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Issue Date: September 16, 2001

Recipes in this article:
Choose a pound of protein
Choose two vegetables
Kielbasa and Cabbage Soup
Chicken Vegetable Soup
Pork Soup with Hominy
Fish and Potato Soup
Quick Soup
Ask Pamela Anderson a food question!
Not enough on this page? Here's more recipes!

Cook Smart

Supper soups in 30 minutes

Learn an easy formula, and you can put an endless selection of soups on the table any night of the week.

MY FAMILY loves hearty soup for supper. However, homemade soup is at best a two-hour investment -- not the kind of time most working people can spare on weeknights. So I have developed a formula similar to our long-simmered favorites that can be made in about 30 minutes.

The formula is simple: 1 pound of meat, 1 pound of vegetables, 1 quart of chicken broth, 1 onion, 1 cup tomatoes, a starch, and herbs and/or spices. The technique is simple, too: Sauté the onion until softened, add the remaining ingredients to the pot, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes. There are a few exceptions, but it's easier to know a formula and remember the exceptions than not to know a formula at all.

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Choose a pound of protein

Avoid meats that require long simmering, such as whole chickens or beef shanks. Instead, buy cuts that cook quickly: pork tenderloin; boneless, skinless chicken thighs (more flavorful than the breasts); boneless ham; Italian and kielbasa-style sausage; shrimp; and firm-fleshed fish.

Fully cooked smoked meats such as ham and kielbasa require no special treatment. Simply cut them into bite-size pieces and add them to the rest of the ingredients. Fresh pork sausage and tenderloin need browning before they are added to the soup. If you're in a hurry, brown them in a separate skillet while the onion sautés. Otherwise, brown them in the soup kettle before sautéing the onion, then add the other ingredients. (The exception: Pork tenderloin dries out quickly, so set it aside after browning and add it to the pot in the last five minutes of cooking.) It's not necessary to fully cook these meats; they finish cooking in the soup.

Shredded chicken and flaked fish give the soup a from-scratch quality. Rather than add raw chunks, drop in whole thighs and fish fillets. Most fish breaks up naturally after simmering a few minutes. For the chicken thighs, simply pull them from the kettle and shred them when they're cool enough to handle, then return the meat to the simmering soup. Shrimp and scallops, like pork tenderloin, are an exception to the formula. They cook so quickly that you should add them during the last five minutes.

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Pick two vegetables

Although some vegetable combinations are better than others -- sausage with cabbage and potatoes, or chicken with carrots and peas -- I can't think of a single vegetable that clashes with any of the suggested meats or fish. For vegetables that need significant trimming (fresh corn, for example), weigh them after trimming. For vegetables that require little trimming (such as zucchini or green beans), just throw them on the kitchen scale. If you don't have a kitchen scale, simply weigh the vegetables at the store -- or just approximate. The soup will be fine with more or less than the suggested pound. While the onion -- which adds depth of flavor -- sautés, prepare the rest of the vegetables, adding them along with the other soup ingredients.

If you haven't finished preparing the vegetables by the time the onion sautés, add the chicken broth and get a head start on simmering. I also have found that a small quantity of tomatoes adds a subtle flavor dimension the soup often needs.

Use chicken broth -- always

The broth for this quick soup is store-bought, not homemade. Use only chicken broth; commercial beef broths generally are inferior. And although clam juice is fine in small quantities, I prefer it in combination with chicken broth or water for a seafood soup.

Pay attention to starch proportions

The starch quantity is not neat and tidy. Besides 1 pound of potatoes, the rest of the starches are different -- 16 ounces of drained beans or hominy, 1/3 cup uncooked rice or orzo, or 4 ounces (2 cups) of egg noodles.

The formula in action: By varying the ingredients, four very different tastes spring from the Quick Soup Formula. Try your own combinations.

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1 pound kielbasa, in 1/2-inch slices
1/4 medium cabbage, thickly shredded
2 medium carrots, diced
1 pound red potatoes (2 large), diced
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
Follow Quick Soup Formula directions.

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1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6)
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium celery stalks, diced
3/4 cup frozen green peas
4 ounces wide egg noodles (2 heaping cups)
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
Follow Quick Soup Formula directions. Remove chicken after simmering 10 minutes. Shred and return to soup.

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1 pork tenderloin (3/4 to 1 pound)
2 small leeks, halved lengthwise, sliced thin and washed thoroughly
1 large bell pepper, diced
2 cans (16 ounces each) hominy, drained and rinsed
1 Tb. minced fresh cilantro leaves
Brown the pork. Transfer to a board; slice thin. Follow Quick Soup Formula directions, adding pork and cilantro 5 minutes before end. Serve with lime wedges, tortilla chips and guacamole.

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1 pound firm-fleshed white fish, such as halibut, cod or haddock
1/4 medium cabbage, thickly shredded
2 medium celery stalks, diced
1 pound red potatoes (2 large), diced
2 bay leaves, 1 Tb. minced fresh parsley
Follow Quick Soup Formula directions. Add parsley to fully cooked soup.

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Serves 4
Oil: 2 Tbs. vegetable or olive oil
Onion: 1 medium, chopped
Vegetables: 1 pound, cut in bite-size pieces. I usually select 2 vegetables to equal the pound, but more variety is fine. Good choices are celery, carrots, cabbage, corn, cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, green beans, mushrooms, leeks, kale, spinach, peas and lima beans.
Protein: 1 pound. Your choice of boneless, skinless chicken thighs; Italian sausage in the casing; kielbasa; ham; pork tenderloin; firm-fleshed fish; medium shrimp, peeled; or scallops.
Starch: Your choice of 1 pound potatoes, cubed; 2 cans (16 ounces each) black beans, white beans, chickpeas or hominy; 4 ounces wide or extra-wide egg noodles, uncooked; or 1/3 cup long-grain rice or orzo, uncooked
Tomatoes: 1 cup, canned or fresh
Chicken broth: 32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth, canned or in a carton
Herb or spice: Your choice
Salt and pepper
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or soup kettle. Add onions; sauté to soften slightly, about 2 minutes.
Add remaining vegetables, protein, starch, tomatoes, broth and herb or spice. (If using pork tenderloin, shrimp or scallops, add in the last 5 minutes of cooking.)
Partially cover and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste.
Serve with a salad and good bread.
Nutrition: Varies with ingredients.

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