Vegetable cheddar soup (with bread): 83 cents/serving

If you’re thinking this “vegetable cheddar soup” looks suspiciously like broccoli cheddar soup, that’s because it is broccoli (and cauliflower and potato) cheddar soup. However, that’s only because broccoli is what I happened to have on hand; the most accurate name for this would actually be Clean Out Your Crisper soup. In fact, it’s almost impossible to go wrong here: Any kind of leftover vegetables + broth (chicken or vegetable, or even water) + cheese = soup. You don’t even need to purée it, especially if you’re using greens, and really, any cheese will do. Odds are you have the ingredients in your house to make this RIGHT NOW, for lunch or dinner, for half the price of a sodium-laden, unsatisfying can of Progresso.

Servings will vary, but I got 6 out of this batch. Freeze the extra servings for future lunches.

• Grated cheese. For 4-6 cups of broth you’ll need about 4-8 oz. of meltable cheese like cheddar; less for less broth, and less for a stronger cheese like Parmesan, or if you’re not puréeing the soup. (I puréed and used 8 oz. sharp cheddar): $2.49 
• Approx. 4-6 cups broth, enough to just cover the vegetables. (I used 6 cups of water with 6 tsp Better Than Bouillon chicken base): 28 cents
• Needing-to-be-used-up vegetables of your choice, chopped. It doesn’t really matter how much; more vegetables = more soup, and vice versa. (I used the florets from 2 small broccoli crowns, half a head of cauliflower, and 4 Yukon Gold potatoes): $1.25
• Aromatics, chopped. This can be onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, or a combination. (I used a yellow onion and 3 cloves of garlic): 25 cents
• Spices to taste. I used 1 tsp mustard powder, salt and pepper because I know that’s what works with cheddar, but nutmeg is a good choice as well, as is just plain salt and pepper if you’re unsure or using a different cheese: 4 cents
2 T oil: 6 cents
TOTAL: $4.37/6 = 73 cents/serving + 10 cents for a big hunk of homemade bread = 83 cents/serving

In a large soup pot with lid, heat the oil over medium. If you’re using onion, leeks, or shallots, add and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic (if using) and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rest of the vegetables, a pinch of salt and pepper and auxiliary spice(s), if using.

Add enough broth to just cover the vegetables.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and simmer until vegetables are softened, about 20 minutes. If desired, simmer for a bit longer to boil off some of the excess liquid.

If you’re going to purée the soup, purée with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Return to the stove, return to a low simmer, stir in the cheese, and adjust seasonings. Alternately, if you’re not puréeing, just stir in the cheese when you’re satisfied with the amount of liquid in the soup.

Serve with crusty bread.

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