The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Frugal Versions of Famous Soups: Ronald Reagan's Hamburger Soup, Soup Nazi's Cream of Sweet Potato Soup, and More

By Vicki McClure Davidson


I adore soup. On chilly Saturday mornings, I'm often puttering and fussing with my big soup pot or one of my Descoware Dutch ovens—I love the creating, the steaming, the simmering, the nurturing of glistening, earthy liquid concoctions for myself and my family. Soup is nourishing, inexpensive, easy to make, and oh-so soothing. Most are moderate on fats and calories. What's not to love? Oh, and once again, making your own is CHEAP. Unbelievably cheap.

New England Clam Chowder is one of the most popular soups around. | Photo credit: PD Photos


New England Clam Chowder is one of the most popular soups around. | Photo credit: PD Photos

Comedian Jackie Mason once said, "You know how movies always have sex scenes and the studios say that is because sex is part of life and movies should be lifelike? So, why don't movies have more soup scenes? Soup is part of life. No one was ever too tired to have soup."

You were so right, Jackie! After a long day, with a chill in the air, few things can take the place of a comforting bowl of steaming soup and some toasted bread or crackers.

Here are frugal versions of a few famous soups for you to have fun making. Why spend up to $10 for a bowl at a restaurant when you can make a reasonably close version of a famous soup at home for a fraction of the cost?

To the best of my knowledge, most soups are frugal/cheap to make (minus those using expensive shellfish or meats, imported ingredients, or rare herbs and spices), when compared to other foods to make a meal. So, when we say "frugal soups," we're aware that we're being redundant.

Wherever possible, I've cited the soup's recipe source, but I've been collecting soup recipes for many years now (from newspapers, magazines, cookbooks, friends, relatives, TV cooking shows, the Internet), and for most, I regrettably don't have the original source. No plagiarism is intended.

Warm the soul, warm the stomach, and save loads of money with any of these liquid delights.


Chef foods divider


U.S. Senate Bean Soup

This is a variation of the famous hearty navy bean soup served for decades at the cafeteria of the U.S. Capitol. It has become a cherished soup icon.

Notice that the amount of fluid called for in the recipe is 6 cups; 3 cups of water or vegetable stock AND 3 cups chicken stock. Additional water is needed for the pre-soaking of the navy beans. A ham hock is most desired, although diced ham can be substituted. However, the simmering of the ham hock imparts a richer, full-bodied flavor not only from the attached meat but from the bone. Using diced ham will alter the ultimate flavor. This recipe is a good way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.

Cover the beans with water and soak overnight. Drain and rinse well.

Place the beans in a large heavy soup pot or pan and add the water, chicken broth, ham hock (or cubed/diced ham), onion, and bell pepper. Slowly bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming any fat or "foam" that rises to the surface.

Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are soft, approximately 2 to 3 hours. Whisk in the mashed potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste (optional). Simmer for 15 more minutes.

Note: For parents who simply don't have the time to jump through all the hoops necessary to make this soup, you might try substituting a few can of drained small white or navy beans for the dried beans, thus eliminating the time needed for the soaking and simmering of the dried navy beans. Cut way back on the total cooking time, and, in theory, it should be a close duplication. However, I've not ever done this, so I may be off base and the soup won't be nearly as delicious. But, give it a try if you'd like. It could be amazing!

Serves 4-6.

A variation on this U.S. Senate/U.S. Capitol navy bean soup recipe: U.S. Capitol Bean Soup (Senate and House of Representatives) recipe found on This recipe varies from the one directly above, but you may be interested in trying it (this version does not use bell peppers). Since I will likely never taste the original navy bean soup, I have no idea which recipe most closely mimics the one served in the Capitol, but both are good recipes.



