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Clean-Out-The-Refrigerator Soup

Debra Redalia

Soup made from leftovers in the refrigerator. On right, simply cooked, on left pureed with a garnish of the pureed ingredients.

If you’ve been reading this blog you probably already know that I like to give techniques for using whatever foods you have on hand rather than giving you recipes that require going out and buying ingredients.

This is one of those techniques I use on a weekly basis. Once learned, you can use to turn whatever local, seasonal, or leftover ingredients you have available into a delicious meal. And each time you make it, it will taste wonderful in it’s own unique way.

One basic principle of Wholefood Cuisine is to use the whole food—every edible part of the food is used for something.

Clean-Out-the-Refrigerator Soup is a simple and easy way to use whatever food you have left at the end of the week, so you can start with fresh new food at the beginning of the next week.

My cooking week begins on Saturday morning, when we go to two farmer’s markets in the nearby town of Santa Rosa. This are larger markets than my local Sunday morning market, which we also attend. So I plan to finish up the previous week’s food by Friday, and if I haven’t, it all goes into the soup pot on Friday afternoon, or Saturday afternoon if I need to supplement the leftovers with more fresh ingredients.

This gives us a pot of soup that is about six servings, or three meals for two. We eat it for lunch or dinner.

Here are the basic elements.

Beans.I make a point to always have home-cooked beans on hand. For the moment, just get any dry beans you can. Keep dry beans on hand so they are always available. Please do not use canned beans as the can linings release toxic BPA into the beans and they are cooked in a factory with industrial process. Cooking dry beans is easy.

The night before your chili cooking day, soak the beans. I usually make two cups of dry beans, but adjust this amount to feed your family. Put them in a bowl at least twice the size of the pile of beans and fill the bowl almost to the top with water. Depending on the beans they may fill the bowl once they are hydrated.

Pour off the soaking water and put the beans in your cooking pot. Cover with water plus about 2-3 inches. Cook over medium heat for about an hour. Cook until just soft and still firm as they will be cooking more once you add the other ingredients.

Onions and Garlic. I always have yellow onions on hand in the kitchen but they don’t last more than a couple of weeks before they start sprouting. So it’s perfect to chop them up and throw them in the chili pot and buy more. Garlic too. But also you can put any allium in the chili that is in season—onions, chives, garlic, shallots, green onions. I chop a whole bunch of green onions at the beginning of the week so I can just throw them in to various preparations. Any leftovers go in the chili pot.

Carrots and Celery. Along with onions, carrots and celery are the classic “aromatics,” known in French cooking as mirepoix. I always have these in my refrigerator so whatever is leftover at the end of the week goes in the chili.

Greens. Any greens you have on hand, cooked or raw will do. This is a good way to eat greens if you don’t like the taste of greens because you get all the benefits without the flavor (if you don’t like greens).

Other vegetables. You can literally put ANY vegetable you have on hand or in your garden into this pot and it will all taste great. Any leftover vegetables, potatoes, rice…all good.

Bell Peppers. These are summer vegetables, but are available in stores all year long. I usually don’t use them unless they are in season. I’ve found that during the I can make chili just by adding red bell peppers. I don’t need any other seasoning because the red peppers are so delicious (particularly in the summer).

Tomato Sauce. Now tomato sauce is one of my few exceptions that I purchase instead of making from scratch. The reason being that I just don’t have time to make tomato sauce and I don’t have the space to make it in season when the tomatoes are ripe and store it through the year. Traditionally tomato sauce was made as a “pantry staple” so I consider it such as well. Unlike most industrial foods, tomato sauce is simple cooked and put in a jar. Sometimes instead I will use a jar of mexican flavored tomato sauce. The point is, buy it in a jar and not a can. I’m not going to give you a brand because I’ve found different brands are available in different parts of the country. We like organic pasta sauce made with roasted garlic. Check the ingredients and make sure there are no additives, just good whole ingredients. All that said, I also am working on not using tomato sauce because it is an industrial product (though whole) and am experimenting with honoring the vegetables of the season and seeing how that turns out.

Seasonings. I rarely use any seasoning because the flavors of the vegetables are so delicious. But of course you can add any any seasonings you like to make it taste like any ethnic food or the place where you live.

Garnishes. I usually put a sprinkle of organic cheese on top, chopped green onions, chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped avocado, maybe parsley. Chopped jicama gives crunch. Again whatever you have on hand or want to purchase for a garnish. It’s good to add a fresh vegetable garnish just for the freshness as well as flavor.


The technique is easy.

Just cook your beans, then add your vegetables. Put in the raw vegetables first and let them cook about 20 minutes, then add the cooked ingredients. Let it cook about an hour after starting to add the vegetables.

I generally don’t eat it the first day because often soups and stews taste better the second day after they rest. So I let it cool, transfer it to storage containers. Since my soup usually makes three meals, I put it in three storage containers. One goes in the refrigerator and two go in the freezer.

Then just heat and serve when the time comes.

This is slow food, but made in advance, it’s a quick meal when you want it.

The same soup completed pureed with garnishes of parmesan cheese and sliced spring onions.