Back at the beginning of this year, we ran an Ask the Chef column about rice and pasta in soup, and what to do if you couldn’t eat it all the first time around — how to store it without letting the rice or pasta soak up all the liquid and bloat beyond recognition. (Bloated rice or pasta is not only no fun to look at, it’s even more miserable to eat — like cereal that’s been sitting in milk too long.) That article is well worth reading, because starches, or carbs as they’re better known these days, are the finishing touch that can turn soup into a meal, and though they’re not the healthiest part of the soup, they’re often the part you like best. So, rather than leave them out, let’s look at some other ways to include them without ruining your soup.
(You could just stick to eating crackers or bread with it — for lunch, maybe, but for dinner it doesn’t feel like enough of a meal. Thickening soup with flour doesn’t seem to be enough either.)
Potatoes behave a whole lot better than rice or pasta, and if you cut them into small enough pieces they’ll cook nearly as quickly. The downside is that they have to be peeled, or at least washed, first. (I know, more work than opening a box of noodles.) Also, they lose a lot of their good taste permanently the first time they cool down. But if you mash the potatoes (way more work than opening a box of noodles) and thicken the soup with them, this is less noticeable.
Dumplings — the Western kind, not what you get in Chinese restaurants — sound old-fashioned and labor-intensive, but they’re actually easy to make. Just mix up whatever you use to make biscuits and spoon biscuit-sized globs of it into your soup as it simmers. In 20 minutes, maybe as few as 10, they’re done and so is your one-dish meal. Dumplings, like rice and pasta, have to be stored separately from soup, and like potatoes, they don’t improve with age. But they’re so good when just cooked, you likely won’t have any leftovers to worry about.
Getting back to the idea of just serving the carbs separately from the soup, this might really be a good idea if you’re trying to lose weight. Back in 2007, researchers fed cheese tortellini to college students, some of whom had just been “preloaded” with vegetable soup. Guess who ended up taking in fewer calories from the pasta?
So make a meal of your soup any way that works for you.