She’s baaack and many apologies for my absence.

A friend of mine, a former stockbroker who’d once lived at a very lofty level, returned to the business in the late 1990s just as internet stock trading was coming into its own.  He was working for a brick and mortar brokerage as he had before and assumed he’d be back on top in no time.  He started off with a decent enough salary, but month by month that was whittled down until he was living on the very slim pickings made from cold call trade orders.

He made just enough to pay his rent and commute, with a margin of $20-$25 a week left for groceries.

Like many of today’s recently laid off, he couldn’t see how it was possible to live on less and to eat on $25 a week until I made out a shopping list and showed him how he could not only eat three squares a day, but eat smart and healthy.  I’m saving that $25 a week grocery list for one for a future column. Today I’m focused on the key to that existence: leftovers.

I’m not talking about the obvious leftover slab of meatloaf or chicken sandwiched between two slices of bread that makes next day’s lunch—though that certainly can be included– but what I call “reconstituted” meals—something brand new made from something left over.

One of my favorites — one that horrified even my frugal Midwest mother until she tasted it—is salad soup.  Yes, that leftover wilted lettuce, limp tomatoes, flaccid cucumber, green onion, peppers and radish concoction in the Tupperware container in the fridge. It can be reconstituted into a glorious soup-based meal, elegant enough for guests or perfectly plain for the family.

Maybe you made the salad for a party or a picnic, were gifted it from a neighbor or picked it up from Burger King or McDonald’s during one of those healthy eating kicks.   This is not a salad topped with macaroni, meat and cheese, but greens and veggies. Whatever the source, there it now sits, taking up refrigerator shelf space, one, two, even three days old.   Even disguised under fresh greens, it won’t look appetizing.

So, voila, salad soup. I’ve served it as a first course–creamy, caloric and elegant –or plain with a sprinkle of cheese on top and some good crusty bread.

SALAD SOUP

You’ll need some kitchen equipment (though you can do it with a mortar and pestle if you have to): Cuisinart, food processor or blender.  And depending on whether you’re going upscale or plebian: cream or milk, canned stock or chicken or beef bouillon cubes.

1–2 cups of leftover vegetable salad, dressing included
Two onions, finely chopped
One clove chopped garlic
Olive oil or butter
1–2 chicken stock  (canned or cubes)

1–2 cups cream

Roux

¼ cup melted butter
1/4 c. flour
Salt/pepper

Cayenne pepper or fresh herbs to taste

Put enough olive oil or butter into a skillet so that it makes a generous oil slick you can see. The pan should be large enough to hold all of the salad.

Heat the oil/butter (either or both, depending on your taste); add the garlic and the onions and sauté until translucent. Don’t burn or brown.

Next add whatever salad you have. Stir until the lettuce is wilted. If you have hard vegetables like carrots and broccoli, separate them and microwave while you’re wilting the more tender veggies like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. Then add them as well.

You will end up with glistening green and multicolored mass that is slightly less than what you started with. Put it all in your blender or food processor. Puree the vegetables to which you will add twice as much chicken stock as the original amount of salad. One cup of salad/two cups stock. Two cups of salad/three cups stock, etc.

We now have soup, a thin soup, I’ll admit, but the essence of soup.

To dress it up, you can thicken it with a roux or fatten and thicken with cream.

To make the roux, melt the butter, add the flour and stir it a couple of minutes until it loses that raw look. Don’t’ worry, you’ll recognize it but the very light beige color it gets.

Heat the soup until it’s hot, not boiling, and just hot enough to see steam coming off the surface then whisk in the roux. You can use a spoon to do this, but a whisk works better. Your soup will thicken up. When the liquid coats a spoon, you’re done.

Alternatively, you can add cream to thicken. In that case, start with room temperature soup, heat gently and add cream slowly, stirring until its completely incorporated in the soup. Keep the fire low and slow, otherwise you’ll curdle the cream. Cook until it coats a spoon.

Any version of this can be served hot, cold or room temperature.

Serve plain or topped with a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt, flavored croutons, crumbled cheese, popcorn, bacon bits, leftover salsa and chips.

And let me know what kinds of salad you’ve made into soup. And for those who are really adventurous, let me know if you do this with meat and cheese in the salad and what the results are.

Till next time.

Melkam Megeb. Bon appetit. Buen provecho. Mànmàn chī! Guten Appetit! Dober tek! Selamat makan! Nush olsun! Svādiṣṭ khānā