Red Lobster's New England Clam Chowder

In a blender, put in clam juice, milk powder, and flour. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture into a heated 2-1/2 qt. sauce pan. Stir in chicken broth, stirring constantly on medium-high heat until soup is thick and smooth. Turn heat to low. Stir in celery, onions, clams, parsley, and crumbled potatoes. Gently simmer on low heat for 45-60 min. Season to taste with salt and pepper (optional). Garnish each bowl with a few fresh parsley sprigs (optional).

Serves 4-6.


The Soup Nazi's® Cream of Sweet Potato Soup

On TV's classic sitcom, Seinfeld, a favorite character was the "Soup Nazi." His soups were spectacular, but his disdain for his adoring customers was that of a crazed, temperamental artist. This lovely soup is a variation of his cream of sweet potato soup, perfect for a chilly evening.

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Bake the sweet potatoes for 45 minutes or until they are soft. Cool the potatoes until they can be handled.

Peel away the potato skin, then put the potatoes into a large bowl. Mash the potatoes until nearly smooth.

Spoon the mashed sweet potato into a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

When the soup begins to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Cashews should be soft. Serve hot... with an attitude.

Serves 6-8.


Ronald Reagan's Hamburger Soup

(Recipe from PR Newswire, March 11, 1986)
Original Source:

Preface from There's been speculation that this first made news after President Reagan innocently announced his liking for fancy French soups... and was immediately accused of being elitist. Whatever.

It's definitely a homespun, plain soup, and not as bad as you might think when you see that there's hominy in it. This corn product—with an Algonquin Native American name—was an important food to early U.S. pioneers. It's a nice firm little ball in the soup—almost dumpling-like. Serve the soup as a lunch meal to 4-6 people with lots of cornbread, cold milk, and maybe a big American pie for dessert. Here's the recipe... note the non-elitist allowance for canned foods and bouillon cubes.

Brown ground beef in butter (or margarine) in 6-quart sauce pan or soup pot. Add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and green peppers. Simmer 10 minutes with the pan covered.

Add beef broth/stock or water with bouillon cubes. Add chopped tomatoes and black pepper. Simmer soup on low heat for 35 minutes. Add drained hominy. Boil hamburger soup for 10 minutes more.

Makes 4 quarts.

Serves 4-6.


Hard Rock Café's Potato Soup

A wonderful (although fatty) soup recipe for baked potato soup that is nearly identical to the Hard Rock Café's famously delicious potato soup. I've had both, and this is a wonderful duplication.

In a large, heavy pot, stove-cook bacon until crispy, then remove and chop or tear into 1-inch pieces. Set aside. Cook onions in bacon drippings over medium-high heat until they are transparent. Add flour to drippings, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.

Cook for 3-5 minutes until flour mixture just begins to turn golden. Add broth/stock gradually (it helps if it is warmed in advance), stirring constantly with a whisk until it has thickened. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the potatoes, cream (or milk), bacon, parsley, garlic, basil, Tabasco sauce, and black pepper. Simmer 10 minutes. DO NOT BOIL. Add cheese and diced green onions. Stir until cheese melts.

This can be made ahead up to the point of adding the cheese and onion. Reheat the soup very slowly and gently. Be careful that it does not boil. Then, add the cheese and green onion. Should there be any leftovers, it reheats beautifully. I have never tried freezing it.

Serves 6-8.


El Pollo's Peruvian Chicken Soup

This spicy chicken soup is very similar to that served at El Pollo. It is a tasty tonic for people suffering from a cold.

Bring chicken, potatoes, rice, celery, garlic, 1 tsp. salt (the rest to be used later), and 8 c. water (the remaining 1/2 c. to be used later) to boil on stove in large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add frozen mixed vegetables.

Blend cilantro and remaining 1/2 c. water in blender. Stir into the soup mixture. Remove soup from heat. Remove chicken and celery stalk. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones. Discard skin, bones, and celery stalk. Return chicken meat to soup.

Bring soup to simmer over medium heat and cook 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with lime juice to taste just before serving, if desired.

Serves 8-10.




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