10 Dishes to Make Now & Turn into Soup Later

January 14, 2016

One of the most inspiring days of my internship at Food52 was when I watched the editors turn an impossibly stale loaf of bread (seriously, that thing was a younger sibling to a rock) and a can of tomatoes into a minimalist ribollita.

And if that could become soup, what can't? Not much, I learned. For many homemade meals, a soup—be it a cream of any-kind-of-puréed-roasted-vegetable or a minestrone with chunks of day-old lasagna subbing for pasta—may be in its future. ("Thursday Night Soup," so it's said, is the nickname for a soup spackled together the night before factory workers received their Friday paychecks.)

Make forward-thinking dinners—dishes you know will make soups just as good as the original—and leftovers won't look at all bleak.

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Here, 10 dishes to make tonight so that tomorrow night (or the night after that) you can turn them into soup:

1. Roast chicken

Let's start with the easiest, most obvious option: Make roast chicken and enjoy it as you do. When you've had your way with it, strip it of any remaining meat, use the carcass to make chicken stock, and use that stock as the basis of chicken noodle soup, adding the shredded meat, of course.

2. Squashducken ( ...or any kind of roasted squash)

Now graduate to the big leagues: Make squashducken, already seasoned with sage-hazelnut pesto; burst into hysterical laughter when you realize the vast quantity you're left with; then do like Ali Slagle and blend it with hot vegetable broth to make soup.

If you don't want to make squashducken (and why would that be?!), another kind of roasted squash will do just fine.

Take this acorn squash recipe, for example: Scoop the flesh away from the skin, then blend it with warm vegetable stock and roasted garlic.

Or, blend everything in this tagine (except for the couscous it's served on!) with vegetable or chicken broth. Crisp up some chickpeas in the oven and use them as garnish.

3. Or any roasted vegetable, really

Leftover roasted carrots, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, broccoli? All of the above? Those turn into a smooth soup easily. Make it as thick or as thin as you like by varying the amount of broth (or cream! or milk, half-and-half, or a combination!) you use, then add greens, cooked beans, sautéed mushrooms, anchovy oil...

If your vegetables have already been sauced or spiced or flavored in another manner (see: Tahini Roasted Broccoli), just be sure to take those flavors into account when you're adding stock or seasonings.

4. Mashed potatoes

Yes, you can turn mashed potatoes into soup (though it's not going to be a light soup). Start by sautéing diced onions, carrots, and celery in a stockpot (and why not add grated garlic, ginger, and chile pepper, while you're at it?), then add stock. When the stock is hot, stir in the mashed potatoes, breaking up any lumps. And maybe, towards the end, you'll want to add some shredded cheese and then garnish it with scallions and crumbled bacon?

If you don't have a lot of mashed potatoes leftover, they also function as soup thickeners, even if you only add a spoonful or two. Same goes for mashed sweet potatoes.

5. Vegetable curry

The BBC's Good Food website suggests warming leftover vegetable curry with a can of coconut milk, then blending it all together. If your curry was too bland the first time around, now's the time to make blend in a flavorful base of sautéed onions and garlic or to up the amount of spice.

6. Tofu, fried or grilled

Make dashi—or take it one step further and make miso soup—then add fried tofu (or grilled tofu that's been chopped up into bite-sized pieces) until warmed through.

7. Lasagna or any other type of baked pasta

You know how to make minestrone without a recipe. When it comes time to add the pasta (for the last several minutes of cooking), add cold lasagna or any other baked pasta dish cut into small cubes instead. Call us crazy!

8. Lentil salads

If you've got a lentil salad—even one that's got bits of feta or tamarind and cilantro—you're one step closer to lentil soup.

Just be sure to keep the predominant flavors of the original salad—be it vinegar or curry or smoked paprika or lemon—in mind when choosing the base of your soup (be it tomato or coconut milk or curry paste).

9. Strata or savory bread pudding

You can make the Tuscan bread soup pancotto out of basically stale bread and vegetable broth, and the same principal applies to dishes made of stale bread, like strata.

Remember that strata and savory bread puddings are presumably less dry than stale bread, so the cooking time is likely to be significantly shorter: Keep an eye on that soup!

And while we haven't tried doing this with cold, day-or-two-old pizza, we are highly optimistic that it would work (and so is Molly Yeh).

10. Sautéed or creamed greens

Turn cooked kale, chard, beet, and/or mustard greens into a savory, spicy soup by heating them with the stock of your choice, adding a spoonful of harissa or sambal, and puréeing. This right here is a good opportunity to stir in those mashed potatoes we mentioned above for added thickness (a chopped-up baked or boiled potato would work just as well).

11. Cake!

Just kidding. What do you think we are: crazy?!

What are some of your favorite ways to turn leftovers into soup? Tell us in the comments below!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • Stephanie
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


AntoniaJames January 14, 2016
Incidentally, you're not crazy about the cake. The English have been doing this for centuries with Devonshire pudding: https://food52.com/recipes/31847-devonshire-pudding

A great (but bewilderingly under-appreciated) custard + cake dessert that more home cooks should know about. ;o)
AntoniaJames January 14, 2016
I make Diana Kennedy's excellent stewed white beans dish, invariably to serve with her albondigas in tomato sauce. I always remove from the pot, just before serving, about a third of the beans. Similarly, I shape and then freeze, uncooked, about a third of the albondigas. They both go directly into the freezer. Those two components + a quart of rich chicken broth + whatever unused kale or chard leaves I've set aside in the fridge for this purpose make a hearty, wonderfully flavored, practically effortless 30-minute weeknight soup.

This is just one example of many. I could write a book on this topic of thinking ahead to plan advance prep and reserved "second-purposing" meal components for dishes/whole dinners that practically make themselves.

I say I "could" write a book but of course I have no intention of doing so, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I'm responsible here for making payroll. Of course, that has driven in large part my development of this ever-expanding repertoire library of outstanding meals that practically make themselves.

This strategy, well implemented, also explains how we eat so well every evening, after a full day of heads-down client work followed by a hike/run in our nearby redwood forest or comparable exercise - before I even enter the kitchen in the evening. Life is so good. ;o)
Stephanie January 14, 2016
I'd pre-order a copy of that book! It is a great strategy, albeit one that I have yet to master.