Universal Soup Recipe: Stretch Your Grocery Budget with This Make-It-Your-Own Guide

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by Daisy Luther

One of the best ways to stretch a meal is by taking a small amount of food and turning it into soup. You don’t even really need specific ingredients for this. You can use the guidelines in my Universal Soup recipe and assemble that strange mish-mash in your fridge into a delicious and satisfying meal.

In The Flat Broke Cookbook (get it in paperback for $8.95k or PDF for $5.49) I shared my recipe for Universal Casseroles and here you can find my universal jam recipe.

Not only is soup thrifty in good times, but it can make things much better during bad times. In one article, Selco explained how the women often made soup from whatever they could find to keep people fed during the SHTF event he survived.

The Components of Universal Soup

You need liquid, protein, produce, starches, and seasoning for a nicely balanced bowl of soup. (Below, I’ll talk more about each of these.)

The nice thing about Universal Soup, however, is that you can use what you have on hand. The only absolute necessities are liquid (because, um…it’s soup) and at least one other ingredient.

Universal Soup is a great way to use up leftovers and combine the things you have on hand into something tasty and filling. If you add bread, you can stretch it even further.

I often use the crockpot for Universal Soup. At night, when I’m putting away leftovers, I like to combine complimentary items into the crock, put the lid on, and pop it into the fridge. A couple of days later, when I have enough veggies and meat in the crock, I will add my liquid and cook it on low all day. It’s so nice to arrive home to the delicious smell of soup.

Liquid

The sky is the limit when it comes to the liquid you’re going to use for your soup. Think about your other ingredients when choosing a liquid and be sure that it will combine nicely. Whatever liquid you use, you can go with a minimum of a 50:50 ratio of liquid and water to make a less expensive yet still rich-tasting soup.

Here are some ideas for liquids you can use.

  • Tomato juice
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Broth (beef, chicken, vegetable, etc)
  • Vegetable puree

If you don’t have any of these things on hand, you can start your liquid the night before. Simply put 10 cups of water in your crockpot and add onions, garlic, celery, and/or a whole carrot. Season it with a little bit of salt.  Cook it on low overnight and you’ll have a tasty golden broth to which you can add your other ingredients the next day.

Another choice is to use beef, vegetable, or chicken boullion on water. I don’t like to consume MSG, so I usually go with an organic boullion or one that is MSG and gluten-free. You can stock up on ones like these so that you have them on hand to make soup on a dime.

I add the liquid last. I put in all the other ingredients and then top off my crockpot with my chosen liquid and water.

If you want a creamy soup, cook it with a broth base. Then about two hours before serving time if you are slow cooking and 15 minutes before if you are stovetop cooking, you can make it creamy. You have a few different options.

  • You can add a cup of milk or cream. (For a non-dairy option, cashew milk is a nice addition.)
  • You can puree a large cooked potato or a can of white beans and stir in the puree.
  • You can add one cup of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt if it’s something that will go with the flavor of the soup.
  • You can scoop out a cup of the soup liquid into a bowl and then thicken it with cornstarch, flour, or arrowroot starch. Get all the lumps out in the bowl, then pour it back into the soup and stir well.

Liquid is the base of your soup and your choices are really important to the end result.

Protein

If you want to make a meal that will stick to your ribs, you need protein in your soup. I often use leftovers for my protein. Here are some ideas for protein-rich additions for Universal Soup.

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Sausage
  • Ham
  • Pinto beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Navy beans
  • Lentils

If you are using meat, it can be a variety of different textures: diced, ground, or shredded. If you are using legumes in your soup, you will either need to use canned beans/peas or presoak them the day before.

I like to use 1/2 a cup of protein per person. But if the situation is not ideal and you are cobbling together leftovers, just use what you have.

Produce

Soup is a great way to do two things: use up random leftover veggies and get more produce into your family.  Don’t worry if your leftover vegetables have butter or other seasonings on them – this will just add to the flavor of the soup.

Depending on how you are cooking your soup (quickly on the stovetop or slowly in the crockpot), this will affect your decision on what kind of produce to add and when to add it. If you are doing a quick stovetop soup, add everything at once. If you are slowly cooking your soup, follow these guidelines:

  • Leftover vegetables:  Add them in the last hour of cooking. If you put them in all day, they’ll be mushy and unpleasant at serving time.
  • Canned vegetables: Add them when you start the soup and use the liquid they’re canned in for your base liquid.
  • Frozen vegetables: Add them in the last 2 hours of cooking – they’re pre-cooked and don’t need much time.
  • Fresh vegetables: Starchy vegetables like turnips or carrots take longer to cook. You should dice them into small pieces to make certain they’ll be cooked thoroughly and put them in at the beginning of your cooking time. Other more delicate vegetables like peas, corn, summer squash, broccoli, and green beans only need a few minutes so I suggest putting them into the crockpot during the last half hour.

