chicken tortilla soup

How to Turn Those Leftovers into Awesome Homemade Soup (Recipes!)

Soup is a great frugal, potentially delicious meal that can successfully be made from leftovers. It’s a great way to “waste-not-want-not” because potentially, you can get a free meal for your efforts.

chicken tortilla soup

But I’m not talking about just dumping stuff in a pot willy-nilly. There’s a method here for making really great soup from ingredients you’ve become accustomed to tossing out in the past.

Use wisdom when making soup from leftovers. While soup is a great way to disguise certain food items, if your family didn’t like it the first time, chances are slim they will like it better in soup.

 

Essential Elements to Make Soup

1. Fat

Olive or other cooking oil, butter, bacon fat.

2. Onion

Yellow, white, or shallots. Celery works well here, too

3. Liquid

Here are the kinds of liquids used in goo soup: broth; stock, bouillon, water, tomato juice, milk, buttermilk, cream.

4. Seasonings

Salt, pepper, garlic, onion salt, and any kinds of dried herbs you enjoy; soy sauce, Tabasco, hot sauce; sugar, paprika, wine, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, basil, rosemary.

5. Fillings

This includes ingredients like meat, poultry, seafood, fish; pasta, rice, potato, and vegetables such as carrot, broccoli, beans, peas, edamame—anything vegetable like that.

The basics

A great starting point is Thursday Night Soup, which got its name from the fact that traditionally workers were paid on Friday, so by Thursday night, you’d be using up whatever you had.

Read through this recipe, and you will get a basic idea of how to incorporate soup’s five essential elements:

Thursday Night Soup

Printable Recipe Card below

  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 (6-ounce) can  tomato paste
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 to 2 cups leftovers, cooked or raw (see below for examples and ideas)
  • 1 to 2 cups liquid
  • condiments to taste
  1. In a kettle over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Reduce heat and cook 1 minute, stirring. Add water, bouillon, salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and sugar. Cook 5 minutes, uncovered.
  2. Add up to 2 cups of solid leftovers—carrots, celery, potatoes, peas, snap beans. These may be raw or cooked. If raw, mince or slice very thin, and cook 5 to 10 minutes or until tender before adding. If cooked, simmer about 5 minutes before serving. Cooked fish or meats may be added: beef, hamburger, chicken, turkey, and veal are good. Cube before adding and cook 5 minutes before serving.
  3. Frozen vegetables, meats or fish may also be added. Cooked dishes may be added—rice dishes, stews, pasta leftovers, creamed vegetables, and mashed potatoes. Raw spaghetti, noodles, and rice work well, but these will require simmering 12 to 15 minutes, covered.
  4. Add up to 2 cups liquid: milk, cream, buttermilk; any leftover soup that isn’t “cabbagy”; the cooking water of vegetables, tomato juice, gravy, wine, etc.
  5. Taste and season: add more salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, wine, Worcestershire sauce, or those herbs that go so well with tomato-flavored soups—oregano, basil, and rosemary—1/4 teaspoon each (dried) is sufficient. Cook 5 minutes after the final seasonings have gone in, then serve.

The possibilities are endless. Here are some suggestions for the “leftovers” that work well:

Chicken Noodle Soup is a great follow-up after a night of baked chicken. Bake a few extra breasts and save the drippings. Any cooked vegetables left over can be added as well.

Chili Bean Soup. Only one or two portions of chili left? Add a quart of beef, vegetable or chicken broth and a can of hominy or corn and simmer together. Serve with tortilla chips, salsa, and grated cheese.

Corn Chowder. Leftover gravy, corn, and mashed potatoes? Whisk together the potatoes and gravy with chicken broth. Stir in corn and simmer until hot. Season with dried dill weed and salt and pepper at the end.

Beef Stroganoff Soup. Leftover beef stew? Thin with beef broth and bring to almost a boil. Stir in egg noodles. Cook until noodles are tender. Add a little cream or milk at the end.

 

Simple Chicken Soup

  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 2 ribs celery, finely diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or vegetable oil)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon white miso*
  • 1 cup chopped leftover chicken
  • 1 cup leftover cooked rice
  • salt and pepper
  1. Sauté onion, carrots, and celery in butter (or oil) until soft.
  2. Add the broth and miso, stirring to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken, rice, and season to taste. Simmer until chicken and rice are heated through. Servings: 4.

*Look for white miso in the ethnic foods aisle of your supermarket. Many major stores have caught on to the demand for this Japanese soybean product that looks a lot like paste and adds a kind of sweet, amazing flavor to the soup. It’s fine to omit if you cannot find it.

 

Chicken Broth

  • 2 pounds (or so) bony chicken pieces (wings, back, neck, the carcass)
  • 2 celery ribs with leaves, cut into chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into chunks
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 8 to 10 whole peppercorns
  • 2 quarts cold water
  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Slowly bring to a boil; reduce heat. Skim foam. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Remove meat from bones. Discard bones; save meat for another use.
  3. Strain broth, discarding vegetables and seasonings. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Skim fat from surface.
  4. Freeze if you won’t be using this within a few days. Yield: about 6 cups.

