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Updated: Mar 11

Words and Photographs by Ilysse Rimalovski

This flexible recipe invites your creativity

When I prepare to make a pot of soup, I look for inspiration in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry and see what emerges.

There are potatoes, onions and garlic hiding in a dark cabinet. The fridge offers carrots, celery and some wilted parsley. A bag of chopped spinach is reliably tucked away in the freezer. Up on a shelf, I spy cartons of chicken broth, a can of white beans, diced tomatoes and some dried barley. I can taste my soup already and wonder what you will put in yours.

The promise of soup begins with a gathering of ingredients from the pantry, fridge and freezer.

This soup recipe is an invitation to get creative. Like the folktale Stone Soup illustrates, one ingredient builds upon the next until the resulting soup is far more delicious than its parts and is ready for sharing.

Even if you are a beginner potager, trusting the process helps to build confidence and a foundational knowledge of flavor layering. A recipe this flexible is also an opportunity to exercise your taste buds, especially when balancing salt and acid.

A bubbling pot of soup over fire is typical daily fare for multiple cultures around the world. Especially during times of scarcity, soup making allows people to stretch resources, ensure a steady food supply and still have enough to offer a bowl to a neighbor.

One traditional practice known as everlasting soup, perpetual stew or pottage refers to a method of continuously adding ingredients to a boiling pot or cauldron of soup so that the flavors develop over time. Historically, vegetables and plants in season would simmer alongside fresh game or a chunk of bacon with the liquid replenished as necessary. When properly cooled and stored between batches, such a soup could continue cooking for decades.

Today, the concept of adding leftover or on-hand ingredients to the soup pot remains a practical, flavorful meal. When I slow-roast beef brisket, the leftover sauce and scraps of meat become the beginnings of my family’s favorite soup. After enjoying a few bowlfuls and sharing some with neighbors, I freeze the rest for an effortless meal on a lazy evening.

Now it’s your turn. Use the following recipe as a guide to adapt or follow. The steps are ordered to accommodate the various cooking times of particular ingredients. Dried barley, for example, will take the longest to soften. Potatoes and other dense vegetables you may add (like turnips or rutabagas) will need more time as well.

In truth, however, this recipe is quite forgiving. Sometimes impatience gets the best of me and I’ll dump everything in at once and cook the soup until the toothiest ingredients are soft enough to eat. I also find that the soup tastes even better the next day.

If you’re cooking for family or friends, perhaps they’ll want to help prep or add a favorite ingredient to the mix. Take stock of the items you already have and those you wish to gather: vegetables, broth, hearty grains, perhaps some leftover meat, pasta or vegetarian protein to toss in at the end.

And when you’re done cooking, garnishes offer yet another opportunity to play with your food. I’ll be serving my soup topped with chopped parsley, grated parmesan and some crusty bread on the side. Come springtime, you’ll likely find a swirl of pesto in there, too.

Easy Everything Soup

Serves 6-8 (about 8 cups of soup)


3 tablespoons olive oil, butter or a combination

1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)

2-3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into discs (about 1-1/4 cups)

2-3 medium celery stalks, chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1 leek, cleaned well and chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme, or ½ tsp dried thyme leaves

A generous pinch of salt and black pepper

8 cups canned or fresh broth (beef, chicken, vegetable or a combination)

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with its liquid

½ cup dried barley, rinsed

1-2 medium white potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 2 cups)

3 cups chopped fresh greens (such as kale, spinach, chard and/or green cabbage) or

1 (16-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach

1 (15-ounce) can white beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, vinegar of choice or hot sauce (optional)

More salt and pepper to taste

Optional but encouraged: garnish of choice


Heat the oil and/or butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery and leek. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent but not brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and stir for one minute. Add the bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper.

Pour in the broth, canned tomatoes with liquid and barley. Cook for 20 minutes.

Add the potatoes and fresh greens. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. Partially cover the pot with a lid, and then reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the barley, potatoes and other vegetables are tender. If using frozen vegetables or canned beans, add them now and cook 5 more minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig (if used). Stir in the vinegar, lemon juice, and/or hot sauce and taste for balance. Determine whether more salt, pepper, or acid is needed.

Serve with a garnish of chopped fresh herbs, grated cheese, a swirl of pesto, a side of crusty bread or your favorite finishing touch.

Note: If soup becomes too thick, thin with some extra broth or water.

Storing: Leftover soup keeps for up to three days in the refrigerator and up to three months in the freezer.

Ilysse Rimalovski is a well-seasoned home chef, personal coach and content developer living in Maplewood, thrilled to be back at Matters Magazine. Have food questions or need inspiration? Visit Ilysse’s free Food Matters Zoom Room on Fridays from 12:15-1:15 PM. Email for further details.


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