The Basics of Slow Cooker Soups

As an adult, one of the very best moments is when you come home after a jam-packed day to the welcoming scent of a home-cooked dinner. The smell of soup simmering on the stovetop is like a big hug from the universe. But let’s be honest, who has the time to stand over a stove tending to a pot of soup, stirring for hours on end? Not any mom I know. At least not without a slow cooker, which truly allows you to set it and forget it … and not remember it until your whole house smells amazing and dinner’s basically cooked itself.

So, grab your favorite soup recipes now. Here are the basics of turning your favorite soup recipes into slow cooker soup recipes:

Start Simple

When first learning to master soup in the slow cooker, start with a basic broth. Spread roughly chopped onions, celery, and carrots in the bottom of the slow cooker. Top all of that with an entire uncooked roasting chicken. Finish with some bay leaves, parsley stems, peppercorns and enough water to fill the slow cooker. Cook on high for 8-10 hours.

Just before serving, remove everything but the broth from the slow cooker, reserving the chicken for other recipes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If there’s more broth than you need, set some aside to freeze for later. What you add next is up to you! Try fresh spinach, cooked rice, shredded chicken and a squeeze of citrus. Or add tortellini, frozen peas and parmesan for tortellini soup. Or egg noodles, onions, celery and carrots for classic chicken noodle soup.

Layer Up

Be smart about stacking ingredients inside your slow cooker, especially if you’re using meat or potatoes. Always make any root vegetables the first layer to ensure they are cooked completely; as long as there is enough liquid surrounding them, they won’t dry out in the process. Next, layer on the meat. Choose stewing cuts like chuck beef and chicken thighs – flavorful cuts that are best cooked low and slow. Layer meat on top of veggies to protect it from direct heat, which will dry it out.

Finish Strong

Ingredients like pasta, cream and fresh herbs are best added to slow cooker soup in the last hour of cooking. Pasta dropped in any earlier risks swelling, breaking down or even disintegrating. Cream at the finish adds body to any kind of soup, but if you add it earlier, it can mess up the texture. And fresh herbs add the biggest burst of flavor when stirred in at the end. Except chives, dill, cilantro and parsley, which should be used as garnishes instead. (Dried herbs hold up better over many hours of cooking.)

Don’t Forget the Sides

Never mind the adults at the table. Any kid will tell you that the best part of having soup for dinner is what you get to butter up alongside it. My own mom always baked baby blueberry muffins to go with split pea soup, homemade banana bread to go with bean soup, garlic bread to go with tortellini soup and, of course, melty grilled cheese sandwiches to go with creamy tomato soup. I still follow her lead on all of the above (except I’m not afraid to go semi-homemade and use boxed quick bread mixes).

Serving a warm and wonderful supper after a crazy day of errands and work and child-rearing is a phenomenal accomplishment … and practically impossible to pull off without your trusty slow cooker. But now that you know these shortcuts, the soup’s on!

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