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I am a student with no cooking experience and a very low budget. The former forces me to cook as cheap as possible and I think soups in general are the most cost efficient meals out there, since they can be cooked in large amounts and stored for a long time. But the problem is, I have very little idea of how to make a soup.

So far I know how to make a basic meat and vegetable soup/stew:

1) Stew some kind of meat

2) Chop some veggies, saute some of them in a pan with oil or butter.

3) Add the bouillon from the 1st step and some other veggies. Add the meat from the 1st step too.

4) Add some spices and cook for 1-2 hours.

As you've probably noticed this is a very very rough recipe and I'd like to clear a lot of steps. My main question is, what's the best order to do all this in? Specifically:

1) In what order should I saute the first veggies (for example, garlic onion and carrots) ? How long do I need to cook them for?

2) When I add the bouillon and the rest of the vegetables, should I add the longer cooking ones first, or cut them into smaller pieces? Suppose I'm using potatoes, beans, celery, and parsley. Obviously the potatoes require more time then parsley. So how should I do this? (Should I cook harder vegetables longer, or cut them into finer pieces?)

3) When should I add the meat?

4) If I want to thicken it with starch, when should I add it?

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    Hello! While you have some good questions in there, this is insanely broad. Our site does focused, small questions, and looks for one good solution for one problem. My suggestion would be to make several separate question "threads" out of it. And some of them will be duplicates, search for them first. The "give me general advice about soups" part will never be allowed on the site, it is something which would be good on a discussion forum. – rumtscho Oct 25 '14 at 17:34
  • We have a help center explaining how the site works. See for example cooking.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask for an explanation of the question formats we don't accept. – rumtscho Oct 25 '14 at 17:35
  • I knew this was coming so I tried to make my question as specific as possible. Please don't let the heading mislead you. I have very specific questions there and I don't see the reason to separate them in different threads. If the last part is bothering you, it can be edited out, but it shouldn't be a reason to put the whole thread on hold, since as you said, there are some good questions in there. The reason question is long is that I wanted to clearly right down what I already know, just to prevent inefficient answers. – steakexchange Oct 25 '14 at 17:51
  • You should definitely split things up here. The bulk of the question is fine as one question (it's basically "what order should things go in"), but "how do I make soup creamy?" is entirely separate, as is "what will make it last longer". If you want I can help by editing it down to the first part, and trying to clarify, but I'd rather you post the other questions yourself so you can own them and get the rep! – Cascabel Oct 25 '14 at 17:57
  • I have checked for possible duplicates for the sub-questions and I didn't find any. Since the whole question goes under the theme making a soup, it should be regarded as a whole. The link cooking.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask is very vague about the scope of a question. "Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much." Since there isn't clear specification about the scope, it shouldn't be the reason to put the thread on hold. Also, I have specified that the last questions are additional. – steakexchange Oct 25 '14 at 18:06
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Goldilocks provided some very good general advice. Just to address a few more points in the specific questions posed:

1) In what order should I saute the first veggies (for example, garlic onion and carrots) ? How long do I need to cook them for?

Garlic takes the shortest time to cook, particularly if it is minced or pressed, so it should be added last, probably only a minute or two before adding the liquid. (You can also add some spices at this point, to bring out certain fat-soluble aromatics.) Timing of other veggies don't matter so much. If you want your onions to partially caramelize, start them by themselves first.

Sauteing is about getting flavors from the fat to interact with the food and somewhat about browning reactions. So, it doesn't matter if the veggies don't all get very cooked here. (It's hard to say exactly how long; it depends on temperature and whether you're interested in getting anything browned or just exposing it briefly to the fat, which will still bring out flavors that the stock/broth won't.)

2) When I add the bouillon and the rest of the vegetables, should I add the longer cooking ones first, or cut them into smaller pieces? Suppose I'm using potatoes, beans, celery, and parsley. Obviously the potatoes require more time then parsley. So how should I do this? (Should I cook harder vegetables longer, or cut them into finer pieces?)

