6 Easy Soups and Stews for International Guests

My husband jokes that he never sees the same meal on our table twice. That's not really true, but I do like to experiment. I especially like experimenting with different soups and stews, because I am not a super cook, but there's almost no soup that an immersion blender and a few adjustments here and there can't fix!

When we started hosting a weekly supper and Bible reading group for international students and English-speaking young adults at our home in 2015, we decided to make soup for the guests every week in the colder months, and salad for the guests every week in the warmer months. We started the same kind of group again in our new city last year, and are following the same meal pattern, which means that just last week we had our first soup of the season.

In our last city, our soups and stews were always vegetarian and sometimes also gluten-free, to accommodate the needs of the group. Right now, there is no one in our group who needs us to make either of these adjustments, but a lot of my soup recipes are vegetarian anyway. Put one of these six on the table with some cheese or butter and bread, and you've got yourself a healthy, easy and colourful meal!

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Apricot Lentil Soup

This Apricot Lentil Soup is something that I can often make with ingredients that I already have on hand. It's hearty and healthy. I usually follow the recipe almost exactly, except that sometimes I substitute the fresh tomatoes with canned ones. For South Asian friends who are used to eating lentils, it’s a different twist on something they’re familiar with.

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

I served this Vegetarian Tortilla Soup at one of the first international gatherings at our home after we were married. It is a very likeable soup! You can add sour cream or plain yogurt on top. I find guests of almost any background can enjoy TexMex flavours, as long as anything too spicy is kept on the side.

Beef Stew

This recipe is everything a good beef stew should be: hearty and not too complicated. Please remember that if any of your friends are Hindu, you can almost assume that they don’t eat beef (but you can ask, if you want).

African Peanut Soup

I have served this African Peanut Soup multiple times and it's a lot of fun for guests who are slightly adventurous. And it tastes exotic without the ingredients being super exotic. I usually make it without celery and Berbere spice mix, to simplify it a little. I have also served it with peanuts with their shells on on the side. Guests have fun cracking the shells open and throwing their peanuts into the soup.

Potato Leek Soup

This creamy soup is simple — just five ingredients, or four if you make it halal! You can put in a few other veggies (like carrots) but really, on its own, it's already a yummy soup!

Vegetarian Chili

The ingredient list for this vegetarian chili looks long, but you can be flexible with the kinds of beans and veggies you throw in. I've probably never made it the same way twice. Some people aren't accustomed to — errr — digesting this many beans; you might want to cut down on the quantity of beans. 

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Recipe Adaptions

  • For a conservative Muslim guest: Use Halal meat (from your local Halal grocer — ask your Muslim friend where he or she buys meat) or make a vegetarian soup. If using meat-based bullion, that also needs to be Halal.

  • For a conservative Hindu or Jain guest: Use vegetarian ingredients. Some Hindus and Jains also do not eat eggs, garlic, onion, or various other things, but most Hindus and Jains living away from their home countries have loosened up on some of these requirements and hold mainly just to not eating meat. However, it still shows respect to ask your guest before they come, if there’s anything they prefer not to eat.

  • For a gluten-free guest: If using bullion or other seasoning, make sure it is gluten-free. If serving with bread or crackers, look for or make the gluten-free equivalent, or ask your friend to bring along his or her own bread.

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Whatever you serve, whomever you serve — your desire to welcome and accommodate the needs of your guests will speak volumes about the One who “came not to be served, but to serve.”

Four Ways to Make Serving Meals Easier

Last year I wrote a post about Showing Hospitality Without Cooking because serving meals is not the only form of hospitality. However, we do talk a lot on The Serviette about sharing meals because it is one of the most effective ways to get to know others and to let them get to know you. Plus, everyone has to eat each day—why not do so together? 

My husband and I have months when we have lots of guests, and then months when we find ourselves juggling more responsibilities than usual and have fewer guests over for meals than we'd like. It's easy for me to make excuses as to why we can't have guests on a particular evening. However, here are four ways I'm learning to make serving meals to guests more doable, even on a weeknight or with short notice.

Intentionally make a simple meal.

