Seeing the title of this article must have you scratching your head and wondering if maybe I have finally gone off the deep end.
French fry soup?
I admit, it does sound a little bizarre, but you have to put things in perspective. I am writing this article on August 22, 2016, 282 days before the newspaper you hold in your hands actually hits the newsstands. Crazier yet is that I have just spent the last four hours cleaning up after having 44 people in my house for sheva brachos. Going to sleep now that it is already 12:37 AM would be the logical move, but I find logic to be highly overrated, so here we are about to delve into the fabulous world of French fry soup.
What would possess anyone to make soup out of French fries?
In a word: barbeque.
You see, the aforementioned sheva brachos was a barbeque, with plenty of burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, French fries and all the trimmings. While it is no doubt difficult to estimate how much food you need for 44 people, figuring out how much food to prepare for any barbeque is always challenging, which means we often have leftovers. And given my genetic inability to discard food, I have come across some pretty creative ways to upcycle at least some of our extras.
Buns: No matter how closely we try to figure it, we always end up with a sizable surplus of hot dog and hamburger rolls at our house, and instead of getting frustrated by the excess, I have learned to find ways to repurpose them. Unopened bags of rolls that have obviously never come in contact with meat make great grilled cheese or panini, while buns that should be considered meat are perfect for a hot deli sub, toasted to perfection in a George Foreman grill. Consider leaving those rolls out on the counter for a day or two to dry up and then turning them into breadcrumbs via a quick spin in your food processor. Just keep in mind that while store-bought breadcrumbs can sit safely in your pantry for months on end, these contain more moisture which makes them perishable, so unless you like moldy bread crumbs, stash them in your freezer.
Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Chicken and Meat: While I have yet to find any creative ideas for leftover hamburgers, surplus hot dogs and steak are both great additions to your Shabbos cholent. I discovered quite by accident that if you slice hot dogs about a quarter of an inch thick and pop them in your oven for 10 minutes, they get deliciously toasty and make great soup garnishes, or you can dice up those leftover franks and toss them into a milk-free corn bread batter for fun corn dog muffins. Have extra chicken? Chopped up chicken breasts are great in a green salad, a fabulous supper idea to balance out a heavy barbeque. Alternatively, you can dice up any extra dark chicken and turn it into chicken salad, chicken potpie or a chicken stir-fry.
Veggies: No barbeque is complete at the Eller house without sliced onions and, somehow, there are always leftovers. While I used to just toss them, it occurred to me recently that every non-fruit soup I make has onions in it, so why not use these sliced ones as the start of my weekly Monday night pot of soup? Sliced tomatoes and any leftover grilled vegetables are also great additions to soups, and because they are already cut up, they are great timesavers as well. Other possibilities? Channel your inner sabra and turn leftover veggies into a one-of-a-kind shakshuka, or toss extra grilled vegetables with pasta for a fabulous pasta salad.
Beer: At this particular barbeque, I found myself facing a rare dilemma I had never encountered before – about six or seven half-full bottles of beer. Beer is a great addition to breads, batters and quite a few other things, so I wasn’t worried about finding a use for the extra bottles, but I had accidentally thrown out all the caps. How on earth was I going to keep all those beers closed? My first idea was to raid my recycling bin, hoping to recover a few beer caps, but then the proverbial light bulb went off over my head and the answer came to me: wine corks. I always have a few lurking somewhere in my kitchen for those times when I accidentally destroy a cork when opening up a bottle of wine, and they were a perfect fit.
Watermelon: No matter how small a watermelon I buy and how much I send home with my married kids, we always seem to have too much. You could offer some to a neighbor or a relative, freeze watermelon cubes for smoothies or put that watermelon to good use in sorbets, popsicles or granitas. Looking to be a little daring? Pair watermelon chunks with feta and mint, or hit them with a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper before throwing them on the grill for a dessert that screams summer.
Baked Beans: A surplus of baked beans can seem a little daunting, but given how well they freeze, there is a lot more you can do with them besides making a big pot of franks and beans. Freeze them in small containers or Ziploc bags and throw the extras into your cholent for the next few weeks. Inexpensive, loaded with protein and fat free, beans are enjoying a well-deserved moment in the spotlight, so go trendy and throw them into your next pot of chili, or rinse off the sauce and toss them in tacos, salads or soups.
Corn: I can’t think of too many things more overwhelming than cleaning up after a barbeque and realizing that you have a dozen leftover ears of corn. Let’s face it, twelve ears of corn take up a ton of room in your refrigerator and if your fridge is anything like mine, space is always at a premium. Shrink that corn down to a more manageable size by shaving the kernels off the cobs and making corn soup. I promise you that while soup made from canned or frozen corn is always good, soup made from fresh corn is a totally different experience and one that you absolutely have to try.
Last but not least, those French fries. You probably already have at least one soup in your repertoire that involves cooking up a vegetable like zucchini or butternut squash with a potato in some water and spices and then pureeing the whole mess to get a nice, velvety texture. Next time you pull out that recipe, instead of peeling potatoes to add to your soup, throw in some of those leftover French fries that you have hopefully stashed in your freezer in a Ziploc bag. They are, after all, basically just glorified potatoes. Or better yet, simmer them in some water and your favorite spices and then zap the whole pot with your immersion blender for a super easy vichyssoise, which is, after all, not too much more than a fancy name for potato soup.
So there you have it, French Fry soup. It definitely sounds weird, but it happens to be really, really good and a great way to transform dreaded leftovers into something that everyone will enjoy. So go ahead and put those leftovers to good use. If you don’t tell anyone, I won’t either. It will be our little secret.