Soup is the perfect way to cook zero waste and I'm sharing my secret methods of using scraps and potential food waste to make delicious soup with no wastage. Even vegetable peels and inedible parts can be utilised easily.
This is a long post as I'll explain my methods, give you a recipe along with plenty of guidance for inventing your own zero waste soup recipes.
For years I have been using soup as a means of clearing out the fridge and using up whatever ingredients were forgotten that week (or fortnight).
I think it began when I first moved out of home and was on an incredibly low budget, but it was definitely inspired by my mum and her mum who both were clever soup cooks.
I learnt the basics watching them cook and developed my own soup style as time went on. When I quit work to have a baby, soup became a welcome feature in our winter months for saving money and keeping healthy.
My partner is still confused how I can cook a meal or many meals from a seemingly empty fridge and pantry. Occasionally he asks for a recipe for soup and I have to admit that I don't have one but I could explain it to him if he wanted to write it down. But this got me thinking at how many old time skills like soup cooking has become lost, and people rely heavily on recipes rather than intuition.
Guess what? Intuitive soup cooking is actually easy and fun and I'll share some of my tips below plus a recipe for this particular batch of soup, which happened to be really tasty.
It can be a bit disheartening to look in the crisper drawer and see floppy carrots, wilted lettuce, wrinkly mushrooms and half a pumpkin that is starting to develop a face. It's also very tempting to either shut the fridge door and hope it disappears and eventually throw the lot of it out.
Below is my sad looking pumpkin, which looks completely unappealing, but just under the surface is a perfectly good pumpkin just waiting to be used. I had purchased a whole pumpkin to avoid plastic wrapped prechopped halves and fully intended to use it in a dish BUT completely forgot and it sat there uncovered and rejected in the fridge drawer.
This is the stuff of soup inspiration!
Although I will mention that mouldy food may or may not be ok depending what it is and what your own interpretation is.
If in doubt, look it up on google.
Everybody has their own take on it and Mine goes like this - mouldy celery, onions, tomato - a big NO, but a mouldy pumpkin - I'll just cut the offending bit off and the same with carrots.
Green potatoes a big no no, these can make you sick, and avoid anything that smells bad. Anything floppy or wrinkly is generally ok.
Here's a few other things I found in my fridge
Wrinkly mushrooms (although they are pretty photogenic I must say)….
Floppy, wrinkly and weirdly hairy carrots....still edible,
Wilted Lettuce that was never going to get eaten...….
And a very sprouted garlic (actually that was on the cupboard not in the fridge) and yes, you can eat the sprouted part , its really nice!
So, with carrots, pumpkin, mushroom and garlic that is an ideal start to a soup.
Whatever you have in your fridge is what you start with when making zero waste soup. So always shop your fridge contents first before heading to the supermarket.
The best soup vegetables, in my opinion, are root vegetables like potato, carrots, swede, turnip, parsnip and anything growing under the ground but pretty much anything goes.
Celery is one of my favourite soup ingredients so I almost always use it and its really the only way I enjoy eating celery.
Before you start chopping and cooking, you need a solid base for your soup and if you haven't had the opportunity to learn from your older family members on the wonders of soup mix, then listen up....
You Need Legumes
This could be packet of 'soup mix' or a selection of dried legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, chick peas, black eyed beans, split peas or whatever you can get your hands on in the bulk store.
Not only do these last forever in your pantry, but they are super cheap and a fantastic source of protein, fibre and other beneficial nutrients.
This stuff is going to make your soup be super healthy, plus it will add substance making it a hearty filling meal, not a broth.
This is my home blend of 'soup mix' which always includes split peas, at least one variety of lentils and several types of beans.
The mixture various depending on what we have on hand at the time, but this will give you an idea of what I'm talking about. If you just have lentils and chick peas or only have split peas, then just use that.
It's all about using what you have.
