Ever since I started social distancing—and only venture to the grocery store every two weeks or so—I find myself staring into the refrigerator at 4 p.m. wondering what the heck I’m going to make for dinner. Usually, I’m stuck with some random vegetables, a half-eaten chicken, and maybe a half-box of pasta. Meanwhile, my children swear that they “don’t like leftovers.” 

Since I ran out of inspiration weeks ago, I looked to a more enlightened home chef for advice. Dzung Lewis, founder of the blog and upcoming cookbook Honeysuckle, has become a YouTube powerhouse for recipe ideas since the quarantine began. So I asked her, “What’s your go-to meal when nothing else comes to mind?” As it turns out, what I normally have in my kitchen is perfect. 

“I tend to clean out our fridge and pantry with soup,” Lewis says. “Being in the kitchen is a safe place for me to get my stress out—chopping, cooking, creating. When you put soup together, it’s also comforting for the whole family.” 

Lewis is also quick to note that it’s hard to fail with soup. If you have water or broth, some veggies, and a few pantry staples, you can whip this up in a hurry. Here’s how:

Develop a Flavorful Broth

To make your own broth, add hearty vegetables like celery, carrots, and onions to a pot. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. (You can also add chicken bones, if desired.) Reduce to a simmer and let cook until flavorful. Next, strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Alternatively, you can use store-bought broth as your base.

Add Spices for Depth

Once you have your broth, add some spices like turmeric, thyme, or ginger for extra flavor. Salt and pepper should also be sprinkled in, of course, but be careful about adding too much of either—you can always toss in more, but you can’t take it out! If you’re using ingredients that already have a lot of salt, then err on the side of caution.

Add at Least One Protein and Starch Ingredient

The sky’s the limit, but come up with a theme. If you have sausage and beans, for example, a white bean soup would be a great choice. If you have chicken and pasta, then consider chicken noodle soup. Add them to the pot and cook until they’re heated through, or approximately 15 minutes.

Finish With Veggies

Finally, add any cooked veggies or leafy greens at the end—no more than 20 minutes before serving. They should still have a somewhat crunchy texture once they’re scooped into a bowl.

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