March 12, 2010

Multi-use tomato base & veggie (beef) soup

I gotta say, all this self-disclosure is promoting self-awareness. Specifically, I've realized that almost all of my cooking revolves around a fairly small bag of tricks. Onion, garlic, bell pepper, tomato: without those four veggies, we surely would starve!

Here's an example. This tomato base underpins everything from vegetable soup to meaty 5-alarm chili. What can't you create from this starter?

Tomato-based soup/sauce starter
  • One pound ground beef (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for meat-free)
  • Half a large sweet onion, diced
  • Half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • Half a green bell pepper
  • 2 cans tomatoes (alternatively, 10-15 fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 2 or 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and black pepper
 The savory basics, plus...

You'll notice there's a piece of pablano on my cutting board but not on the list. What can I tell you? It was hanging around the fridge, not getting any fresher. I love this dish for clearing out veggies so they don't end up looking like science projects.

(Come to think of it, that last sentence made me sound really awful. Like, I would feed my family borderline spoiled shit. Which is so not the case. What I meant to say was, I wanted to use it before it turned questionable. You know, while still fit to eat.)

Back on topic: Brown a pound of ground beef in a saucepan. Drain the excess fat and set the meat aside in a shallow, towel-lined dish. Put the saucepan on medium to re-heat the remaining grease.

For no-meat sauce, skip the ground beef and just heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the saucepan. Either way, the oil is good and hot when a shake of black pepper sizzles.

Dump in your onion and garlic and stir gently. Give them a couple of minutes, until the onion starts looking transparent. Just before it starts to brown and caramelize, add the green pepper and some salt.

About, this much green pepper

Sweat that down about 3 more minutes, then add all your tomatoes. In winter I always buy cans of whole tomatoes and use a small knife to kind of shred them. Blanch and peel fresh tomatoes, cut into wedges, and chuck them in -- juice, seeds, and all.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add salt and pepper, bay leaf, and celery sticks.

Yep just toss 'em in bloody mary style. 

Bring to a low boil. Depending what the final application will be, season. I add green onion, parsley and cilantro to almost everything; oregano and basil in Italian dishes; or chili powder and cumin for southwestern fare. This is also where I add spicy peppers: hot habaneros, medium jalapenos, and mild pablanos are my favorites.

Sharp eyes may notice there's no ground beef in the photo. That's because this batch was destined for a fabulous chicken Parmesan. But since we've come this far, why not try...

Easy vegetable (beef) soup

Here's an easy finish for the starter. Dump in lentils, peas, green beans, corn, carrots, okra -- any veg you like to eat. Or perhaps, any veg you need to use before it spoils. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and walk away. Stir and taste occasionally, adjusting the heat and seasoning as necessary.

Keep it simmering gently for at least a half an hour. Remember, though, dishes like this just taste better and better the longer they cook. So, my advice is to leave it on the stove until you just can't take it anymore. Come to think of it, this should be an excellent crock pot creation. Do the prep the night before, then dump in to simmer all day.

Last, add a little cooked pasta or rice, and serve over cornbread or crackers.


    1. I am so making this tomorrow night.

    2. I could so use a home-cooked meal today.

    3. hmmmmm...looks stragely, family??!!

    4. yum This looks sooo good! I am copying/pasting! :) Hopefully I'll actually make it before it gets too warm.

    5. YUM! I discovered the joy of soups and stews this winter. I love to make them to keep the veggie drawer fresh and to experiment with food pairings because you have to try really, really hard to eff up a soup or a stew. My fave trick is to replace potatoes with yams and squash (more of a fall trick, really, but still delish). I also like stew b/c grass fed beef stew meat is only marginally pricier than regular stew meat-- a good way to stretch the food budget and still eat well.

    6. Oo, Sarah what a good point about the beef! I've used yams in place of white taters but never tried squash. Adding that to the bag of tricks right now. :)

      May I also add, this is a great way to nudge a veggie-averse husband (or kid, I imagine)? Hide all the good-for-you in a yummy broth.


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