Jan 23 2010

Fast Food My Way: Jazzing Up Canned and Packaged Soup

Canned Soup

 
No one would claim that canned or packaged soup is anything like homemade, but be honest now, don’t you have a few cans squirreled away in your pantry? I thought so. So do I. Canned and packaged soup can provide a quick pick-me-up at home or in camp. They can even become the basis for a full meal if served with salad and a sandwich, or crusty bread and hunk of cheese, and a piece of fresh fruit or a plate of cookies for dessert. But there are other ways to improve on these soups, too, and all it takes is a reasonably well stocked freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Secret weapons include frozen and fresh vegetables, the occasional container of leftover rice or potatoes, as well as nuts, spices and herbs. Want some examples? Glad to oblige. I’ll tell you some of my favorites and you can go from there.

How about the easiest of all—canned soup? Canned doesn’t need to mean unhealthy. I buy low sodium, low fat varieties if at all possible. The local store brand is tasty and reliable, but so are national brands like Campbell’s and Progresso. A favorite and easy doctored canned soup is…

Tomato Bisque

 
Tomato Bisque Empty a can of condensed tomato soup into a small pot, fill the can with milk (skim or low-fat), then pour that into the pot as well. Scrape all the condensed soup from the can into the pot, then use a fork or whisk to blend the thick soup with the milk. Heat over a medium flame, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Stir in some chopped fresh or dried chives, fresh or dried oregano, and a grind or two of black pepper. When the soup steams and is heated through, pour into bowls and sprinkle on some grated parmesan or romano cheese. Top with a few salad croutons and serve. Lunch is served inside 15 minutes, tops.

Are you in the mood for noodles? I frequently am, and it’s hard to beat…

 
Reliable Ramen When I can find it I buy Sapporo Ichiban Miso, otherwise I pick whatever looks appealing on the shelf. We’re all familiar with ramen. Where would we be without it? It cooks up in a jiffy, and the noodles are satisfying. Trouble is that the soup packets are loaded with sodium and MSG. If you’re not on a low sodium diet or aren’t bothered by MSG, that’s not a problem, but if you are, you’ll want to skip this one.

Ramen Peanut Soup

Bring the required amount of water to a boil in a small pot (obviously, read the package instructions). While waiting for the water to boil, get out a jar of peanut butter, some peanuts, and also carve a few very thin slices of bell pepper (I used red bell pepper for the soup in the photo at right) and onion or scallions. When the water boils, add the noodle brick and boil them for about three minutes, stirring occasionally to open up that block of noodles. When they’re cooked, remove the pot from the heat, stir in a couple big spoonfuls of peanut butter until it’s blended into the broth, and dish up the soup and noodles. Garnish with the peppers, onions, and peanuts. You can boost the vegetable portion by also adding a tablespoon or two each of frozen peas and corn, right from the freezer. They’re already cooked before being frozen, so just stir them into the broth after the soup’s cooked, and they heat through while also cooling the soup to a potable temperature. In fact, frozen veggies are one of my favorite additions to canned and packaged soup. They can certainly jazz up…

 
Boxed Chicken Noodle Soup Did I say I love noodles? The Lipton’s Chicken with Extra Noodles Soup is a favorite for a quick meal on a cold day, but like with ramen, there’s not much to it. Here’s how I make it better: Bring the required amount of water to a boil in a small pot.

 

Chicken and Everything Soup

 
Once the water boils, add the soup packet, and when the noodles are done, add a handful of fresh baby spinach leaves and turn off the heat. Stir the leaves into soup. They’ll cook in seconds. Meanwhile, pour about 1/4 cup of mixed frozen veggies into a bowl. Ladle the hot soup over the vegetables, stir them everything together, and by the time you sit down, the veggies are heated through and the soup is a manageable temperature. One standard soup packet will make enough for two hearty bowls of soup. Looks good, doesn’t it?

 

Chicken and Everything Soup

 
Now how about a meatless soup. Let’s have…

 
Loaded With Veggies Soup Choose a canned vegetable-based soup. I like minestrone, but you can use any you prefer. For this recipe I used Progresso Beans and Pasta soup. This is NOT a condensed soup, but makes enough for two servings. Bring the soup to a simmer, stir in fresh spinach as with the chicken noodle soup, and then ladle the hot soup over a mix of frozen vegetables. Sprinkle with a bit of grated parmesan cheese and serve. Yummy!

I hear you asking about…

 
Leftovers Eating alone? Leftover soup? No problem. Pop the leftovers into a plastic or glass container and refrigerate. Heat it up tomorrow and you’re in for another delicious and fast meal.

While we’re on the subject of leftovers, don’t toss out your leftover cooked vegetables, rice, and meat from dinner. Waste not, want not. Refrigerate or freeze them. Then when you heat up a can or boxed soup, stir in the veggies or meat to enrich the soup. I pour hot soup over a scoop of leftover rice, stir, and serve. Stir mashed spuds into simmering beef vegetable or onion soup.

Another way to give soup a boost is to flavor it with spices and fruits. A beef barley soup is improved with a dash or curry powder and a few raisins, chopped fresh apple, or chopped dried apricots. Blend in a bit of milk, too, or if you want to splurge, coconut milk. It doesn’t get any easier than that. It’s fast food, my way, and it can be your way, too. Just add your own special touches. That’s all it takes. That and a few minutes.

 

Beans and Pasta Soup

 
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