In addition to the legumes, pearl barley is a beautiful, yet underrated ingredient to include as it gives it a comforting feel and taste and thickens up the soup in a way that pasta never can in my opinion.
Ok, so you have some scrappy veggies you've scavenged from the fridge and got yourself some dried legumes...now what?
Well, soak those legumes if you can (but if you haven't got time for that , I'll give you a work around)
Put your legumes into a big dish with plenty of space.
(Note: the Pearl Barley doesn't require soaking and can go straight into the soup after a rinse)
Cover with plenty of hot water (this also helps reduce the humorous after effects of beans) and top with a lid or plate to keep the heat in. Soaking for several hours or even overnight reduces cooking time especially with larger beans. Check every now and again to ensure they haven't soaked up all the water and top up if you need to.
This is how it should look:
Short on time? Simply rinse them under water until it runs clear and put them straight into the pot along with some fresh water and get it on the heat while you chop up.
Legumes are way easier than you think to cook with. I was working with a pretty big pot so I added 500grams dried, including the pearl barley, but you may want to just work with half that which is plenty.
A Zero Waste Soup Recipe
I make a lot of different soups, but this is what I used this time, and it tasted fantastic!
500 grams of Mixed Legumes and Pearl Barley
A Bunch of Carrots
1/2 a Pumpkin
Onion and/or spring onion
Several stalks of Celery
A handful of Mushrooms
1-2 cups of Red Wine
400 grams of fresh Osso Bucco (beef shin on the bone) - OPTIONAL
Salt, Pepper, Rosemary, Allspice (or whatever you have)
>The first step is to chop your celery, onion, leek and garlic and fry lightly in olive oil.
*Keep the end of the leek, celery or spring onions - place in a cup of water to regrow more!
Put aside any peels and offcuts during your chopping and I'll show you how to use these later.
>Rinse the legumes you have soaked and get them into the pot with some water. This can start cooking while you do the rest.
>Ideally, the meat would go in next, however I always chop the veggies first and meat last as I only use one chopping board. You can opt not to use meat too. I usually use Osso Bucco as the bones in the soup really add to the flavour. Alternatively, any stewing meat will work great.
>Chop up the rest of your veggies and pop them into the pot in whichever order you like.
> Cover with water and add some salt and pepper along with rosemary, allspice or whichever other herbs you typically use.
If you're unsure what to add, simply use salt and pepper for now - perhaps an hour into cooking, smell the soup and smell the herbs you're thinking of trying. If they smell good together, you're onto a winner. Early in the cooking, the soup will have some strong smells due to the celery or other raw veg which tend to sweeten as they cook. So wait until then to do your experimenting. If your herbs are over the date, they are still usually fine to use, but may have less flavour so add extra.
>Add red wine if you plan to use it. I don't use a lot, this was a huge pot and I only used half or 3/4 of a cup (the rest is for the cook, we're doing this zero waste remember!)
>Simmer for at least 90 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure it isn't sticking to the bottom. (2-3 hours is ideal for great flavour and tender meat, but it isn't necessary)
If it does stick to the bottom and burn
As we are doing a zero waste soup so we never want to throw it out before we even get to eat it!
The way to save a burning soup it is to stop stirring immediately.
Let it continue cooking if it needs too and stir it without touching the bottom of the pan otherwise you will disturb the burnt bits and run the risk of spreading it through the soup and making it taste absolutely awful.
As soon as it is finished cooking, ladle it out into another pot, obviously avoiding the damaged stuff at the bottom.
Then scrape out the bottom and discard into compost and soak your pot it in hot water. I've saved many soups and pots this way!
Did You Set Aside any Peels and Offcuts?
If you did, you can now make a super simple compost tea for your plants. Trust me, it is so easy, your kids can do it for you. Here are the instructions.
Now you know how I make a very zero waste soup. Hopefully this gives you plenty of ideas for creating your own version, or you can simply follow my recipe. Let me know what you plan to create.