About this time of year, summer gardens are winding down, and once again everyone is flush with fresh veggies. Tomatoes, peppers, green beans, zucchini, potatoes - bagfuls of each found their way into my kitchen. I lack my own garden, but I know plenty of green thumbs.
One great way to use up the last of the summer veggies is soup. Soup can use as many or as few vegetables as you want, you can make a ton of it, and it can be portioned out or frozen to make the best use of it.
Any soup recipe can be customized. Some recipes, no matter how delicious they sound, usually have something I'd prefer less or more of, and unless it is going to turn the soup into wallpaper paste, I take liberty with the written ingredients.
Chicken tortilla soup is a great way to use up garden leftovers.
And who better to turn to for soup-spiration than the Pioneer Woman? I don't know what it is with this lady, but everything she makes and posts on her blog looks great, usually is easy to make and uses stuff I already have in the cupboard.
Her chicken tortilla soup seemed to be a perfect everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup. There were some things I had that she didn't use in her version, but hey, soup is flexible.
For instance, she used green pepper; I had some yellow bell pepper, so I used that - and the color really popped. And instead of two cans of black beans, I used one can and a bag of black beans and rice mix I had in the pantry. The rice made the soup a little thicker and more like chili, but it was tasty.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced green or yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup red bell pepper
3 cloves minced garlic
1 can (10 oz.) Rotel Tomatoes and Green Chilies
32 ounces, low-sodium chicken stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tomatoes, diced
One can sweet corn, drained, or one cup fresh-cut corn
One can green beans, drained, or one cup fresh-cut green beans
4 cups hot water
2 cans (15 oz. each) black beans, drained OR one can black beans, and one box/bag black beans and rice mix
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix cumin, chili pepper, garlic powder, and salt. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on chicken breasts, then sprinkle a small amount of spice mix on both sides. Set aside the rest of the spice mix.
Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken is done. Use two forks to shred chicken. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add onions, red pepper, green or yellow pepper, and minced garlic. Stir and begin cooking, then add the rest of the spice mix. Stir to combine, then add shredded chicken and stir.
Pour in Rotel, chicken stock, tomato paste, tomatoes, corn, green beans, water, and black beans and/or rice mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered.
Check seasonings, adding more if needed - add more chili powder if it needs more spice, and be sure not to undersalt. Simmer another 30 mintutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Ladle into bowls and top with corn chips, sour cream, diced avocado, pico de gallo or grated cheese.
Perfect potato soup
6 slices thin bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 whole medium onion, diced
3 whole carrots, scrubbed clean And diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 10 oz package cut broccoli, thawed
6 whole small Russet potatoes, peeled And diced
1/2 cup fresh green beans
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
Black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon Cajun spice mix
1 teaspoon parsley
1 cup grated cheese
Add bacon pieces to a soup pot over medium heat and cook bacon until crisp and fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pot and set it aside. Pour off most of the grease, but do not clean the pot.
Return the hot to medium-high heat and add the onions, carrots, broccoli, green beans and celery. Stir and cook for 2 minutes or so, then add the diced potatoes. Cook for 5 minutes, seasoning with salt, pepper, and Cajun spice.
Pour in the broth and bring it to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are starting to get tender. Whisk together the flour and the milk, then pour into the soup and allow the soup to cook for another 5 minutes.
Remove half to 2/3 the soup and blend in a blender / food process until completely smooth. Pour it back into the soup pot and stir to combine. Let it heat back up as you taste for seasonings, adding more of what it needs. Stir in cream, then stir in parsley, reserving a little for garnish.
Serve in bowls garnished with parsley, grated cheese and bacon pieces.
I also threw in some fresh corn I got from White House Fruit Farm, cut off the cob. Corn is good in soups, chowders, whatever, so why not use it up? I also threw in some green beans from my uncle's garden and a couple cherry tomatoes from the garden in my yard. Also, in addition to the Rotel, I added some leftover salsa dip from the fridge.
The spice mix Pioneer Woman used is great, and with the added veggies, I used a little more than written. Also, I threw in some Sriarcha sauce, because it is amazing and should be on everything. I also grilled the chicken on my George Foreman grill instead of in the oven.
You can kick up the heat or take it down. I topped mine with come chili-cheese Fritos from the vending machine at work instead of the tortilla strips she used. A dollop of sour cream topped off the bowl.
The soup came out thicker than PW's, but it was like a spicy, delicious warm chili, with different veggies in every bite. Add chicken broth if you want a more soupy soup.
Another kitchen-sink soup is potato soup. My aunt also gave me a big bag of potatoes - yellow, red, and even blue - which were food processed together into potato harmony. I didn't have real bacon, so I subbed in Bacon Bits - sorry, Pioneer Woman. I also threw in broccoli because more veggies can't hurt, right? Grilled chicken - leftover or fresh - also can be added, along with green beans, corn, whatever you want to use up. I used up the corn on the first soup, but I did still have some green beans. I used Monterey Jack cheese, and more than prescribed, because I wanted to use it all up and, because ... cheese.
The soup came out creamy and hearty, even though the potatoes were all from different species of spud. It made the color a little off, but unlike the tortilla soup with its mix of colors, potato soup is more about sensation than appearance. It just has to be warm, creamy and smell delicious.
Next time you want to clean out your fridge, get out your soup pot, gear up Google and find the perfect kitchen-sink recipe.