My reluctance to throw away anything potentially useful extends to leftover food. Yesterday's leftover mashed potato can become the topping for today's shepherd's pie, or the basis for bubble and squeak. Leftover baked beans get chucked into a chilli. Bruised or over-ripe bananas make a great cake. When the local council finally got around to providing us with a 'food waste' bin to put leftover food in for recycling, I was at a bit of a loss. I wanted to support the recycling initiative, but the fact is, I don't have any food waste. Between re-using leftovers myself, the compost heap, the cats, the chickens and the bird table, there is nothing left for the council to recycle. At the moment, the bin sits forlornly outside the back door with a pot of herbs perched on it. I expect sooner or later I'll find a use for it...
In the meantime, one of my favourite uses for food leftovers is soup. Ah, soup! Thrifty, warming, soothing, comforting! The perfect cold weather food. Here is my basic ThriftWitch soup recipe which can be adapted to which ever leftovers you have to hand.
Fry up some chopped onions and garlic in a little olive oil and butter until they are soft. For a spicy soup (optional), throw in your spices of choice (e.g. cumin [ground or seeds], curry powder, chilli, paprika, turmeric - whatever you like the taste of) and fry briefly. Put in your leftover veggies and/or meat, stir well and cover in stock (I use vegetable stock as IB is vegetarian and I'm not a big fan of meat in soups, but your choice of stock is up to you). You can use stock cubes for convenience, or make your own stock*. You can add additional veggies at this stage - carrots, celery, leeks, turnips etc are good additions. Add extra potatoes if you like a thick, hearty soup. Or lentils, or barley, or any other pulses you may have to hand. Soup is a great way to use up pumpkin-inners after your carving efforts at Samhain (I like to make a spicy pumpkin and tomato soup with warming spices like cumin, chilli and ginger as I find pumpkin a bit bland)! You can experiment at this stage with herbs too**. Bring to the boil and then simmer until all is tender and you're hungry. Taste and adjust seasoning - salt, pepper, spices. At this stage I often blend the soup in the food processor, as I prefer a smooth, creamy textured soup. As a final touch, you can swirl in some cream or a dollop of yoghurt. And voila. It really is that easy. And cheap. And it will taste way better than any soup out of a tin.
* Basic vegetable stock recipe - simmer onions, garlic (if liked), carrots, celery, leeks and a bay leaf or two in water. Season. Strain. Use immediately or freeze in batches for future use. If you want a meaty stock you can add the leftovers of your roast chicken (including the bones), or a ham bone, or whatever.
** As a rough guide, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram etc go well with Mediterranean type ingredients (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines). I like curry spices (including garam masala) with creamy parsnip soup. Rosemary and garlic would be nice with a chicken soup. Fennel is traditionally used with fish. Thai spices (red curry paste, lemongrass, coriander etc) would be good with a light vegetable and noodle consomme. Savory is traditionally used with beans. But don't forget to experiment - that's half the fun. The key is to add a little first, stir and taste. Then you can add more if necessary. It is easier to add flavours than to take them away!
Troubleshooting soup tips:
If it's too salty, add a chopped potato or two. As they cook, they'll absorb some of the salt. You can also add extra water.
If it's too spicy, add some creamed coconut or some yoghurt, milk or cream.
If it seems to lack 'oomph' or tastes a bit bland, some good extra additions include a splash of soy sauce, or tabasco, or wine, or a squirt of tomato puree. Or maybe an extra stock cube (though this will increase the saltiness too).
Try not to overdo it with strong tasting ingredients such as parsnips, unless you want them to be the main flavour - if you're aiming for a mixed vegetable soup, too many parsnips could overwhelm more subtle flavours.
If you plan to add cream or yoghurt, wait until the end of cooking when the soup has been taken off the heat, or it may curdle.