Make Something Out of Nothing: Two Stone Soups


One of my favorite MKF Fisher books is How to Cook a Wolf. The wolf reference is to hunger. Real hunger. Wolf scratching at the door hunger. It’s about knowing how to feed yourself when it’s cold and dark and the wolf is outside waiting to pounce. It’s about not giving into despair. It’s about celebrating the joy of cooking and eating well, no matter how little you have. MFK Fisher wrote the book during wartime. Such skills are necessary for wartime, or other times of scarcity. But I don’t think we have to be in a war (or even a recession) to learn something about making due with what we have.

You might have days when you have little in the cupboard and want something comforting to eat but have no inclination to go to the store (even though you could). Maybe you’re broke and waiting for the next check. Perhaps you’re snowed in. Maybe you’re suffering from a post-holiday over-indulgence hangover. Whatever the reason, it’s useful to know how to make something from nearly nothing. Stone Soup, if you will.

Here are my two favorite Stone Soups for lean times. It helps if you always have some chicken broth in your freezer, but if you must, you can use canned broth, bouillon, or even water (stir in some miso at the end for flavor, if you have it)

Garlic-Potato Soup

I made this once when I was on an intense deadline and it was super satisfying and took less time than going out. Garnish with fresh herbs and a little plain yogurt if you have them.

2 tablespoons butter

2 large heads of garlic, each clove peeled and sliced thinly

4 cups chicken broth

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

Salt and pepper to taste

In a soup pot, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté gently until soft and fragrant but not brown. Add the broth, potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender. Cool slightly and puree using an immersion blender. Or transfer to a regular blender. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.

Rice Porridge

This classic Vietnamese porridge is kitchen alchemy. I learned to make it from Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. You can add a poached egg, if you like, for extra nutrition, or even some shredded leftover chicken or other meat. But no need. It’s Stone Soup.

1/2 cup long grain white rice

8 cups chicken broth

3 coins of ginger

Salt to taste

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, bring the rice, broth, ginger, and salt to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover partially. Cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the rice gives up its starch and starts to melt into the broth. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t scorch. Taste and correct for salt. Serve garnished with chopped green onion, if you have some.

Image: Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.