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Friday, May 4, 2012

The $3 pot of soup

Okay, so the pot of soup really cost $3.40, but a round number just sounded better.  But for $3.40 this pot of soup fed a family of five for dinner and then lunch the next day.

Soup is the ultimate frugal food.  It is such an easy meal to make.  The most inexperienced cook can make a pot.  It uses up every thing from leftovers (chunks of meat loaf or other cooked meat can be added in the last 10 minutes), and veggies that are past their prime (wilted spinach in the fridge? toss it in the pot of soup), to garden surplus (that bumper crop of spring greens has to go somewhere).  It warms body and soul on a chilly evening. Serve with a humble loaf of bread and you have a money-saving supper.  Leftovers can be frozen in individual servings, saving money on pre-made frozen meals.  And it lends a delicious aroma to the whole house.

This is more than just a blog recipe, it's also an illustration demonstrating how cooking from scratch can feed you well and save money.

I was at my favorite produce stand here in Seattle (Country Farms in Edmonds,WA) brainstorming what to make for dinner.  It was nearing 4 PM.  No idea whatsoever what to make.  (You know those days, it feels like half your brains have been dumped out of the side of your head.)  I perused the fresh veggies and had a moment of intelligent thought.  Tonight, it would be Fully-Loaded Lentil and Vegetable soup.  I picked out onions, garlic, carrots, celery, zucchini, roma tomatoes and a green pepper.  I had lentils and swiss chard at home.  I chose lentils because I wanted something with protein, it was getting late in the day, and lentils cook up in about 30-40 minutes.

The veggies that I bought cost $2.55, the swiss chard came from my garden (negligible cost, about a penny), dried herbs/seasonings  (free -- from last summer's garden)  and the lentils I had at home (a little under 1 pound -- 69 cents/lb., purchased in a 25 lb. sack at the United Cash and Carry, Lynnwood, WA).  I also used about 15 cents of oil.

Here's the basic prep play by play
Start with a large stock pot on medium heat. Add some oil (a tablespoon or two) and chopped or sliced onions. Cook the onions, stirring, for about 2 minutes, then add the carrots and garlic. Continue cooking, while stirring, for about 2 more minutes.

Next add the lentils, dried herbs, and about 1 quart of water (as the lentils cook, continue checking and adding more water).  Simmer the lentils and these first veggies for about 30 minutes, until lentils are just tender.

Add the remaining vegetables (those that you wish to retain some firmness) and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes longer, adding tomatoes and green pepper at the last. Season with salt and pepper.  Serve and top each bowl with a dash of flavored vinegar. Vary the vegetables to your preferences and what's in season.

For the Fully-Loaded Lentil and Vegetable soup that I made, I used my 6-quart stock pot and these ingredients (following the basic guidelines above):

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, rough chopped
2 carrots, sliced
5 cloves of garlic, minced  (gotta love my garlic!)
2 1/2 cups dry lentils
water, 1 quart to start
1/2 Tablespoon assorted dried herbs (oregano, basil, marjoram)
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 large zucchini, halved then sliced
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
a large handful swiss chard, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
rosemary vinegar as seasoning for each bowl, just a dash (I make the rosemary vinegar myself in late summer--the recipe is super simple, I'll post it on this blog soon)

Yielded just over 4 quarts of a very hearty soup.  With a loaf of whole wheat bread, this made a very satisfying dinner.  And we had enough leftovers to feed all five of us the next day at lunch.  If there had been more leftovers, I would have frozen in individual servings, for quick take-and-go lunches.

Very light and lean, this is the vegan version.  You can also add some chopped sausage like kielbasa when you add the onions, and/or top each bowl with cheese, for an even heartier soup.

Although I have a good-sized vegetable garden, for this soup I used almost all veggies purchased at the produce stand.  I've found produce stand prices to be 25-35% lower than supermarkets.  With spring underway, produce stands are popping up all along highways in the U.S.  Find one near you and check out their prices.

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