Scrap Soup

Find yourself throwing out bits and pieces of meals? A few kernels of corn, a spoonful of beans? Here’s a way to put those leftovers to use.

Place a container in the freezer, and add your food scraps until it’s full. Then use them in Thursday Night Soup or just dump the contents into a pot; add some broth and seasoning; heat through. A cheap and tasty meal from food that might otherwise have gone to waste.


italian-vegetable-soup
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5 from 3 votes

Thursday Night Soup

Soup is a great frugal, potentially delicious meal that can successfully be made from leftovers. It’s a great way to “waste-not-want-not” because potentially, you can get a free meal for your efforts. A great starting point is Thursday Night Soup, which got its name from the fact that traditionally workers were paid on Friday, so by Thursday night, you’d be using up whatever you had.
Prep Time0 mins
Cook Time0 mins
0 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Leftovers
Servings: 8 varies

Ingredients

  • 3 med onions, chopped
  • 3 tbsp oil olive, canola; butter, bacon fat
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1/4 tspn pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tspn dried thume
  • 1/2 tspn sugar
  • 1 to 2 cups leftovers cooked or raw (see instructions for examples and ideas)
  • 1 to 2 cups liquid (see instructions for examples and ideas)
  • - condiments to taste

Instructions

  • In a kettle over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Reduce heat and cook 1 minute, stirring. Add water, bouillon, salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and sugar. Cook 5 minutes, uncovered.
  • Add up to 2 cups of solid leftovers—carrots, celery, potatoes, peas, snap beans. These may be raw or cooked. If raw, mince or slice very thin, and cook 5 to 10 minutes or until tender before adding. If cooked, simmer about 5 minutes before serving. Cooked fish or meats may be added: beef, hamburger, chicken, turkey, and veal are good. Cube before adding and cook 5 minutes before serving.
  • Frozen vegetables, meats or fish may also be added. Cooked dishes may be added—rice dishes, stews, pasta leftovers, creamed vegetables, and mashed potatoes. Raw spaghetti, noodles, and rice work well, but these will require simmering 12 to 15 minutes, covered.
  • Add up to 2 cups liquid: milk, cream, buttermilk; any leftover soup that isn’t “cabbagy"; the cooking water of vegetables, tomato juice, gravy, wine, etc.
  • Taste and season: add more salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, wine, Worcestershire sauce, or those herbs that go so well with tomato-flavored soups—oregano, basil, and rosemary—1/4 teaspoon each (dried) is sufficient. Cook 5 minutes after the final seasonings have gone in, then serve.

Notes

The possibilities are endless. Here are some suggestions for the "leftovers" that work well:
Chicken Noodle Soup is a great follow-up after a night of baked chicken. Bake a few extra breasts and save the drippings. Any cooked vegetables left over can be added as well.
Chili Bean Soup. Only one or two portions of chili left? Add a quart of beef, vegetable or chicken broth and a can of hominy or corn and simmer together. Serve with tortilla chips, salsa, and grated cheese.
Corn Chowder. Leftover gravy, corn, and mashed potatoes? Whisk together the potatoes and gravy with chicken broth. Stir in corn and simmer until hot—season with dried dill weed and salt and pepper at the end.
Beef Stroganoff Soup. Leftover beef stew? Thin with beef broth and bring to almost a boil. Stir in egg noodles. Cook until noodles are tender. Add a little cream or milk at the end.

 

Young woman wearing an apron cooking a big pot of food
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5 from 3 votes

Chicken Broth

A basic recipe for chicken broth should be in every home cook's repertoire!
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 5 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6 cups
Calories: 95kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds bony chicken pieces wings, back, neck, the carcass
  • 2 ribs celery with leaves cut into chunks
  • 2 med carrots cut into chunks
  • 2 med onions quartered
  • ½ tspn dried rosemary crushed
  • ½ tspn dried thyme
  • 8-10 whole peppercorns
  • 2 quarts cold water 8 cups

Instructions

  • Place all ingredients in a large pot. Slowly bring to a boil; reduce heat. Skim foam. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  • Remove meat from bones. Discard bones; save meat for another use.
  • Strain broth, discarding vegetables and seasonings. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Skim fat from surface. 
  • Freeze if you won’t be using this within a few days. Yield: about 6 cups.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 95kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 63mg | Sodium: 220mg | Potassium: 249mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 3524IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 1mg

 

bowl of homemade soup
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
5 from 3 votes

Simple Chicken Soup

Soup is a great frugal, potentially delicious meal that can successfully be made from leftovers. It’s a great way to “waste-not-want-not” because potentially, you can get a free meal for your efforts.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 cup
Calories: 171kcal

Ingredients

  • ½ onion finely diced
  • 2 ribs celery finely diced
  • 1 tbsp butter or vegetable oil
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp white miso SEE notes
  • 2 cup leftover chicken chopped
  • 1 cup leftover cooked rice

Instructions

  • Sauté onion, carrots, and celery in butter (or oil) until soft.
  • Add the broth and miso, stirring to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook about 15 minutes.
  • Add the chicken, rice, and season to taste. Simmer until chicken and rice are heated through. Servings: 4.