When it's just the two of us, sometimes I try time-consuming things like making my own tortillas or stuffing my own cannelloni or putting six bowls of toppings on the table. But when we're hosting more than a couple of people or when I don't have a lot of time, I try to choose one-dish meals or at least one-course meals which are easy to scale. You can buy canned (gasp!) instead of fresh, or buy ready-made instead of making your own, if it makes the difference between you having the energy to have guests or not. And am I the only one who thinks soup with a hearty bread and cheese side counts as a full meal? I even serve frozen or boxed pizza to guests once in a while. We often serve chocolate with coffee after the meal, which gives our guests something sweet without us having to plan a dessert. Fruit can be another easy "dessert". 

Let your guests help you.

Depending on the culture of your guest, he or she may offer to bring food along or to help you clean up after the meal. If you feel comfortable doing so, take your guest up on his offer! You can chat over vegetable chopping just as easily as you can chat over coffee in the living room. We had one friend in our last city who came over regularly and was particularly good about noticing what needed to be done. If she walked in and we hadn’t set the table yet, she started setting it. I tried to learn to make the best of her help by keeping the dishes or disposables consistently in the same places so that she felt comfortable opening the cupboards and lending a hand. And speaking of disposables...

Do what you can to reduce clean-up time.

Last year we started using disposable dishes for parties or large groups because we realized that some nights after guests left, we were spending over an hour cleaning up dishes. For us, going to bed an hour earlier was surely worth the extra cost of simple paper plates and cups. In Germany most everything can be recycled, which makes us feel better about using disposables from time to time. This year, we moved to a bigger apartment and were able to buy a dishwasher, and this has significantly shortened the clean-up time after guests and we buy way fewer disposables. Another way to save on clean-up time is to wash the dishes together while the guest is still with you. Sometimes if we have a guest who stays extra long, I get up and start cleaning while we're chatting. (I think sometimes it's OK to show your guest that it's getting late and you have things you need to do.)

Remember why you're serving the meal.

The true heart behind hospitality isn’t to impress your guests, it’s to love them. When you have the right heart attitude about what you’re doing, you’ll be surprised how much easier the rest gets.

Recipe: Butter Chicken for a Crowd

In our last interview, Karen shared some of her best tips for feeding big groups. I asked her to also share her recipe for Butter Chicken, since this is one of her favourite recipes too cook for a crowd. This recipe serves 30 people, but if you're serving fewer people, part of the sauce can be frozen before the chicken is added and used later. Please note that the chicken tastes best when marinated in the sauce overnight, so this is a great recipe to prep one day ahead.

I made this a few weeks ago and I served it with rice as well as this Super Easy Naan Bread (it was as simple as the title makes it sound) and Cucumber Raita (a no-fail cucumber and plain yogurt side dish). The naan would be hard to make for 30 guests (we just had 2) but the raita could easily be made on a bigger scale. I also used a mixture of chicken breasts and bone-in chicken, since chicken breasts are quite expensive here. Our guests thought it was great—and so did we! Thanks, Karen!

 Image by Peppergarlickitchen

Image by Peppergarlickitchen

Butter Chicken for a Crowd

Serves 30

2 medium onions, diced
10 cloves of garlic, minced
vegetable oil

1/8 cup cumin
1/4 cup corriander
1/4 cup curry

1.42 litres (50 oz.) of diced tomatoes
1 cup of butter

1/2 litre (17 oz.) cream
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/8 cup chili flakes
1/8 cup dry chicken soup base
salt and pepper, to taste

8 kg chicken breasts, diced

cilantro, for garnish
red chili powder or hot sauce (optional, on the side)

In a heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the onions and garlic in a bit of vegetable oil. Meanwhile in a small cast iron skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and curry (do not use any oil or liquid). Once the spices are toasted, add them to the onions and garlic mixture so that they don't burn in the skillet. Then add the diced tomatoes and butter to the mixture and simmer.

In the empty tomato can, combine: cream, paprika, lemon juice, cornstarch, chili flakes and dry chicken soup base. Mix and then add to the pot of tomatoes, spices, onions and garlic. Bring to a low boil and simmer, stirring often. Taste add salt and pepper as needed.

Now, dice the chicken breasts and marinate them overnight or as long as possible in the sauce. Saute the chicken on medium-high heat, and then add the remaining sauce. Put the mixture of chicken and sauce into the oven and cooking for about one hour. Right before serving, sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with rice—to a crowd!