In the name of better health and (I admit it) frugality, I have become quite a connoisseur of homemade soups and stews.
Before I got my weight under control, my daily lunch at work typically consisted of some sort of fast food burger or a grilled cheese sandwich and cream-based soup from the cafeteria where I work. (The folks who work there are fine, sweet people, but the daily soup invariably tended to be cream of yesterday’s vegetable – cream of cauliflower comes to mind…along with a shudder…)
After I started down the path of better nutrition, I would have a Subway or Quiznos sandwich on whole wheat bread (without the cheese) and some melon or a side salad – healthier eats, granted, but still pushing $200-a-month; and of course there was all that bread, even if it was (purportedly) whole wheat.
Over the past few months, I’ve finally wised up and discovered the pleasures of making a big ol’ pot of soup or stew and taking a goodly measure to work with me each day. Now, along about 11:15 I start counting the minutes until I can pop my Anchor 4-cup container of minestrone or black bean soup in the microwave and slurp myself into a soup coma.
There’s nothing finer.
For the record, there’s barely a soupçon of difference between soup and stew – in fact, the ingredients are often the same. Soups tend to be a little brothier (not a word, but should be) while the liquid in stews leans more toward the end of the gravy spectrum. In the end, you cook all the ingredients together in a big pot and eat both with a spoon, so to-may-to, to-mah-to – it’s all good.
I thought I might share a few of my favorite nirvana-in-a-bowl recipes with you. On this week’s menu:
Chicken Stew with Tomatoes and White Beans
- 2 c. cooked, shredded chicken
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 c.)
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 14½-oz. cans stewed tomatoes
- 1 14½-oz. can low-salt chicken broth
- 1 c. frozen corn
- ½ c. chopped fresh basil
- 1 T. dried oregano
- 2 15-oz. cans cannellini (white kidney beans), drained
- Heat the olive oil in whatever you’re going to cook your stew in (I use an 8-qt. stock pot). Add the chopped onion and minced garlic and sauté for about 4 minutes, or until your whole house smells like sautéed onions (always a sure sign of doneness).
- Add the stewed tomatoes, chicken broth, corn, basil, and oregano and bring it to a boil.
- Add the chicken and put the lid on; simmer for about 20 min. Add the beans and simmer for about 10 minutes longer.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Even though the recipe above pretty much uses canned everything (or tinned everything for all my readers across the pond), I cook my own dried cannellini (a half-pound of dried beans is enough) and reserve the stock when I boil my chicken instead of using canned broth. (The sodium count on canned food is frighteningly high.) Once I get adventuresome enough to stew my own tomatoes, I will probably do that as well.
- I typically use chicken breast, but I had a package of thighs on hand this time and used them instead. The stew is even better with dark meat and the cost savings more than made up for the small amount of extra fat.
- I used one tablespoon dried basil this time as opposed to a half cup of the fresh stuff. I would have preferred fresh, as you can’t beat a good chiffonade of fresh, peppery basil in a pot of soup of stew, but dried is what I had on hand.
Trust me when I tell you that you just about can’t mess up homemade soup – don’t worry about measuring too carefully, put a little more of this or that in if you like this or that, and just lay off the salt until the very end. So don’t be afraid to stir up a little mélange of soupy goodness of your own. Your wallet and your waistline will both thank you.