It depends on how finicky you are about the final texture of the various ingredients. If you want them all done to perfect doneness, you can add them at staggered intervals depending on how long it takes for them to cook. Personally, with many soups I'm okay if some things are mushy, so I often dump most ingredients in along with the stock/broth. (Actually, to save time, I'm often chopping up things as I go, so I dump them in as I finish cutting.) But if there's something that you feel is overdone one time, remember that and add it a little later the next time.

Herbs are a special case. If you want their flavor integrated into the ingredients, add them early (though generally not more than 30-60 minutes before the end of cooking). If you want a more "fresh herb" taste that stands out, add them in the last few minutes or sprinkle raw over the soup when serving.

3) When should I add the meat?

As Goldilocks said, for maximum flavor you probably want to brown the meat first, before starting anything else. You then remove the meat and saute the vegetables in the fat leftover from the meat, while scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the nice browned bits mixed in. Then you add the meat back in along with the liquid and the rest of the ingredients. If you're short for time, you can also leave the meat in the pan while sauteing the veggies, though it will be less effective. If the meat is pre-cooked (e.g., reusing roasted chicken in chicken soup/stew), you can probably just add it with the liquid.

4) If I want to thicken it with starch, when should I add it?

It depends on the starch. Flour usually needs to cook a while so that it doesn't taste "raw" or grainy. Other starches (like cornstarch) do not require extensive cooking, though you will need to bring to a low simmer for a few minutes to allow the starches to fully expand. If I'm not following a specific recipe, I often make a roux-like thickener by adding some flour to the vegetables at the end of the saute phase and cook along with the remaining fat there for a few minutes. Then add the liquid, starting with a little at first to dissolve the flour (and avoid lumps).

I usually do not thicken it completely at the beginning to avoid sticking or burning during simmering. But this gets the thickening started, which can then be finished by adding a little more starch at the end (the last 5-10 minutes, perhaps longer if using flour or coarser meal as thickener), as needed. Do keep in mind when adding starch to hot liquid at the end that you should begin by adding some of the liquid (or cold water/other liquid) directly to the starch to dissolve it a bit. Then add this mixture slowly to the soup; this will help to avoid lumps.

3

I'd refine this with regard to the handling of meat and broth/stock.

If you want to make a stock, you'd start with meat scraps (including bones, skin, etc.) and some veggies like celery and onion. Although the meat could be already cooked (e.g., a chicken carcass) you won't be reusing it again1. You'll be boiling beyond what would be considered edible and then straining all the solids out with a fine mesh strainer. Remember to mash down on the material in the strainer to squeeze as much fluid as you can out. Then throw the wrung out pulp into the compost. You may also want to skim some fat off the top of the broth.

It's this, the broth, and not necessarily the soup, that you cook for hours. As in the more the better...3, 4, 5, 6, as long as you are willing to wait. Keep a lid on it and the heat low. A pressure cooker is also a very handy device here and can produce an equivalent broth in 1/3 or 1/4 of the time.

Then you want to saute your veggies as appropriate and sear the meat. Not the meat you made the broth with -- you already threw that away (it does not even have to be the same kind). By "searing" I mean putting it in a very hot pan with a bit of oil briefly, to get some serious browning on the outside. You will also end up with some brown bits in the pan. Once the meat is done (remember, you aren't trying to cook it all the way through, just sear the outside -- although you can cook it all the way if you want, in which case it does not have to stew much), you will have some brown bits in the pan. Deglaze that with some of the stock, or some other liquid you'd like in the soup/stew, by pouring it in the hot pan and scraping a bit (it will come up easily and muddy the liquid). That is some tasty stuff and can be combined with the rest of the stock, veggies, and meat.

You then do not need to cook the soup/stew for very long; 20-60 minutes should be plenty. If you want a thicker, stewier texture, you can thicken it with something starchy.

1 Which is why "scraps" are ideal -- you were going to throw those out to start with. You can also buy such scraps (e.g. stewing bones) very cheaply. You'd be amazed what a few hours of boiling just bones with marrow and perhaps some bits on produces. If the scraps are not already cooked, you might want to roast them under a broiler for a bit to add some flavour.


