Trail Rations: Slow Cooker Mystery Soup

In previous Trail Rations articles I have talked about the joys of using my slow cooker to cook meals for my gaming groups. After all, what’s not to love about a device that allows me to put ingredients in and, four to ten hours later, delivers a delicious repast for my players? And I have provided recipes which you can use to do the same thing.

Today, though, we’re going to look at making Mystery Soup, sometimes called Leftover Soup (but Mystery Soup sounds cooler). This recipe is a bit different because there isn’t a recipe. Mystery Soup is made by combining a number of things you may have hanging out in your fridge as leftovers (hence the other name) with some other ingredients you already have or pick-up. You see, once upon a time, one of the purposes of soups and stews was to use up less than fresh foods. Carrots or turnips going a bit soft? Chop them up for soup. Leafy green wilting? Soup. Leftover mutton a bit too leftover? Salt it and soup it.

These days, of course, food storage is better and we don’t run into that as often. But still, you may find yourself staring into your fridge at a half an onion, that leftover chicken breast, the two hot dogs left in the pack, a bagged salad starting to get a bit wilted, and wonder what to do with them. Instead of tossing them out, chop them all up and toss them in the slow cooker!

I don’t want to give you the impression Mystery Soup is a total free-for-all. You do want this to taste good, after all; no one wants grumpy players with indigestion at their table. The biggest thing to remember when making any soup is to season it well. That means adding good quantities of salt and pepper at the start, then tasting it near the end and adding more as needed. This is in addition to any other flavours you may add, because the salt and pepper will round out all the other flavours, make the taste more unified.

So like I said, not really a recipe, but a good start is to look at what leftovers you plan to include, and then shop to fill any gaps. Maybe you have a lot of veg and grains, but no proteins. That might actually be fine, you may have vegetarians or vegans in your group, and even if you don’t, meatless meals will not hurt you. But if you know the group likes some protein, grab some ground beef, chicken thighs, or tofu, and toss that in. Throwing in a can of beans is always a good choice, it adds some heartiness to the soup and helps thicken the broth. You can never go wrong with a can of diced tomatoes, either.

When you have assembled all your ingredients, building the soup is easy. To your slow cooker add: all your chopped, diced, or otherwise portioned ingredients; salt and pepper to season; any other spices you wish (go easy at first, you can always add more later); and water to bring the level to about a ½ to ¾ of an inch below the top of the slow cooker. The set it for your desired cook time (I usually go with six hours) and go do something else. In a couple of hours a delicious smell will fill your home, which will only improve the longer the ingredients cook and combine in the slow cooker. You can pop the lid and give it a stir every once in a while to admire your handiwork, but it isn’t necessary. When the slow cooker is done, set out bowls and spoons, a good crusty loaf of bread or buns for sopping up the soup, and wait for the smiles on your players’ faces.

It is also possible to build themed soups this way. How about a cheeseburger and fries soup? Dice potatoes, add a can of diced tomatoes, some salad greens, onion, a couple of tablespoons each of mustard and relish, and of course some browned ground beef. When it’s done cooking have shredded cheddar cheese to sprinkle on top, and serve.

Or Second Breakfast Soup: add leftover or freshly cooked breakfast meats of your choice (bacon, breakfast sausage, ham, salmon, and so on), cooked hash browns, some onion, and other veg you might add to an omelet. This will be pretty heavy, so make sure to get the water in there so you have broth. Wait until the cook time has finished and the slow cooker has switched over to simmer, and give everything one last stir. Then crack in an egg for each person coming to the game, making sure not to disturb them once you’ve dropped them in. Replace the lid and don’t disturb until ready to serve. When you serve, make sure each person gets their own poached egg.

Okay, so I lied, those were sort of recipes. But not really, because the amounts and proportions are really up to you. Soup can be very forgiving as long as you make sure it is well seasoned with salt and pepper. Everything else will generally work itself out. And if you do try out some Mystery Soup, drop me a note on our Facebook Page and tell me what you made; I might want to try it out myself.