You can use whatever produce you have kicking around. I often put together a nice soup with one can each of peas and carrots, corn, green beans, potatoes, and diced tomatoes. I use all the juices and then add ground beef (raw if you are crockpotting all day, cooked if you are doing a fast stovetop soup.) This is a soup so easy that even a non-cook can make it.

Starches

Starches extend your soup and turns it into a filling meal. Here are some great starches along with when to put them in. With most starches (other than potatoes) I prefer to cook them separately and stir them in toward the end. They soak up a lot of liquid, particularly rice. But worst case scenario, if it is cooked in the crockpot all day you will end up with something more casserole-y than soup-y. Aside from pasta – definitely do not add it at the beginning of the day and hope for the best. You will not get “the best.”

Potatoes – Is it even soup if there are no potatoes? They should be put in at the beginning regardless of whether you are cooking in a crockpot or cooking on the stovetop. Dice them into small, bite-sized pieces.

Pasta – Don’t put the pasta in too early or you will have a bowl of mush.  Look at the package and double the time required. So if the package says the pasta will take 10 minutes to cook, put it in about 20 minutes before serving time. Be sure to taste a piece to make sure that it is thoroughly cooked.

Rice – I often cook rice in a separate container because it soaks up so much cooking liquid. I really think that is the best way to go about adding rice to soup. Add your cooked rice about half an hour before serving time to allow it to absorb flavors without absorbing all your broth.

Barley – My favorite barley is pearl barley. Before cooking barley, you should rinse it and pick through like you would with beans.  Add the barley at the beginning of cooking time and go with about 2/3 of a cup – it gets much bigger when it cooks. Watch your liquid to see if you need to add more about an hour before serving time.  If you’re cooking it on the stovetop, barley needs about 45 minutes.

Bulghur – This is some yummy stuff derived from wheat berries (so beware if you are gluten-free) and a lot of vegetarian recipes use as a substitute for ground beef due to the slightly similar texture. Some prep work is needed for bulghur. Put it in a large, heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over it. Allow it to soak for about 15 minutes, then drain it before adding it to your recipe. Bulghur can go into the crockpot in the morning or takes about 25 minutes on the stovetop.

Farro – Farro should be rinsed before adding it to your soup. One cup of farro will be sufficient for an entire pot. Put it in at the beginning of your cooking time and watch to see if you need to add more liquid.

There are all sorts of other grains you can add. Consider millet, sorghum, amaranth, freekeh, wild rice…so many different grains. If you are using something unfamiliar, I urge you to cook it separately until you learn the ins-and-outs of that particular grain. If you can’t tolerate gluten, don’t be afraid to sub in a gluten-free grain for your recipe.

Seasoning

Soup can be seasoned any way you want but below you’ll find a few ideas. The measurements are up to you – some folks only want mild flavor while others want intense flavor, and it also depends how much soup you’re making. So I’m listing off spices and it’s up to you to assemble it how you want. Add salt and pepper to taste on all these.

  • Tomato-based soup: Basil, oregano, garlic, onion, parsley, marjoram, and thyme. I loathe rosemary but if you’re a fan, it would work in these kinds of soups, too.
  • Mexican or Southwestern: Chili powder, cumin, onion, garlic, smoked paprika.
  • Chicken broth based soup: Sage, oregano, garlic, onion, parsley, thyme, and rosemary if you like it.
  • Creamy soup: Thyme and just a teeny tiny dash of nutmeg
  • Beef broth based soup: Thyme, paprika, garlic, onion, oregano, and parsley

Obviously, use what you like and skip what you don’t. You will never see rosemary in one of my soups, but if you love it, go for it! A lot of people have particular spices they really dislike. For example, some folks think that cilantro tastes like soap while other people absolutely adore it. (This is genetic, interestingly enough.) Different spices can really help the same-old, same-old taste brand new, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

So…what’s for dinner?

Are you making soup? I am. I’m making a ground beef and vegetable soup in a tomato base with the blend recommended above. Are you planning to try out the Universal Soup recipe/ What are your favorite soup concoctions? Do you use soup to stretch your groceries? Share your thoughts of soup in the comments below.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company.  She lives in the mountains of Virginia with her family. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

Universal Soup Recipe: Use this make-it-your-own guide to create a delicious and thrifty soup from the odds and ends you have on hand.
Daisy Luther

About the Author

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and lives in the mountains of Virginia with her two daughters and an ever-growing menagerie. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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