Picture this. It’s been a long day of lectures and then library, and it’s cold outside. Cold winds blow onto your already frozen nose as you wait for the bus. You aren’t wearing a proper winter coat because it seemed sunny this morning and TCD FashionSoc has convinced you that impractical skinny scarves are the height of fashion this summer, something which you are now deeply regretting. The bus home feels longer than ever in the home-time traffic. A man takes his call on speaker phone and a desperate mother lets her crying child watch cartoons out loud even though it doesn’t solve the problem. You stomp home in the rain from the bus stop to your place, finally change into your comfy clothes, throw on the kettle for a cuppa, and wonder what you could possibly force yourself to make for dinner. Then, you smile, near tears with relief, as you remember the meal-prepped soup you made yesterday, just dying to be heated up and eaten. You just beat the winter blues. Good for you.
If this is not yet you, and there is no soup waiting patiently for you after a long day… please read on. Enough is enough, and it is time for change. Not only is soup a great way to warm up after a long winter’s day, but a cheap, easy, and quick way to do so. It is not only what you need when you’re working hard, but what you deserve. Keeping yourself warm and fueled for study should be an absolute priority, but it does not need to take up your valuable time. Here are a few tried and tested soup recipes that won’t break the bank, and don’t even take as much effort as staying awake during a two hour zoom lecture.
Every great soup starts with a great base, and you can achieve this with just a few simple ingredients. For an extremely simple and tasty stock, chop up an onion and some garlic and let it simmer in some water with a generous amount of salt. You can add to your broth whatever you like, some suggestions would be chopped celery, carrots, and herbs like basil or thyme, or spices such as cinnamon or paprika. However, as students we can often be short of time, and a stock from scratch may not always be feasible. This is absolutely okay! Store bought stocks work well too, and there are a few options out there to try. Depending on what kind of soup you are making and what kind of flavours you like, you can use a vegetable, chicken, or beef stock cube or stock pot to get your soup journey started.
The Classic Veg
A dinner of only vegetables can sound kind of drab…until you add soup to the mix. A vegetable soup is a great way of packing in a bunch of veggies, and when you’re stuck for cash, vegetables are less expensive than proteins like chicken, beef, or fish. The most beautiful part of vegetable soup is in the neverending combination possibilities. Potato and leek soup is wildly different to tomato and basil, and comparing a sweet potato and carrot soup to a mushroom soup would result in a world of difference in flavour. One of the best ways to go about picking your star vegetable is to look at not only what you like, but what is currently in season. Pumpkin soup could be something to try out, along with vegetables such as kale, spinach, parsnips, peppers, and much more currently in season here in Ireland.
To turn these vegetables into soup, chop them up and throw them in a pot along with your stock. Put them on to simmer, and allow them to cook away until they are nice, soft, and easy to blend. If you like a thick soup, consider adding in a starchy vegetable, such as potato, or a spoon of flour. When ready, blend the soup until smooth, and add in some heavy cream or even coconut water if you fancy. If you don’t own a blender, a potato masher will help mash the soft veg into a creamy consistency, and adding the cream or milk will help here too!
Chicken, chicken… chicken
Ah, lovely chicken soup, the ultimate comfort food to fill your tummy and ease your troubled mind. To make this soup is much the same, with just one extra step, add chicken. This can take as much or as little time and care as you are willing to give. You can easily fry up a chicken breast in a pan with a bit of olive oil and no other airs or graces bar a bit of salt (I would recommend investing in some chicken salt!) Or oven cook your chicken with a few ingredients to bring a lot more flavour. Try mixing together some paprika, brown sugar, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Cook your chicken in the oven with your lovely mix and bring a whole new level of flavour to your soup! As chicken is the star of this dish we want that flavour to shine, so I would advise against using any large amounts of potent flavoured vegetables. Stick to the simple stuff, the good stuff, the onions and carrots. Use a chicken stock instead of a vegetable one, and for texture you can add in some cream or greek yogurt before blending. Whether or not you blend the chicken itself is up to you. Blending the chicken itself can result in a grainy texture, but if that’s not something you mind then by all means, blend away. Otherwise, mix the chicken in without blending it too, and enjoy just the same.
Poor Man’s Minestrone
For those who worry that a simple soup won’t fill them up, I present to you the Poor Man’s Minestrone. Minestrone is a classic Italian vegetable soup with a tomato base…and…pasta? You heard right, pasta. Or rice as some adaptations of the recipe have it. And as far as filling yourself up on a budget, use whatever is in your cupboard! Again we go with our classic basic base, onions, carrots and celery if you have it, and vegetable stock, only this time we will be adding in some canned chopped tomatoes. A tablespoon or two of tomato puree would also do no harm, and if you feel like commiting to those fabulous Italian flavours, throw in some garlic or oregano, or both! Allow it to simmer away, throw in some chopped vegetables if you have them lying around, and then stir in the pasta of your choice. When you should blend the soup, you may be asking. Never. Do not worry about blending with minestrone. Simply add your cooked pasta and enjoy the hearty chunky soup.
All the extras
Just because we’re on a budget does not mean we cannot treat ourselves and pimp our soups. A splash of cream on top never hurt anyone, nor did a basil leaf from your ALDI basil plant that you have been accidentally killing and reviving since the summer. Croutons can be a lovely way to add some crunch, and you do not need to be a chef to make them, as they are only €0.99 in Tesco. For an extra health kick, lentils are a worthy investment for an extra punch of protein, and they only take about 15-20 minutes to cook. Take the extra 30 seconds of time to make your soup as special as you are. Because you’re cold. Because you’re stressed. Because you’re worth it.