Friday, April 1, 2011

No April Fools joke, soup doesn't have to be boring!

As I posted a few days ago, it's possible to make literally hundreds of different soups from just a handful of basic ingredients, starting with rice and beans. I know that to some people the proverbial "rice and beans diet" for those of us on a really tight budget might seem almost like a joke, but maybe not so much of a joke with the economy seeming like a bad joke! But like I said earlier, if you "spice it up" with any number of various spices, soup can be quite tasty, and with rice and beans thrown in, it can also be quite filling.

My wife and I just got back last night from a 24-hour, 450-mile round trip moving the rest of our stuff to our new house, and after hours of lifting and moving and driving, we were really hungry but too tired to cook, so I suggested we try a new Cajun carry-out restaurant I'd heard about. We paid about $6.50 each for huge servings of red beans and sausage and red pepper-soaked chicken and vegetables over rice and just about had to wheel ourselves and our leftovers out to the car afterward. So while my stomach was thanking me for the first real food I'd eaten all day--ever have those days when you get so busy that you just forget to eat??--my brain was analyzing the makeup of the chicken concoction.

Conclusion: A little bit of spices can go a LONG WAY toward making a simple meal not just un-boring but pretty darn good!

(photo courtesy of

Some of you might do a double-take when you realize that the photo above is of quart-sized jars of spices because, really, who besides restaurants keeps that much of any particular spice on hand? The real "food for thought" is that you can get a huge amount of flavor for just a few cents per serving if you buy spices in bulk from places such as Sam's Club, Costco or various online distributors. (I've been very happy with the tomato powder I've bought from for the sake of disclosure, I do not have any sort of business relationship with them other than being a satisfied customer.) Some people might think it's crazy to buy spices by the pound, but would you rather have "too much" of a certain spice (if that's possible), or not enough? I'm looking at the container of cayenne powder I bought for less than $5 at Sam's Club, and the weight listed on the container is 18 ounces. For most people, a fraction of a teaspoon of cayenne will set their socks on fire! So do the math: For less than $5, you can get literally hundreds of servings of ZINNNNGGGG!! in your food for just pennies each. How's that for getting major mileage out of "just rice and beans"?

It would be a good investment to get a case or two of mason jars to store spices in, as the airtight lids will keep your spices much fresher than just the standard snap-on flaps that most spice containers have on them. Some culinary purists might argue that spices will go bad after a certain period of time, which might be true if you were constantly opening and closing a container over hot steam, as would be the case if you were working in a restaurant, but the only thing that would theoretically go "bad" would be the flavor of the spices possibly diminishing. But would you rather have spices that weren't quite at their prime for the sake of spicing up "just rice and beans" or no spices at all? I'll take months-old spices if it's all I have!

And the reason I'm passionate about emphasizing spices when it comes to low-budget eating is because of the danger of "food fatigue," which I'll touch upon in another post very soon. If you eat the same thing over and over again--sometimes you might not have much choice, if you want to eat at all--some people, especially children and the elderly, may be inclined not to eat at all rather than eat the same thing over and over. So with this in mind, and with the notion that just about anyone can make dozens or maybe even hundreds of different soups with just a few basic ingredients, I'll write about food fatigue in an upcoming post and suggest preventive culinary measures you can take to keep on eating like a king on a peasant's budget.


  1. I noticed that you did not say if you seal your jars or not.

    We vacuum seal all of our jars with spices, or any other dry goods that we store in jars, by using the jar attachment on our FoodSaver. Been using it for years, and it has been one of the best investments for food storage that we have made.


  2. IdahoBob, there's really no reason to vacuum-seal jars of spices, IMO. You're not trying to preserve nutrients nor trying to keep them from turning rancid (unless certain spices were high in fats, which I can't think of any), so all you'd really need to do is just put the lid back on tightly.

    On another forum I saw a post by someone who was going to vacuum-seal unopened cans of coffee in mylar bags as well, and someone else posted a reply that said (very correctly, IMO) that there comes a point at which you have diminishing returns for added layers of redundancy. It's about the 14th or 15th post down this thread by user "Nickelless":

    If you're trying to preserve nutrients in dehydrated vegetables or trying to keep fats from turning rancid, I think it makes perfect sense to vacuum-seal jars, but with regard to spices I'm thinking they will probably hold their flavor well over time if they're not vacuum-sealed but not exposed to air for extended periods of time.

  3. Hi .. Great site just found it! I agree 100 % about the spices. I am not a restaurant owner and I buy ALL my spices in bulk like that as well.. Today I packed up taco seasoning in 2 qt jars. The LARGE ( gallon ) bucket was given to me 1/2 full so I sized it down, I buy all my spices at a local Amish like store and at a fraction of the cost of the local w/m or sams club.
    Plus they have things that other places may not have ... Still looking for a cheap outlet for Whole Mustard seeds

    Blessings Gerty Goose