Have you ever caught a whiff of an unexpected scent that suddenly sent you back in time? Figuratively speaking, of course. The sense of smell is a huge memory trigger, and if there’s a smell that says “home” to me, it’s the comforting aroma of simmering Vegetable Beef Soup the way our mom used to make it. Packed with veggies and beefy bits, it’s a hearty full-meal soup perfect for cold winter days. Serve it alone, or paired with fresh-baked bread, it’s sure to warm the spirits as well as the tummies.
I didn’t get recipes for all the dishes my parents and grandparents used to make, but I’m thankful this is one I made certain to get written down before my chance had passed. When I asked her for the recipe, Mom said she’d give it to me next time she prepared it, because she didn’t think she’d remember everything unless she was doing it. So, she made the soup, telling me everything she did, so I could write it down. Some amounts were approximations, so I’ve had to work at it to get it to taste right. Mom always made it the day after we had a big pot roast, saving the leftover meat and all the meat juices to throw in the soup – which pretty much explains the nearly complete lack of beef gravy in family meals of our childhood. Chicken gravy? Yes. Beef? No. The meat stock always got saved for soup. But that’s okay: this soup is totally worth the trade-off.
To allow for room to stir and also to reduce the chance of boil-overs, I would suggest a 6 to 8 quart pot with a heavy bottom*. Thin bottomed pots will cook unevenly and are more likely to scorch and ruin your soup. (I make the mistakes so you don’t have to – just a public service I provide. Oh, and don’t try to pass off the burned soup as “Smokey Vegetable Beef Soup” – that doesn’t work, either.) I prepare this in my 8 quart Tramontina stock pot, which I use for practically everything. Crockpot directions are also given, but if your slow cooker won’t hold at least 4 1/2 quarts, you’ll need to make a smaller batch.
When I was working to standardize this recipe, so it could be made as a standalone, rather than as a follow-up meal after pot roast, I decided to use beef shank cross-cuts, because I could obtain them at a fair price, and they’re great at yielding a lot of flavor, if you cook them right. Some stores label these “soup bones.” Feel free to use whatever cut of beef is cheapest – the long, slow cooking of soup-making is a great use for tough cuts of meat.
Vegetable Beef Soup Recipe
: Traditional Vegetable Beef Soup for the Stove or Slow Cooker
- 2 to 2.5 pounds beef shank cross-cuts, or any cheap cut of beef, preferably something with marrow bones
- 2 quarts cold water
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 large can whole, peeled tomatoes (about 4 cups worth)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon whole celery seed
- 2 tablespoons pearled barley (not quick-cooking barley)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 ribs celery, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed potatoes
- 16 ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables (the one I used had green beans, peas, corn, carrots and lima beans – 4 cups worth. Use fresh veggies, if you prefer.)
Vegetable Beef Soup Instructions
Set your soup pot over medium heat.
Add the water, bay leaves, salt & pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Be sure you’re just simmering, not boiling. Long cooking at a slow simmer helps to break down the collagen and tenderize the meat, while boiling can make the meat tough.
Remove the meat to a plate. When it’s cool enough to handle, cut it off the bones and either chop it up or pull it apart into bits. Discard gristle. Skim fat from the liquid, if desired. (I don’t usually, unless the meat was particularly fatty.)
Return meat to the pot. (I usually put any large bones back in as well, so that more of the minerals in the bones – calcium, postassium, phosphorus – can end up in the stock. Adding an acid, such as the tomatoes, helps this happen. Hmm. Maybe next time I’ll add the tomatoes before simmering the meat & bones. Never occurred to me until just now…Small bones are too hard to find again, amongst all the meat and veggies, so toss those out. )
Do not drain the tomatoes – add the whole can. Use a large fork or wooden spoon to smash up the tomatoes against the side of the pot.
Now, add everything else. If needed, add water to bring the volume up to 4 quarts. Stir to mix well, then turn the heat to medium-high to bring to a boil quickly. Reduce the heat to low and put the lid on. I always tilt the lid slightly. (Because I’m paranoid about boil-overs, even on very low heat. Don’t mind me. Move along.)
Simmer for at least one hour. Two is better, in my opinion, so the veggies are quite tender, and the flavors can mingle and have a chance to get to know each other. Remember to remove bay leaves and bones before serving. This recipe makes 4 quarts of soup: enough for dinner with some left for the freezer. Make plenty and freeze a bunch for easy meals later on.
To prepare in a slow cooker, brown the meat as described, then put everything in the slow cooker and cook on low 8 to 10 hours. The meat and vegetables should be tender. Remove meat to a plate. (Put the lid back on the slow cooker keep the heat in.) When cool enough to handle, cut meat from bones. Discard bones and gristle. Chop up the meat and return it to the slow cooker. Cover and cook at least one more hour. Remove bay leaves and serve.
Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)
Bobbie Laughman is a leaf on the wind. Watch how she soars. Or, just send her an email at Bobbie@Home-Ec101.com
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