Weeknight Cooking

A Warming Soup for the Freezer

January 17, 2013

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.


Today: Nicholas finds a freezer-friendly (and child-friendly) soup, but he wants more.

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Before we get to the soup course, and I’m warming it up now, I have a totally straight-faced question:

How did people feed their children before freezers? On nights when there was nothing remotely edible in the house, did the parents send the children outside to fill up on wild garlic and chickweed? How much chickweed did that require, exactly? And isn’t chickweed really hairy?

The freezer, along with those alarm clocks that change color when it is no longer the middle of the night, makes modern parenthood possible. But I have a problem: I never know what to freeze—that is, when I set out to make meals for the freezer, I go cold: I forget what I used to make, or wanted to make, or I refuse to make the same damn thing again. I am a self-contradictory bundle of desires: I want comfort and novelty.

You know how this story ends: we have nothing to eat and I send Isaiah outside to pick chickweed.


If you are not this way, I need your suggestions. If you are, I have my own to offer: a rich winter-weather soup, adapted from Zuppe. It has chickpeas, farro or barley, kale, pixie dust; it is wholesome but not prudish. It sounds, in other words, like something no child would ever eat. But mine did, in quantity.

The reason he did, I think, is my current chickpea cooking method, which is stolen from Melissa Clark: it involves a lot of salt and a lot of oil, some aromatics and a cheese rind, all added at the beginning. The bean broth is seriously salty and oily; the palate follows close behind, panting.

I know there are complicated debates about when salt and fat should be added to beans. (Before! After! Halfway! During the full moon!) But all the exegesis makes me dizzy. You know the duel in Raiders of the Lost Ark between Indiana Jones and the black-robed, sword-twirling villain, where Indiana wearily watches all the fancy swordwork—and then shoots him with a gun? That’s how it feels adding salt and fat at the beginning: unsporting, unfair, but undeniably effective.

This is a one-bowl dinner. (You do not need bread. Don’t get distracted.) Everything goes in the same bowl. Speaking of which, has anyone figured out why things mixed together on a plate can be deeply problematic, but things mixed together in a bowl pass without comment?

Don’t answer that. Right now, I need your help: freezer, meals, children, go.

Winter-Warming, Freezer-Friendly, Pantry-Cleaning Soup

Adapted from Zuppe by Mona Talbott (Little Bookroom, 2012)

Serves 6 to 8

1 pound chickpeas, dried
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves
2 onions, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 bunch kale, preferably Tuscan
3/4 cups pearl barley (or use a cup and a half and no farro)
3/4 cups farro (or use a cup and a half and no barley)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom


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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


