If I do cook at the "normal" dinner hour (not really sure what that is anymore, to be honest - sometime between five and eight, probably) on a school night , it has to be something that requires minimal prep, like maybe chopping an onion at most.
This Taco Ranch Soup, which is fast and easy and very versatile, fits the bill. I make it at least once a month these days. It's a favorite around here, and is also a staple of my sister-in-law, Jennifer, although I've made quite a few changes to the original recipe and so has she (in a different direction), resulting in two somewhat different soups.
Here's what you need (a pound of ground meat and one onion not pictured, because when I took this photo, they were already in the pot):
This really is a versatile soup. I like to use Trader Joe's Diced & Fire-Roasted Tomatoes because they have a great roasted edge to the flavor, but you can certainly use plain diced tomatoes. I use whatever kind of beans I have on hand, usually two different kinds (a can of each). You can use chili beans if you like things spicier, or plain beans of any kind: black, pinto, kidney. You can omit the green chiles if you like things on the mild side. You can use frozen or canned corn (add a cup of water if you use frozen). It tends to have more the consistency of chili rather than soup, so if you want it thinner, you can add an extra can of tomatoes, some tomato juice, some vegetable stock, or just some water.
Serve it up with some grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream. And tortilla chips. Chips are a must. I crush mine on top and stir them in. E uses them to scoop up bites of soup, dip-style. It really hits the spot when everybody is hungry and you need something ready in under half an hour.
Taco Ranch Soup
1 pound ground meat (I use venison, because that's what's always in my freezer. You can use beef or turkey, or even ground chicken if you prefer)
1 medium onion, chopped
a drizzle of olive oil
1 small can chopped green chiles
two 16-ounce cans diced tomatoes (I like fire-roasted)
1 can sweet corn in its juice, or 1-1/2 cups frozen corn plus 1 cup water
two 16-ounce cans any beans (I used one can of black beans and one can of pinto beans this time)
1 package taco seasoning (I buy my taco seasoning from Costco because I use it frequently, so I measure out about two tablespoons)
1 package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until it starts to soften.
Add the ground meat and cook until browned and juicy. Drain off any excess fat if needed.
Stir in the green chiles.
Add the taco seasoning, plus a little water if needed.
Dump in the tomatoes and corn.
Add the beans, with their liquid.
Finally, stir in the ranch dressing mix.
Taste and season with salt and pepper as you prefer. If you want a little more kick, add a few dashes of hot pepper sauce - Tabasco, Frank's Red Hot, whatever you like:
That's it. Simmer until the corn is tender and the soup is heated through. If it's too thick, add more liquid.
Sprinkle with cheese and garnish with sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips.