Make Ahead

Judy Hesser's Old School Hamburger Soup

April 12, 2020
Photo by Rhonda35
Author Notes

Don't be fooled by this recipe's pedestrian list of ingredients; the sum is much greater than its parts. The soup has a wonderful, umami-rich flavor derived from its "secret" ingredient: Worchestershire sauce. When Food52's Amanda Hesser and I were growing up in the 1970's, our mother made this recipe often. She made it in a slow cooker because she could pull it together quickly and then leave it to cook all day while she went off to work. When she returned home, dinner was ready! It was an easy, economical way to feed our big family and the stray friends we kids would bring home, and it was always a hit. One of the reasons I like this recipe (aside from nostalgia and tastiness), is how adaptable it is to whatever you have on hand. It's the perfect pantry soup! Don't have ground beef? Use ground chicken or that plant-based "meat" you've been meaning to try. Not a cabbage fan? Substitute kale or spinach. Need to stretch it to feed ten people? Add a handful of your favorite small pasta and a can of beans. The original flavor and personality of the soup will not be drastically changed by these substitutions or additions. This version of the soup is adapted for stovetop cooking, however I give slow cooker instructions at the end of the recipe. Enjoy! —Rhonda35

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 6
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup carrot, rough diced
  • 1 cup celery, rough diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 14.5 ounces can diced tomatoes in juices
  • 1 cup cabbage, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
  • 3 cups beef stock (or 3 c water with a beef bouillon cube)
  • 1-2 tablespoons oil (olive, canola, whatever you have)
  • 1 handful small pasta such as ditalini, optional
In This Recipe
  1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, crumble in the ground beef and cook till browned.
  2. Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook till they begin to soften. The vegetables do not need to cook all the way through at this point.
  3. If necessary, drain off most of the fat, and then season the meat and vegetables with salt and pepper.
  4. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture in the pot and stir, cooking for about 30 seconds. You want to cook the flour so it doesn't taste raw in your final soup.
  5. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. Again, you do this to avoid a raw taste in the finished dish.
  6. Add the cabbage, tomatoes with their juices, Worcestershire sauce, and the stock (or water and bouillon cube.) If you are using pasta, add it at this point. (The pasta will soak up some of the broth as it cooks, so you may need to add a little more broth or water before serving.) Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer till everything is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
  7. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Serve with crusty bread and, if you'd like, topped with some grated Cheddar and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
  8. If you want to make this in a slow cooker like our mother did, brown the ground beef, drain off any fat/grease, sprinkle the flour over the meat and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add meat and all other ingredients to the slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

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