Every once in a while, I notice that my fridge has an abundance of ingredient leftovers. Half a bag of carrots here, the celery leaves in the middle of the stalk, some small potatoes, and all the small amounts of vegetables that didn’t make it into one recipe or another. Instead of letting them go bad, and having to throw them away, I use my Grandma’s method of making soup: start with the basics (carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, and garlic) and add zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, green beans, corn kernels, and anything that sounds good mixed all together. This is an excellent time to look through your freezer and pantry to see if there are any things there you want to add (such as beans and tomatoes.) This makes for a different soup each time. Since you’ll be using ingredients you have available, they should be items you already like. Win-Win!
I start by chopping all the vegetables to about the same size. I like a small-bite size (think little kid size), so that the soup cooks evenly. For ease, use a slicer on as many veggies as possible. There will be differences, like corn nibblets and flat slices, but that just adds some different textures to the dish. Frankly, having some of the veggies melt in your mouth, is a goal of mine with this soup.
Once all the veggies are cut and ready, I heat a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil in a pan and add the minced garlic and chopped onions. To be fair, you really don’t have to cook the onions (especially if they are sweet onions) but it does help them get a rich flavor. After a few minutes, when the onions are translucent, add some tomato paste. I learned a long time ago that tomato paste loses that sour bite when you cook it for a few minutes. If you didn’t know about this trick already, it works with all recipes requiring paste. My twist on this procedure, is to push the garlic and onions to the sides and place the paste directly on the pan in the middle; don’t be afraid to let it sizzle on the pan. Stir the paste a bit so that all of it gets cooked evenly and the color changes slightly. Stir the garlic and onions into the cooked paste and set aside.
Now, let’s talk spices. Salt and pepper, obviously, are basic staples; but a person could get lost in the many varieties of herbs and spices available. The best part about this soup is that you can adapt it to what you have on hand. Need to use up some of that fancy paprika you once bought? Toss some in there. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme? Why not! Often, I will use poultry seasoning. Yup, you heard me right…poultry seasoning! It has a good blend of spices that can add a mellow, unifying flow to the vegetables. As for me, I like to experiment. I added a bit of allspice to the last batch. Another thing I learned about tomato sauce and soup recipes, is that you should add a bit of sugar to counter the acidity.
When you’re ready begin building your crock pot of soup, I suggest starting with the potatoes and other chunks of dense veggies. You’ll want these to be closer to the heat source so that they cook more thoroughly. Next, add the other raw vegetables by thickness, the warm paste mix, a can of diced tomatoes (if not adding raw) and any other canned items, finally ending with any frozen pieces.
To go full veggie, use a vegetable stock or broth as your liquid. Personally, I like to use chicken as my base. Next time, I might even throw some chicken in there to shred before serving. You can even use plain water. Whatever you decide to use, add enough liquid to fill the slow cooker so that most of the vegetables are submerged. The amounts used in this dish are flexible, so you will have to experiment a bit to see what works for you. For us, that’s all part of the fun…experimenting!
Now, once again, the hard part. Waiting while it cooks. I suggest at least 8 hours on low, but it can easily cook all day or all night. Trust me, you can be gone all day, and it will just be more melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Last time the potatoes didn’t quite get cooked enough, so I put it back on the heat overnight and it was perfect by morning. Of course, my Grandma used to cook it in a pot on the stove…and you can too! Just be sure to stir often, as this is an all-day dish that is well worth the effort.