Some of my favorite things to cook are soups and stews in a crock pot. The downside to that is that it’s hard to not cook for a small army. Usually I’ll pack leftovers into containers and eat them over the course of a week, or freeze them if possible, but I don’t always want to do that. Canned soups are notoriously blah, in my opinion. If they’re not blah, they’ve got enough sodium to give a rhinocerous a coronary. “Lite”, low-sodium and no-sodium soups marketed as healthy alternatives tend to be thin, waterly, and largely flavorless. So what can you do, if you want some decent soup but only want a couple of servings?
Use the canned soup as a base. I don’t look as canned soup as a finished product. It’s a starting point, that I can dress up and customize. Think of it as canned broth with bits in it — in a good way. Focus on the broth, not the overall soup. Adding to it can not only make it palatable, it can make it downright appetizing. Here are a few tricks I use to fix soup. Note that these are mix-and-match; don’t try to do all of these at once. Eww.
Instant potatoes. Heat the soup in a pan, and slowly stir in mashed potatoes flakes or buds until it thickens up a bit. I use plain potato flakes, not butter-flavored or anything like that, so that I retain control of the flavor. I rarely add any additional liquid, unless I accidentally add too many potatoes.
Half and half. With the right soup, a little half-and-half can fix consistency and add a little flavor. Not much is needed. I jusge it by color and consistency.
Frozen vegetables. Stick to whatever’s already in the soup, just increase the volume. I prefer frozen veggies because I can add a little, put a twist tie on the bag and toss it back in the freezer. I don’t have that sort of portion control with canned veggies.
Hot sauce. Not for every type of soup, admittedly, but even a couple of drops can add some zing to any tomato-based or vegetable-based stock. A great option when you don’t want to add any more sodium.
Soy sauce. I use the “lite” stuff to control sodium. A couple of dashes of soy helps out any non-tomato broth base — beef, chicken, or vegetable. Don’t overdo it, you can easily make the soup taste like bad Chinese food if you do. Dash, stir, taste, repeat.
Worcester sauce. A dash or two in a beef-based broth brings out a lot of flavor. Again, dash, stir, taste, repeat as needed, it’s easy to overdo it if you’re not careful.
Spices. There are five things I use as go-tos: onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, and celery salt. When I cook “for real” I use real onions and garlic, but adding fresh ingredients to canned soup is, frankly, weird. You can tell. It doesn’t match. If you use onion/garlic salt rather than powder, be conscious that you’re adding salt as well. Seems obvious, but I’d rather warn you again. Oregano for anything Italian, Mexican, or tomato-based that doesn’t already have detectable amounts of oregano in it. Thyme for any lighter tastes, like vegetable or chicken broth. celery salt for vegetable or fish-based stock, understanding that you’re also adding salt (my rule of thumb is, if I can see celery in the soup, it needs more celery salt).
As an example, before I wrote this I had canned crab soup for dinner. Vegetable broth, very watery. As I heated it in the pan, I added some potato flakes and a little half-and-half to give it more of a seafood chowder consistency. It had corn in it, so I added more frozen corn. When the consistency was right I tasted it. Needed a little salt, just to bring out the existing flavors rather than to add flavor. There was celery in the soup, so I added celery salt. I wanted to give it the mildest hint of a kick, so I added a couple of drops of hot sauce. After allowing it to simmer a few minutes, I pronounced it delicious.