valerie W. January 28, 2014
Since I don't like chick peas or pearl barley, I suspect this one is not for me!
Jessica P. October 18, 2013
My kids (3 and 5 years old) love the copy cat version of Califorina Pizza Kitchen's Smashed Pea and Barley soup which I make and freeze. I also cook it in two crock pots, big one for split peas and little one for barley and veggies. That way I walk away and come back and everything is ready. Easy peasy!
Bella99 May 25, 2013
Not the most glamorous idea, but every so often I make a triple batch of whole wheat pancakes and freeze them on parchment then move them into ziplocks. We usually don't do breakfast at dinner but pancakes plus fruit has saved us from ordering pizza.
ejm March 27, 2013
Made this shortly after you published it and loved it fresh, froze some and tonight in a seasonal clean out of the freezer had the defrosted version (reheated of course!) It is just as good, if not better than the fresh. Great recipie, great dinner. Thanks!
Joan B. January 31, 2013
Correction; I meant to say Vegetable JUICE!!! low sodium vegy JUICE is a fabulous base for " tomato" soup and also add to ministone and other soup for flavor, vitamins and color.
Also, keep freezer bags and mark ; Chicken-Beef-Vegy-Fish. Save all the bones, skin, peels,etc. and when full, make that the basis for boullion. My other biggie is Herb-ox sodium free bouillion which I buy in bulk from Amazon.It is very yummy and salt free.[i know...chemicals...alas...it is not a perfect world] but i normally try to make my own boullion...
Jo M. January 21, 2013
Please don't make me feel older than I am! As a South African married to a Brit, living in London in the early 1970s I didn't have a freezer but did have two young children. How did I manage? Dry goods. Dried pasta, dried noodles, tinned anchovies, tomatos, tuna, corned beef, cannellini beans etc. Cous cous, pesto, dried fungi, flour, herbs and spices. A few sorry-looking veggies in the bottom of the fridge could be pressed into service in soup. Never be without a pint of milk and half a dozen eggs and you are good to go. Now, like everyone else I rely on my freezer - particularly as I live in Beijing, and without a freezer decent bread would be impossible.
gustus January 20, 2013
Great column and comments! Please chime in on your preferred containers for freezing soup. are ziplocks trustworthy?
David S. January 20, 2013
Buckwheat groats make an excellent gluten-free substitute for pearl barley.
Rivertree K. January 20, 2013
Great column, and gorgeous soup. I always have soup in the freezer, packed in 12-16-oz. jars for individual servings. I find that potatoes and most pasta get mushy when frozen, but rice, orzo, and (oddly enough) slightly undercooked egg noodles survive well.
Nicholas D. January 20, 2013
Slightly undercooked egg noodles: that's a very funny thing to hit on. RE rice: I've never understood freezing rice, since it doesn't take that long to cook. But I'm clearly missing something since a lot of people apparently do. Someone enlighten me!
Rivertree K. January 20, 2013
Sorry, Nicholas--I was referring to soup ingredients. In other words, I find that potatoes and pasta IN SOUP tend to become mushy, whereas rice, orzo and slightly undercooked egg noodles retain their integrity in soup that's been frozen.
barbara960 January 21, 2013
I have been freezing soup in 1 gallon ziploc freezer bags- squeeze the air out and lay them flat- they don't take up much room, and they are easy to defrost.
Joan B. January 20, 2013
Since I never cook with salt, as I have high bp. Low sodium vegetable soup makes delicious, kid loves it, " tomato" soup. I keep a few cans on hand all the time. You can add anything to it; rice, pasta, vegs. I keep all kinds of goodies in the fridge; I usually make more food than I know we will eat and then freeze the leftovers.
mcbdvm January 20, 2013
Any suggestions for substitutions for pearl barley & farro for those of us with gluten-intolerance?
MsJoanie January 20, 2013
Easy foods for the freezer: Stuffed shells or lasagna (I like Giada's turkey and artichoke variety for shells or as a lasagna stuffing), individually frozen meatballs and quarts of sauce (I like Alton Brown's meatballs with spinach and Lydia Bastianich's sauce with grated carrots to get the kiddo some extra servings of veggies).

I also freeze enchiladas, 3 cup portions of cooked, shredded chicken and turkey (perfect portion for soup or to make more enchiladas or a quick pot pie). I freeze stock and also one cup portions of caramelized onions to make quick french onion soups. And I always have bread and butter in the freezer (although butter takes a while to thaw).

I usually have a couple of loafs of quick bread in the freezer too -- banana, blueberry, strawberry and zucchini are my go to's. Plus I always have overripe bananas and frozen berries in the freezer for making more. I often have raisin bran or some other muffin in there as well. And par baked scones and freezer biscuits to quickly bake off when needed. Oh, and leftover waffles to toast, plus pre-sliced bagels.

For soup, I find you can freeze italian meatball and pasta e fagioli, both MINUS the pasta. Cook the pasta separate when you're ready to serve. But I rarely have leftover soup in my house, we just eat it all week (keeping the cooked pasta separate then as well so it doesn't turn to mush). I've also had luck with lentil and pea soups in the freezer but haven't made those in a while because my three year old really prefers soup with lots of texture (it's easier to eat, I think).

And when my gets to smoking or I slow-cook a pork shoulder, I will keep shredded tinga or bbq pork in the freezer. It keeps really well and reheats quickly for tacos or pulled pork sandwiches.

