and rosemary and cook together about 5 minutes.
Add broth, orzo, lentils, tomato juice, salt and pepper and simmer together about 20 minutes.
Discard thyme and rosemary stalks.
If the soup is a little thick, add more broth or even water until it is the consistency you like.
A sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan on top of the bowls is particularly delicious.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor
and teacher in St. John’s. Questions
may be sent to her c/o The Telegram,
P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL,