Saturday, March 16, 2013

Beef Vegetable Soup, Sort of Instant

This month’s soup celebration marches on with Beef Vegetable Soup you can make tonight.  Why? Because, this soup takes no longer to make than any other dinner.

If you already have tonight’s meal planned, consider making this tonight too.  Soup tastes even better the next day, so if you have some energy it’s a good idea to make soup while you are making tonight’s dinner.   Tomorrow, give yourself a night off. 

To make enough soup for four, count on about 8 cups of liquid.  Liquid includes broth, water, tomato or carrot juice, wine, pasta water and more.  A great base for beef soups is half chicken broth and half beef broth with some flavorings like a bay leaf, a smidge of thyme, basil or marjoram and a wink of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce.   That’s where we’ll being our story….

Beef Vegetable Soup
Serves 8
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds cubed stew meat (beef chuck), lightly salted and peppered
8 ounces water (or 2/3 cup water, 1/3 cup wine or tomato juice)
2 14-oz cans beef low-sodium broth
2 14-oz cans chicken low-sodium broth
Optional: 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes in juice (low-sodium)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
¾ teaspoons dried herbs: any combination of thyme, basil, dill
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
½ cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup green peas, frozen
Up to 1 cup of additional vegetables, any combination, like cauliflower, corn, cubed winter squash, lima beans, sweet potatoes, etc
Up to one cup cooed rice, pasta or beans
Salt, pepper
Optional: fresh herbs for garnish: basil, dill, parley or thyme

  1. In a large pot with cover or Dutch oven heat oil over medium heat.  Add beef cubes and brown 3-4 minutes on two sides. While browning, leave meat undisturbed so it can form a nice crust.  This will add flavor to your soup.  You may need to brown the meat in several batches to avoid crowding the pieces and steaming rather than browning them.  
  2. When all the meat has been browned, slowly stir in wine if using or juice and water.  Use the back of a spoon or spatula to scrape up any caramelized bits that the liquid has loosened.  
  3. Add broth, bay leaf and dried herbs.  
  4. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover.  Simmer meat for 15 minutes.  
  5. Add all remaining ingredients except frozen peas and salt.  Cook, partially covered, over low heat until vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes more.  
  6. Add peas and cook another 5 minutes.  If you are adding any already cooked vegetables, stir them in now too.  
  7. Stir in cooked rice, pasta and beans if using. (You may also cook small pasta like ditalini while the vegetables cook-- allow 10 minutes for pasta to cook.)
  8. Taste and add salt as needed- usually you will add about ½ teaspoon but start with half that.  Hold back on salt if you are not using low sodium broths.  You can also add any fresh herbs at this stage.  Chopped basil, dill, rubbed thyme are all nice or can be used as a fresh garnish at the table. 

Borscht, Sort of Instant
Not enough of us have had the pleasure of eating real homemade borscht.  It shows up at the supermarket during key seasons packaged in glass jars that look more like cranberry juice than hearty soup.  In truth, there are many recipes from the thin broths to chunky stews.  

My favorite is an enhanced beef vegetable soup tricked out with the signature ingredient- beets- plus extra potatoes, cabbage, dill, lemon juice and sour cream.  For borscht, you can build on the recipe above or take a canned beef vegetable soup as your base.  Instead of adding peas and extra cooked vegetables, add cooked beets and potatoes.  Cabbage can be added raw, very thinly sliced.  It will wilt down as the soup heats.  Squeeze lemon juice into the mixture before serving and top each serving with sour cream and dill.  Fresh dill tastes wonderful but dried is a fine option. 

A few little tricks to know
Give canned broth a fresher taste by adding some herbs—fresh or dried.  A pinch of thyme, oregano or dill can liven up a canned soup.  Add leftover cooked vegetables, beans or leftover chopped meat too. With cooked rice or noodles, you have a lovely soup. 

In fact, with few fresh ingredients like fresh herbs, more chopped, steamed vegetables or a touch of spice and you can enhance almost any prepared soup.  Experiment by adding one fresh ingredient to your favorite soup and see where it takes you.