Funny thing is, now that I've typed this out, I realize I have lots of things I keep in the freezer, but I'm tired of all my "stand by" meals too. I'll be scouring the comments for new ideas...
jeanr January 20, 2013
A good kid soup from the pantry:
4 Cups of Campbell's tomato Juice, heat in a large saucepan.
1 can of Milnot and half a stick of butter, warm in a small pan.
When juice is really hot, add 1 tsp of baking soda (Be prepared to lift pan off the heat if tomatoes are really acidic this will foam really high) Stir until juice settles down. Add the Milnot to the juice and stir. Serve with soda crackers, goldfish,or oyster crackers.
Auburn M. January 20, 2013
Good writing! Good soup! Very funny about the freezer dilemma... people weren't germphobes, much was left out on the stove, in the root cellar or outside. Meats were preserved in salts & covered in fats, eggs in waterglass, or outside. And, as Sawassbe noted, housekeeping/cooking/pantry management was a full time job for someone in the family...
Nicholas D. January 20, 2013
Yo. A good first-person, not-too-far-back account of the sheer labor involved is Mildred Kalish's very charming Little Heathens.
Indrani January 20, 2013
I love this column! Here's my standby: Zucchini and pea soup, which starts with frozen peas and can end up happily back in the freezer. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil, then add roughly chopped zucchini, stir to coat in the oil, and cover with chicken broth and bring to a simmer. When the squash is soft, add a package of frozen peas, still frozen, and turn off the heat. This way they defrost instantly, don't overcook, and cool the soup down enough to puree it till smooth with an immersion blender or in a standing blender. This is nice served warm with a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream or yogurt, or a spoon of pesto or even just a drizzle of nice olive oil. Feels very green and healthy in the winter months, and freezes perfectly. In the summer, we sometimes eat it cold with a few basil leaves added before pureeing.
Nicholas D. January 20, 2013
Thanks, Indrani! I'll try it.
Sewassbe January 19, 2013
Well, theoretically, before freezers, most households had at least one person (mom or servant or slave) dedicated just about solely to producing, preserving, and cooking food for the family. Often more than one (mom and kids, or several servants or slaves). Now a days many households have like a quarter of a person - generally a working mom. Of course, without things like gas stoves, electric ovens, refrigerators, and freezers, we'd probably still have to have one whole person dedicated to food making in each household.

As for how to use the freezer? I find it easier to freeze small servings (less than a quart) of soup in flat bags, or freezing things like bread dough, pie crust, chopped veggies, cooked beans, and pre-cut meat to help speed along dinner when you really don't want to eat leftovers.
texar January 6, 2024
Fairmount_market January 18, 2013
Frozen aliquots of pesto, because in our house slathering things with pesto makes them kid-friendly. Also, I always have frozen edamame beans: great for lunches, or add to broth with alphabet noodles for a quick soup, and they're more nutritious than chickweed!
Nicholas D. January 20, 2013
Thank you for this and for the splendid word "aliquot" -- I'd never seen it.
MSL-2302 January 18, 2013
Oh, and squash purée, which can easily become soup with some sautéed onions and garlic plus broth or a pasta sauce with garlic and parmesan and frozen tortellini or ravioli (add frozen peas just at the end: surprisingly delicious!)
MSL-2302 January 18, 2013
I freeze burritos, wrapped individually in plastic wrap and foil to prevent freezer burn. Stuff them with a mixture of one part rice, one part beans, and one part onions/peppers/corn; then spoon on salsa and cheese, if you like or add it later when you reheat. I also like frozen breakfast burritos (scrambled eggs, potatoes, chilies, salsa, cheese, beans or sausage if you want more flavor and protein). If you make these assembly-line style in a weekend afternoon and put a Baggie or bowl of Spanish rice in the fridge, you've got an instant dinner or several easy lunches.
amyc January 17, 2013
We freeze meatballs, mac n cheese and waffles, which work well for dinner or breakfast.