This is the first in a new series called “Rita’s Recipes.” In this series, I want to share my favorite staple foods and any new concoctions I might stumble across in the future. For the most part, they will be cheap and really easy-to-make. I’m not one for detailed or fancy recipes. If I have to go buy even one or two strange ingredients or spend more than 15 minutes in preparation, chances are I’m not making it. With the exception of those insanely detailed Christmas sugar cookies I insist on spending hours making every year, I want my food to be simple.
I learned most of what I know about cooking and baking from my wonderful mother who managed to raise six kids on practically nothing (and earned the title, “Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year” in high school back in 1969! Ha!). She knew how to stretch a dollar, but everything she made was delicious, so I never felt deprived. I hope I can help others feed their families for less while still making something good.
Now, on to the first recipe: It’s one of my top five favorite things to eat and some serious comfort food. It also packs a powerful nutritional punch and still tastes great for several days as leftovers. The best part? No peeling veggies!
Recipe for Mom’s Easy Vegetable Soup
1 lb. browned lean ground beef
1 46 OZ can of 100% tomato juice
½ to whole 6 OZ can of tomato paste (optional – depends how much you like tomato)
1 regular sized can of the following:
Cut green beans
Whole kernel corn
Salt and pepper to taste
Important: Do not drain any vegetables. All of the juice goes in the soup. You can replace any of the canned vegetables with raw vegetables if you want, but you will lose some broth and you will need to cook those vegetables first before adding the canned vegetables.
Step 1: Brown a pound of hamburger or defrost some
Let me tell you how to make life easier: Always have a few one-pound bags of browned hamburger in the freezer ready to go. Buy a few pounds at a time and brown it all at once. After it is cooled and drained, separate it into bags and label them with a date and how much it weighs. Then when you need it, just pop it into the microwave and defrost it. If you don’t have hamburger ready to go, brown some and drain it. The leaner the better; I prefer 90/10.
Note: If you’re a vegetarian, you can use tofu or add beans for protein. If you’re a hunter or can get it from a hunter, you can try venison or other types of meat. I like hamburger myself, but you can use what you want. I know most people think of chunks of roast beef in vegetable soup. Well, this is supposed to be cheap and it’s what makes this soup different. The first time I made it for my husband, he made fun of me for using hamburger. He was used to a completely different kind of vegetable soup with more of a clear broth and chunks of beef. He loves it, though, and just requested that I make it since he has a cold. And he’s picky, if that tells you anything. He doesn’t even like many vegetables on their own, but for some reason, he likes them combined in this soup.
Step 2: Open the cans
This is the hardest part of the meal. If you have an automatic can opener, this will be much easier. Otherwise, enlist some help or give that forearm a workout.
Step 3: Cut up some of the veggies.
Some of the vegetables will need to be chopped a bit, but they are already cooked and soft, so this isn’t really a chore. If you like the carrots and beans big, you can leave them alone. I usually run a knife through them a few times in the can before dumping them in the pot. The whole potatoes will need to be cut into smaller pieces. The easiest way I’ve found to do it is to cut them in the palm of your hand with a dull knife over the pot.
Step 4: Dump it all into a large pot
This is the fun part. Just start dumping it all into the pot (you might want to leave out the peas until you are ready to simmer). The only thing to mention here is that each juice adds to the flavor of the soup, but if you don’t particularly like one of the vegetables above, leave it out or leave out the vegetable entirely. Depending on the size of your pot, you might have to leave out some of the juice to get it all to fit until it simmers down some. I don’t always add the tomato paste, but if I do, it’s probably only half a can. It just depends how much you like tomato.
Step 5: Heat it
Now all you have to do is heat it. Like most soups, it is “done” as soon as it’s hot, but it gets better with simmering. I usually bring it to a boil, stirring fairly often. Then I put it on low for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. Once it is simmering, I add about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sometimes I throw in a bit of dried parsley. I suppose you could also put it all in a large slow cooker on low for a few hours.
Step 6: Eat it!
I like to eat it with open-faced peanut butter bread, round crackers and a tall glass of cold milk. If you do this, the soup will go farther and you will add calcium, more protein and carbohydrates to the meal. Biscuits, homemade bread or grilled cheese would also be good. It really is a healthy meal and great to eat on a cold day or when you aren’t feeling the best. There is a ton of Vitamin C in this, which is great for the immune system, plus several other vitamins and fiber.
Note: The soup is basically fat free unless you used really fatty meat. But here’s a trick: After the soup is cooled in the refrigerator, the fat will float to the top and harden and you can just pick it out before reheating it.
Cost (based on buying my items at ALDI in Ohio):
$4.28 for one can each of tomato juice, tomato paste, carrots, peas, green beans, whole potatoes, and corn.
$2.99 for a pound of lean ground beef (you can use less or none at all, but I would recommend at least ¾ of a pound).
Optional: Bread and peanut butter, crackers, milk, etc. Peanut butter is $1.39 at ALDI, a loaf of bread is about a buck, and crackers are also cheap. Milk varies, but you might add $4-6 more with these items, bringing the grand total to maybe $12 for a hearty meal for several people or several days’ worth of food for a single person or couple. You can freeze it, too, if you don’t think you can eat this much at once. If you want to add bulk to the soup, try barley, beans, or cooked rice.
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