Hamburger Soup

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Jennifer Pallian
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Easy and heartwarming. What more could you ask for in a mid-week meal on a chilly October day? Especially when you're one sniffle away from buying shares in Kleenex.

The beauty of this soup is that it is that it is healthy, delicious, inexpensive and incredibly versatile. And you really don't need a recipe to make it. The base works for a myriad of soups, easily thrown together for a hearty lunch, a quick dinner, or a clean-out-the-fridge project.

People are sometimes intimidated by homemade soups because of a bland, watery soup experience in their culinary history (I, too, was once there). However, if you just follow a few easy flavour-building steps, you'll have rich, flavourful soup - even without using stock.

Start with some aromatics (like onions, leeks, shallots, garlic...) well-browned in a healthy dose of olive oil (fat carries flavour - it is a must). If you are using meat, add it to the aromatics to brown. Throw in lots of diced vegetables, season with salt and pepper and saute till softened. Tomato paste adds a delicious tangy richness - add it to the vegetables and meat and saute for a minute. At this point, you can add your liquid - I sometimes use canned tomatoes, sometimes chicken broth, and sometimes just water.

Add as much liquid as you want - I like a pretty hearty soup, others like it more broth-y. Bring your soup to a rolling boil, and throw in your choice of starch - diced potatoes, noodles or any pasta, rice - or a combination! Keep in mind that the starch will absorb some of your broth, and adjust the liquid to your liking.

I like to add fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, or dill) to the simmering soup, and then add some more at the end for a nice freshness. A splash of lemon juice or vinegar at the end wakes up a simmered soup with a nice bright flavour. However, if you need to know just one thing about making a delicious soup, it is seasoning (i.e. salt)- it needs to be adequately salted to taste good! Taste often and season well.

I like salt. We're friends. Humour me with a brief digression: being a nutrition professional, people often report to me that they don't use any salt in their cooking, feeling virtuous in such an accomplishment. However, what they might not realize is that 75% of the sodium in our diets is from processed foods (!!!). My answer to that is: lay off the boxed/bagged/frozen/canned etc convenience foods and snacks, cook from scratch, and season your home-cooked meals well! It will make you a better cook, and you will be eating healthier overall.

Phew, thanks. Anyhoo, on to the recipe!

Hamburger Soup

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 large onion (or 2 medium), diced

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 lb ground beef

  • 2 stalks celery, diced

  • 1 carrot, diced

  • 1 small zucchini, diced

  • 1 small can tomato paste

  • 1 can diced tomatoes

  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 cup rice

  • 1/4 cup parsley

  • salt and ground black pepper

  • chili flakes to taste

  • 2 tbsp vinegar (I used rice vinegar)

1. In a large pot, saute onion with olive oil until golden brown - about 10 minutes (and worth taking the time!). Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the ground beef to brown, breaking it up as it cooks. Add the celery, carrot and zucchini and cook until slightly softened. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

2. Stir in diced tomatoes and roughly 6 cups of cold water (you could alternatively use chicken stock, alone or in combination with water). Add Worcestershire sauce, and bring soup to a boil.

3. Once boiling, stir in the uncooked rice. Reduce to a simmer, and cook at least until rice is tender - about 15 minutes. (You may simmer the soup longer to further develop flavours, but you might choose to add the rice later so that it does not become over-saturated like mine did when I forgot the pot on the stove!).

4. Just before serving, stir in parsley and vinegar. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper and chili flakes.