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With just a few staples on hand, you can choose any of these three budget-friendly soups, customize with other additions, and still have supper on the table in 40 minutes or less. Choose from a hearty lentil stew, cream of tomato or potato soup. They’re not high-end cooking, but they are fast and nourishing and soothing.

Pantry staples

The first step is to pick up the staples on a regular shopping trip soon. These items aren’t expensive:

1-quart box of chicken broth, if you don’t routinely have homemade chicken stock on hand

1-pound bag of lentils

28-ounce can of tomatoes, diced or whole, in juice

12-ounce can of evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk!)

Instant potato flakes

Canned clams and/or shrimp

A box or bag of frozen, chopped spinach

When you get home, stash these supplies away for future use. If you use up one of the items — chicken stock and tomatoes disappear quickly in my kitchen — replace it as soon as you can.

Some helpful tips

If you don’t have a fresh onion handy, dehydrated onion works fine in soups and stews and saves precious minutes.

When you have a bit of time, dice a couple of carrots and pop them into the freezer. Ditto onions and celery. Or buy these prechopped, tip them onto a rimmed baking sheet to freeze individually, then tumble into a zip-close plastic bag for longer freezer storage. These frozen vegetables won’t saute very well, so sweat them in a little wine or broth before proceeding with the recipe.

In a pinch, evaporated milk can stand in for cream or half-and-half. Add a tablespoon or two of butter to more fully mimic the missing ingredients.

Look around your kitchen to see what else you might have on hand to elevate these quick soups. Start with these ideas:

Croutons and grated cheese are perennial garnishes for soups.

Chopped hard-cooked eggs are less common but equally good.

Leftover proteins such as cooked fish, chicken, beef or pork.

Smoked sausage or tofu.

Canned shrimp or clams will enhance any of these soups.

Cooked or raw greens, such as kale, spinach, shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix, will add extra nutrition.

A dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt will add richness.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes. In this case, an ounce of effort provides a pound of pleasure later.

Spanish-style Lentil Stew

Note: Lentils don’t require soaking and cook in just 20 minutes on your stovetop. Look for Spanish Pardina lentils for this stew, if you can find them. They keep their shape in cooking, and have a robust flavor perfectly suited to this stew. Smoked paprika, whether hot or mild, is an excellent addition, if you have it; add it with the optional smoked sausage and garlic.

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Makes: 8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 package (14 ounces) smoked sausage, sliced, optional

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, optional

1 pound lentils, picked over, rinsed

2 quarts chicken broth or stock

1 medium potato, cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy pot with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When it is fragrant, add the onion, carrot and celery; cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften. Add the optional smoked sausage and garlic; cook a minute longer.

Add the lentils, chicken broth, potatoes and thyme. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving: 249 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 41 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 17 g protein, 618 mg sodium, 14 g fiber

Cream of Tomato Soup

Note: Puree this soup if you want it silky or leave the tomatoes chunky and add more vegetables to make a sturdier soup. Good additions include leftover cooked meats, tofu or shrimp. Use evaporated milk if you don’t have half-and-half or cream handy.

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with juice

1 quart chicken broth or stock

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

11/2 cups half-and-half, heavy cream or evaporated milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large heavy pot, heat the butter over medium heat. When it has melted, add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their juice, the chicken broth and the nutmeg. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to simmer. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to melt, about 15 minutes.

For a smooth cream soup, puree the soup at this point with a stick blender, in a regular blender or in a food processor, being careful of the hot liquid and working in batches if necessary. Stir in the cream, half-and-half or evaporated milk, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

For a heartier soup, add up to 2 cups of any additional vegetables: frozen spinach, kale, diced potatoes, butternut squash or others. Shaped pasta such as elbow macaroni, pastina, orzo or others can also be added now.

When additional vegetables and pasta are cooked, stir in the half-and-half, cream or evaporated milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving: 157 calories, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 26 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 10 g sugar, 6 g protein, 347 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

Potato Soup

Note: This is the soup that I make when I’m under the weather or feeling exhausted. The key to this soup is to cut the potatoes in small dice so they will cook quickly. But if you don’t have potatoes handy, potato flakes (instant mashed potatoes) can stand in. Use dehydrated onion and skip the first step if you don’t feel like chopping an onion. Stir in canned clams if you want an easy chowder, or chopped, cooked chicken and a little corn for corn chowder.

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 medium baking potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 quart chicken broth or stock

11/2 cups half-and-half or evaporated milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy pot, heat the butter over medium high heat. Add the onion; cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and chicken broth; cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. (If you’re using potato flakes, you will need 11/3 cups; just heat the broth until hot and stir them in.) Stir in the half-and-half or evaporated milk and any optional add-ins. Reduce heat to simmer; cook, 10 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Optional additions: Canned clams or shrimp; 1 cup chopped, cooked chicken and 1 cup corn; 1 cup diced ham or 4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

Nutrition information per serving: 162 calories, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 26 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 5 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

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