Economical, Tweakable Hamburger Soup

Besides opening a can, there can hardly be an easier homemade soup than this simple, tasty hamburger soup. Depending on the contents of your fridge and spice rack you can tweak this one to add vegetables or beans, grains or pasta; or to change the flavor from plain to Tex-Mex or Italian.

One pound of ground chuck, onion, garlic, water, some canned tomatoes and a handful of rice is all that is required. Really.

Brown the burger with chopped onion and garlic, add half a can or so of tomatoes whole or chopped, water to cover and simmer away for half hour to an hour. Add salt and pepper, then for additional flavor oregano and basil, or chili powder and red pepper flakes.

That is all that is required for a basic hamburger soup. Add as much tomato as you like or have. Its job is to add color and flavor, but you don’t necessarily want tomato soup with hamburger in it when you are done. It might not be a bad idea to do as I and Leslie Lavendar in Stockton Springs do, and check the fridge or freezer for bits and pieces of leftovers too good to toss or compost.

Leslie wrote to say she tries to work down the house supply in January and February. Here’s what she found recently that was too good to throw away but too small a supply to make a whole serving by itself: “I had about 1 1/2 cups of a leftover zucchini, onion, pepper, tomato mix I had made earlier in the week. I found a scant pound of stew meat in the freezer along with some small amounts of frozen peas and lima beans and about a dozen frozen spinach/cheese ravioli (not enough for an entree).” If she had had this recipe for hamburger soup, she could have used the vegetables in it; instead, she wrote, “I used a quart of my homemade zesty tomato sauce and a can of chickpeas to create a sort of Italian-inspired vegetable soup. It’s making a lovely, thick hearty soup that I’ll serve with some crusty bread and a salad.”

Hamburger soup is good with crusty bread and salad, too. (Heck, almost anything is good with crusty bread, including crusty bread.) I decided to vege my soup up a bit by shredding some greens I had in the house: baby spinach, beet and kale as garnish on top, then stirred down into the hot soup where it wilted and joined the soup. We had that for supper one night, then poured the leftovers over rewarmed polenta the next day with a little mozzarella grated on top.

Hamburger Soup – photo 1802
Serves: four to six
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup diced or whole canned tomatoes
  • Water
  • ¼ cup rice
  • Cooked leftover vegetables, optional
  • Shredded greens like spinach or kale, optional
  • Herbs to taste, optional
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a heavy bottom cook pot, brown the beef with the chopped onions and garlic until the meat is browned.
  2. Add the tomatoes with their juice.
  3. Add water to cover all, about three to four cups.
  4. Add optional vegetables and herbs or spices.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for half an hour, then add the rice and cook until the rice is done.
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.