Alternately, if you do not want to bother with the fuss of creating the stock, browning the meat, and sautéing veggies separately, start by browning the fresh meat as described above (and deglazing) in a stockpot, then throw in veggies and water/beer/broth and cook for as long as you like. Although I've never tried, with stews it is possible, once everything's combined (and presuming your stockpot is ovenproof), to throw it in the oven (covered, but with the lid slightly open) at ~ 150 ºC / 300 ºF for a few hours instead. I imagine this saves the trouble of stirring and fretting, but conversely, might take a bit of trial and error to work out WRT consistency. You don't want to it to dry out and burn, but you still want it thick.

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A healthy and flavoursome choice. Very sensible given your parameters -- no experience and low budget. My experience of student needs pointed to chicken and game rather than lamb, beef, pork, etc. The modus operandi is to cover a chicken with water in a large pan and bring to the boil with a bay leaf, a carrot, an onion, a stick of celery and some peppercorns. Simmer for an hour. Cool enough to handle safely, then take the chicken out, draining all liquid back into the pan. Remove all the fat and skin (discard) and separate the flesh from the bones. Return bones and gristly bits to the pan and simmer a while longer. (The chicken meat will feed you for a week, so wrap it carefully and keep it in the fridge until needed, or freeze in ready portions).

THIS IS YOUR BASIC CHICKEN STOCK. (Other variations see here). Far superior to stock cubes and as the great Escoffier said, “The workman mindful of success, therefore, will naturally direct his attention to the faultless preparation of his stock". Drain through a sieve or colander and discard the bones and veg. Use your basic stock or broth for soups (also sauces and other dishes like risotto as you learn more skills). You can add peel, shells, skins, stalks, pods and other parts of plants and vegetables not usually eaten, but avoid mushrooms. Keep it in the fridge. It will set into a jelly.

Plan a regime for the week. Each day a different meal, otherwise you will get bored with "soup". I hope the moderators let this pass, because it is opinion! On the other hand it is from experience, albeit a very long time ago indeed.

There are two "vegetable additions" to consider. First the flavour-giving mirepoix which is basically a mix of very finely chopped celery, carrot and onion as see here: mirepoix which you brown by frying in fat before adding the other ingredients of the soup. How long depends on the heat and water content. Keep stirring to prevent burning. Secondly the vegetables you ask about. Usually the root vegetables are added all together at the start before bringing the soup up to the boil, with leeks then greens (if used) left until last. Again it depends on cooking temperature and size of vegetable chunks, but a steady simmer is preferable to a rollicking boil as it develops the flavours more. Certainly no more than a hour maximum.

Once you have fried the mirepoix, add the other veg chosen for your "soup of the day". Add garlic and dried herbs at this stage too (optional). Add water and scrape all the good browned bits off the pan, stirring into the water. Then add a cupful of your basic stock jelly. Stir in to dissolve and then simmer. Split peas or lentils are a useful addition at this stage. Simmer until almost cooked. Now add some of the chicken making sure it is thoroughly heated through. Adjust the seasoning and add fresh chopped herbs or parsley just before serving.

The pulses thicken the soup, but consider mashing, sieving or pureeing some instead of adding flour to thicken. Cream will not be available on a tight budget, but nice crispy croutons can easily be made. Tomato puree is also a budget buy worth considering, as are pulses such as chick peas and grains such as barley. Cooking times will need adjusting according to what is included. A slow cooker is ideal.

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    Lovely answer. There is room here on SA to express opinion, especially when that opinion is experienced based. I don't think you crossed any lines. Welcome to Seasoned Advice. – Jolenealaska Oct 27 '14 at 2:01
  • Many thanks for the praise and the welcome, @Jolenealaska. It is appreciated. – user28908 Oct 27 '14 at 18:56
  • I like to sift all the veggies from my chicken soup and use that in a tomato sauce with macaroni. Then when serving the soup, I heat it up and add some fresh leak. – Pieter B Mar 13 at 18:06

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