Why the best soup recipe is my mother’s everything soup

My leftover bean mash was the base of this delicious soup


Growing up, there was a standing joke in our family, particularly when we had company for dinner. My parents would offer second servings of whatever was on the menu but there was never any pressure to finish up the food. “It’s OK because we will have it in the soup tomorrow.” was the standard line my mother would say. And indeed, when there were leftovers, they did end up in the soup.

Food waste was not allowed in our home. Thinking back, my parents were definitely ahead of the times. I always remember my father’s compost pile at the back of our yard. This was decades before I had ever read anything about composting. When I started to compost in my own home, my father was my guide about how to do it.

As my mother cooked fresh meals on a daily basis, leftovers made their way into soups. She made the most delicious combinations on a regular basis. No recipes – just whenever she thought would go together and they always would include  whatever leftovers there were. She would throw in some barley, maybe split peas or potatoes or whatever she felt like along with vegetables.

Everyone loved her soups.

And last night, something amazing happened. I made a pot of soup that tasted, for the first time, exactly like my mother’s soup. I say amazing as I have never recreated the taste before and since she passed away almost 5 years ago, the soup was comforting in so many ways.

The soup came to be because I had made a mashed lima bean dish, a traditional Jewish Eastern European offering made from dried lima beans, chopped onions and chicken schmaltz (chicken fat). I used extra virgin olive oil in mine, though. The problem was that I was distracted when I was soaking the beans (many too many beans!) and even more distracted when I cooked and mashed them. I simply didn’t notice the amounts.

There was a lot of it left – much more than we would eat over the next few days. But then the inspiration came to me. Why not make like my mother and put it into a soup?

So I chopped up some onion, carrots and celery for a mirepoix and after sautéing them in a little oil, I added the rest of the mashed beans, about a cup of pot barley and some chopped fresh parsley along with some vegetable broth and a little salt and freshly ground pepper. I then let it simmer for a few hours.

When we sat down to eat, we realized it was my mother’s soup. Each of us remarked about it as we tasted it.

Don’t be intimidated by soup making
While there are many traditional recipes for soup, once you have made a few pots of various combinations, you will have more confidence to wing it. Obviously you want to have some consistency in terms of flavours and you may want to use some guidelines for certain cuisines. For example, if you’re making something like a hot and sour soup, if you’re a novice, you would want to look up proportions of various ingredients.

But if you’re making a vegetable or soup from pulses and your creation seems to lack flavour, there are a few ingredients that can quickly elevate the taste. For example, adding a small amount of an acid like lemon juice or a particular vinegar can brighten it up in a flash.

A few weeks ago, I had some zucchini in my fridge that I needed to use. So I started with my mirepoix and then added the zucchini, some dill and vegetable broth. But after pureeing the soup, it seemed to be somewhat bland. A few generous squeezes of lemon juice took care of it.

Adding a dollop of pesto (defrosted from my freezer) before serving the soup is another flavour booster I’ve used. Some freshly grated Parmigiana cheese, as a garnish, can also rescue a somewhat bland mixture.

Another perk of soup making is that you can cook once and eat twice or even three times. Be aware, though, that if you’re using leftovers, note when you first cooked the original food so that you don’t keep in the fridge too long. Freezing the soup makes for easy meal on another day.

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Categories: Tips and Tricks, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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One Comment on “Why the best soup recipe is my mother’s everything soup”

  1. Jennifer
    February 9, 2022 at 8:38 am #

    Very good idea mashing up beans. Your mother’s soup sounds wonderful.
    I wish more people would realize how easy soups are to make and at least once a week I make clean out the fridge soup
    I think the idea of broth can be intimidating and time consuming to make from scratch but I have found the better than bouillon broths to be very handy and flavourful though expensive
    Thanks for the idea of adding an acid, I didn’t know that.
    My mother and I have had the discussion whether when you make something new from the leftovers does the time it is still good reset?

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