The 10 Rules of Making Soup Using Leftovers

Soups are my absolute favorite way to eat tons of vegetables, presented in the coziest package you can imagine – warm savory liquid. While there are tons of recipes out there for all kinds of amazing soups, my favorite thing to do with it is to make soup to get rid of every leftover possible. Half a bunch of parsley left from garnishing all that Italian food? Throw it in! A few chunks of onion from making a sauce? That goes in too. Except for chocolate, but who has leftovers of chocolate anyway?

Basically, you need broth of some sort and vegetables/meats/fish of any kinds. Everything can be varied, and I really mean everything. Just follow these rules.

1. You can use store-bought broth or make your own. I usually make my own, because I don’t really like the flavor of the store-bought stuff as much, hence the recipe at the bottom.

2. If you have meat that you made the broth out of, it’ll taste better browned first. If you’re adding in something like sausage or ham, brown those too. Don’t feel like you’re stuck with only one kind of meat.

3. Vegetables should be added in first (even if you made the broth out of meat, take it out, and set aside). Cut them up finely or roughly, depending on your preference. Generally, add the hard ones like potatoes into the pot and simmer them until they’re reasonably soft before adding things like kale and other soft stuff. Meat should be added towards the end.
NOTE: If using carrots or celery in the broth making, fish them out of the broth and then re-add them in with the soft veggies. They’re plenty cooked and still tasty.

4. If you’re adding in grains (rice, barley, etc.), it helps to pre-cook them and add them at the end or add them in very early so they have a chance to cook. If you’re adding in noodles, those can go in during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

5. If you’re using beets in the soup, it’s usually practical to boil them separately, in the skin, before adding them into the pot.

6. If you’re using both potatoes and cabbage in the broth, first put in the potatoes, wait for them to soften, then add cabbage. If you do them both together, the potatoes will take way longer to soften.

7. I find that adding a tomato with its skin removed at the end usually improves the overall soup flavor.

8. I also like chopping up onion and carrot in a 1:1 ratio, frying the mixture up in some oil, and adding it into the soup at the end.

9. If you’re adding in cream, add it towards the end as well.

10. Make sure to taste the soup at the end and adjust the seasoning.

Using those basic guidelines, I’ve recently made the soup in the picture. The broth was made with the soup bones from the beef quarter we bought. The bones were quite meaty, so the meat went into the soup. We also had leftover spicy sausage and ham, a bunch of kale, green and red peppers, tomato, celery, onions, and potato. The result – a smoky, very thick broth with plenty of vegetables.


1. Use 2-4 cups of meat, chicken, veggies, anything you like. The more gnarly the meat, the better – you want the bones, cartilage, and all. With the veggies, stems and tough parts are fine.

2. Place in large pot, add cold water to cover, and bring to a gentle boil, removing the foam that forms on top occasionally (it’s got the attractive name “scum”). Simmer for 30 minutes.

3. If desirable, at this point, you can add some vegetables to a meat broth – onions, carrots, celery are all good. Some herbs and salt are nice too, just not too much.

4. Simmer with the lid mostly covering the pot for 2 hours.

5. Some will tell you to remove the fat before using the broth. I like to do that on the beef broth, but definitely not the chicken. Just a little personal preference there.

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