Nutrition

Calories: 171kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 53mg | Sodium: 1069mg | Potassium: 168mg | Fiber: 0.5g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 174IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 20mg | Iron: 1mg

 

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8 replies
  1. Kim says:

    5 stars
    This sounds yummy. Bacon grease=liquid gold! I never throw it out-I save every drop. When, as a young bride and mother, I needed to stretch every meal to make as many meals as possible, I started making my homemade beef soup. I would make a beef roast one night, with a ton of carrots and potatoes. I used a huge roasting pot, and baked it in the oven. I used which ever cut of beef was on sale, as long as it was a good cut for a roast and then soup or stew as a leftover. I browned it well, deglazed the pan with some liquid, placed some onion slices on the bottom, added the seasoned roast, added the carrots and potatoes, and baked. I would then use the liquid in the pot to make a delicious and rich gravy. The first night I would portion out enough for dinner, add some homemade rolls and some corn. Then, the next night, I’d roast some broccoli, cauliflower, and usually more carrots, along with cooking some green beans-either fresh or frozen. I’d use the gravy as a base for soup or stew, add some beef stock, bring it to a simmer, add the leftover beef, which I cut into small chunks, add the leftover corn, simmer for a few minutes, then add the leftover potatoes and carrots which were also cut into largish chunks. Lastly, I’d add the new veggies to the stock and serve. I often added either tomatoes from our garden in the summer, or canned diced tomatoes, maybe some tomato paste, whatever I had on hand that was leftover, or would go well in vegetable beef soup; and then had two more dinners for our family of 8. Sometimes, I’d thicken the gravy and broth mixture first, then make it into a stew. I always had sourdough bread, homemade breads or rolls as a side, and sometimes a side salad. This not only saved money since we had three meals, (and sometimes there was enough for lunches for one more day) for a little more than the price of one meal. I love creative uses for leftovers as I hate to waste food. You posted some good ideas-I plan to try them as soon as summer finally fades and becomes fall/winter.

    Reply
  2. Claudia says:

    When we have a whole roasted chicken (turkey, standing rib of beef, other bony meat) I strip as much of the remaining meat from the carcass and throw it in a large stockpot with the other bony parts like the neck, wings etc. Then add the vegetables as you suggested (I save trimmings from celery, bits of onion and other similar vegetables in the freezer as I cook to be thrown in the stock pot). Add a tablespoon of vinegar and simmer for several days to make a very rich bone broth. Sometimes have to add additional water as it cooks off, but it makes wonderful broth to can and to use for soups. Don’t throw away that carcass after just two hours!

    Reply
  3. Gina Stevens says:

    5 stars
    I loved your weather report in today’s newsletter! I miss living with four seasons. Without seasons, I lose the concept of time. Plus, it muddies the waters with seasonal meals! Everyone loves “snow day lasagna.” Nobody ever craved “hurricane soup.”

    Reply
  4. Betty Thomas says:

    I make a big pot of soup, stew or chowder during the winter every Sunday night. It is frugal and makes dinner a no brainer on busy days after work. Some nights I add hot bread as a side, other nights get a side salad or crackers. My husband and I love it. My sister had a brilliant idea and it is yummy to boot. When she makes her meatloaf she makes 2 and one is made into a hearty meatloaf stew where she adds veggies from the fridge and potatoes. It is really good and even though her family hates to eat left overs no one feels like that is the case here. It is delicious.

    Reply
  5. Judy Swanson says:

    Curious as to why you say do not add ham or pork to these leftover soups? What does it do to mess with the mixture?

    Reply
  6. crabbyoldlady says:

    I get a third meal from a rotisserie chicken. Hubby and I eat chicken the first two days then I toss the carcass into a quart of chicken broth from the dollar store, add some celery if I have it, onion and a bay leaf. The seasoning left from the chicken makes a terrific broth, there’s just enough meat left on the bones, and I add noodles or veggies to make a meal.

    Reply
  7. Anne Shelton says:

    Been doing this for MANY years — never discard any leftover veggies. I do mine in crock pot — much easier than all the steps above. Potatoes, carrots and onions are cooked about 6 min in microwave and added to diced tomatoes in crock pot. After 2-3 hours, add the thawed leftovers. I also save leftover beef roast and chop it to include — give it great flavor. I have a friend who always requests some of my soup when she is sick — says it cures “anything”!

    Reply

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