Grad student eating in style: Soup!

I know, I know.  Another non-science post.  My classes are taking up a lot of brain space this semester, and this blog is being neglected.  It’s okay.  I’ll be back in regular form soon.

But, in the mean time, Scicurious is hosting a grad student eating carnival, and, well, I’m a grad student, and I love cooking.  It’s soup weather where I am, and I’ve been making up a big crock of soup every weekend to last me until at least mid-week.  Homemade soup is so easy to make, and sooo much better and cheaper than canned.  It’s comfort food at its best.

A few soup tips:

It’s okay to use bouillon cubes.  These are pretty much just dried cubes of broth, and they stay good forever.  You can buy boxes of broth, too, but those are more expensive and I often find that the taste is kind of… meh. The taste is unmistakably “canned soup,” whereas the bouillon cubes are a more neutral backdrop. You can also save all of your bones from everything (well… since we’re dealing with anthro people, best not use your people bones…) and keep them in your freezer, but I don’t eat meat enough to accumulate enough soup base. So use bouillon cubes.

Now that you’ve got your bouillon cubes, you can spice them up. Get some herbs and spices. I’ve got a few that I keep around the apartment as houseplants, and they cost about $3.99.  I usually make a “bouquet garni” out of a sprig of rosemary, some thyme, and a bay leaf.  You throw these in and then fish them out before serving.  It sounds fancy, and it tastes fancy, but it’s really not hard or fussy at all. If you don’t have a green thumb, you can buy these herbs dried for anywhere from $1.99 and up, or omit them if you must.

Last week I bought a bunch of “cheese rinds for soup” for 2 bucks.  I think it adds some depth of flavor, but I’m not really sure.  I haven’t done any double blind randomized control studies.

Okay, on to the soup!  This is my recipe for Mushroom Barley Soup.

You will need:5  Bouillon cubes, one smallish onion, one or two cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup pearl barley, and about a pound of mushrooms.  You can choose your mushrooms to suit your tastes, but I use one package of cremini (which are actually small portabellos!) and a few shitake out of the bulk section, just for variety.  If you want, you can use cheapie button mushrooms.

  1. First, chop up an onion and a clove of garlic or two and sautee until translucent and aromatic.
  2. In the meantime, bring a pot of about 5 cups of water to a boil.  Add five bouillon cubes. I use beef, but you can use chicken or vegetable. Throw in your aromatic herbs, if using.
  3. Add your 1/2 cup barley.  This will need to boil for about 35-40 minutes, and will swell to about 4 times its original volume.
  4. Add the onions to your broth.
  5. Slice your mushrooms and then sautee until they’re giving off some liquid. Add to the pot.
  6. Walk away for about 30 minutes.  You can use this time to toast a nice crusty french bread with some cheese on it if you want, or make a nice salad, or watch an episode of Futurama. When you come back to your soup, check to make sure the barley is done. When it is, enjoy!

Price breakdown:

  • Bouillon cubes are $1.99 for a jar of 25.  You’ll be using $.40 worth of bouillon for this recipe.
  • My onion cost $.39, but your price may vary.  I’ll round up to $1.
  • A bulb of garlic cost me $.42. Again, I’ll round up to a dollar.
  • Mushrooms will also vary based on how which variety you get. My creminis cost $3.99, and I got $.78 worth of shitake. Total mushroom cost: $5.
  • Barley is about $1 for a bag, and you’ll only be using 1/2 cup. That’s $.25 cents worth of barley.

Total for stocking up on essentials: $10.  This pot of soup cost me $7.04 to make, and will feed me 4 or 5 times, so about $1.75-$2 per serving. Pack it up and take it to school for lunch, or just keep it at home for a good, hearty dinner after a day of lab work. If you want to get fancy about it:

  • Splurge and buy yourself a baguette from the bakery section for $2.50
  • I think this soup could handle a splash of fish sauce, worcestershire sauce, or soy sauce if so inclined.
  • If you want to go for some beef instead of mushrooms, go crazy.  Ground beef should work, or even some short ribs if you leave your soup on the burner or in the crockpot for a few hours.  You can get a pack of “stew beef” for $2-4, depending on the size.
  • If you need to buy your herbs, it will cost anywhere between $6-15, but these will last you until you graduate!

Another tip that I have:  If you have some veggies which are about to go bad, make them into some minestrone! Basically, start with your standard soup base (bouillon, aromatics, and for this one add some sort of little pasta instead of barley).  Add whatever veggies you have (carrots, green beans, celery, spinach, kale, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes… etc. etc. etc…. ) and a can of beans.  I can’t offer a price breakdown for this one, because it’s basically a fridge-cleaning recipe.  You’ve already bought these veggies for other purposes, but for whatever reason didn’t use them up.  Have an extra chicken breast?  Throw it in the soup.  Bacon?  Sautee an onion with it and throw it in the soup. There’s nothing sadder than letting produce go bad, so throw it in the soup!  You’ll never make two minestrones that taste the same, which, I think, is the beauty of minestrone!

Finally, a lot of times I’ll find some sort of beautiful produce, bring it home, and realize that I have no idea what to do with it.  When this happens, I browse the archives at the Smitten Kitchen and always find something delicious.

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3 responses to “Grad student eating in style: Soup!

  1. Pingback: The Grad Student Eating in Style CARNIVAL! Get your recipies HERE! | Neurotic Physiology

  2. Pingback: Afarensis: Anthropology, Evolution, and Science

  3. michael- December 6, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Hey there, just though you’d wanna know, call for submissions for Four Stone Hearth #107 is here:


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