Soup can be anything you want it to be – quick, slow-cooking, hearty or light. You can also experiment endlessly with your favorite vegetables, beans and meats to make delicious meals in no time. Cooking homemade soup can be easy and soups make wonderfully satisfying meals. Here are some tips for making great tasting soup.
1. Start with a Delicious Liquid Base
Soups are mostly water, but often include broth or stock, wine or milk. Whatever the liquid in your soup is, use one that you would want to drink. The vast majority of the time, the liquid in soup is stock or broth. The best to use is homemade but many delis, supermarkets and butchers sell freshly made frozen stock that works well, too. If you buy store- bought broth, dilute it with water (4 parts of broth to 1 part water) and find a brand sold in boxes instead of cans to avoid a slight metal taste. When adding wine to soups, be sure to bring it to a boil and let it cook for at least 10 minutes to cook off the alcohol taste. For cream or milk-based soups, check the expiration date to be sure you are using fresh dairy products.
2. Sweat the Aromatics
Aromatics include onions, leeks, garlic and often celery and carrots. Cooking them over low to medium heat in the pan before adding any liquid will help soften their texture and blend their flavors. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. The goal is to break down their cellulose (making them easier to eat or purée later) and get them to give off some of their liquid, which will deepen the flavor of the soup.
3. Use the Right Tools
A large and heavy pot with a cover
A powerful blender or hand immersion blender
An ample soup ladle.
4. Salt in Layers
Canned and prepared soups and broths are known to be high in sodium. You want a satisfying homemade soup that is full of flavor but not overly salty. Salt soup as chefs do: in layers. Add some salt to the aromatics and other vegetables as you are cooking them. If you’re cooking meat separately, make sure it is well seasoned before it goes into the pot. And, most importantly, taste it before adding more salt.
5. Include Something Fresh
You’ve used great ingredients. You’ve cooked and salted them properly. Add a bit of something fresh right at the end. Fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice, a dollop or two of cream or yogurt or pesto. A hint of something un-cooked and un-simmered will highlight the deep melded flavors in the rest of the soup.
6. Garnish at the End
Go beyond chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper. The best soup garnishes offer a contrasting flavor or texture to both compliment and highlight the soup.
- Crunchy on smooth (small croutons or crackers on a pureed vegetable soup )
- Smooth on chunky (sour cream on borscht )
- Bitter on savory (herbs on a lentil soup)
- Salty on sweet (diced prosciutto on sweet potato or squash or carrot soup )
Take advantage of the fall vegetables that make great additions to soup:
- Brussels sprouts
- Mustard Greens
- Sweet Potatoes
- Swiss chard
Tuscan Peasant Soup with Pancetta
Yields 3-1/2 qts.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 -1 cup small-diced pancetta (about 4 oz. or 4 thick slices)
- 4 cups large-diced Savoy cabbage (about ½ small head)
- 2 cups medium-diced onion (10 to 12 oz. or 2 small)
- 1-1/2 cups medium-diced carrot (about 4 medium carrots)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; more as needed
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 28-oz. can diced Italian tomatoes
- 7 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
- 2 15-1/2-oz. cans small white beans, rinsed and drained (about 2-1/2 cups, drained)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a 4- to 5-qt. Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown and crisp (the oil will also be golden brown), about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and with a slotted spoon or strainer carefully transfer the pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate. Pour off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan.
Return the pot to medium-high heat, add the chopped cabbage and salt lightly. Cook the cabbage, stirring occasionally, until limp and browned around the edges, about 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat again and transfer the cabbage to another plate.
Put the pot back over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, carrots and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and the vegetables are browned around the edges and beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan, 8 to 9 minutes.
Add the last 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the garlic, 1 tablespoon of the fresh rosemary and the ground coriander. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, stir together, and cook the mixture 2 to 3 more minutes.
Return the cabbage to the pan and add the chicken broth. Stir well, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes to infuse the broth with the flavor of the vegetables. Add the beans, bring back to a simmer and cook for a minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary and let rest a few minutes.
Taste the soup and add lemon juice to brighten it—you’ll want at least 1 teaspoon. Season with more salt, if necessary, and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Serve the soup hot, garnished with the reserved pancetta crisps, the toasted breadcrumbs and the grated Parmigiano.
Fall Vegetable Soup
- Olive oil
- 2 onions, peeled and chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bunch parsley, washed and chopped, thick stems discarded
- 2 or 3 cabbage leaves, chopped
- 1 bunch chard, preferably white, washed and chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 4 cups cooked white beans, such as cannellini, with their liquid. (If using canned beans buy low sodium.)
Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a deep pot and turn the heat to medium.
Add half the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, which takes about 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon oil and repeat the process, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.
Add the parsley, cabbage and chard and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is softened but not browned. Add the tomato paste and stir.
Mash half the beans and leave the remainder whole. Add this mixture to the pot, along with any bean cooking liquid and enough water to cover the ingredients completely.
Continue cooking, tasting and adjusting the seasoning as necessary, until all the vegetables are very tender and the soup is hot. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
Roasted Butternut Soup with Apples and Bacon
- 1 butternut squash, about 1 1/2 pounds, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
- 4 bacon slices, chopped in large pieces
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spread the squash, onion, apples, bacon and garlic in a deep roasting pan or on a baking sheet.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with the oil.
Roast, stirring every now and then, until the squash, onion and apples are tender and browned and the bacon is crisp, which takes about 45 minutes.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Set aside some of the bacon for garnish.
Stir in the sage and white wine and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom.
If you’re using a roasting pan that can be used on the stovetop, position the pan over 2 burners and put both on medium heat. Otherwise, transfer the contents of the pan to a large pot or Dutch oven and set it over medium heat.
Add the stock and cook until the squash, onion and apples break apart and thicken and flavor the broth, which takes about 25 minutes. You can help the process along by breaking the mixture up with a potato masher. Garnish with bacon before serving.
Chicken Kale Soup with Pesto
If you are pressed for time, you can substitute 3 to 4 tablespoons of a store-bought basil pesto.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup carrots
- 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 8 ounces), cut into quarters
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 6 ounces baby kale or spinach, coarsely chopped
- 1 15-ounce can low sodium cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup plain or herbed multigrain croutons for garnish
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrot, bell pepper and chicken; cook, turning the chicken and stirring frequently, until the chicken begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Lightly salt the chicken and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in broth and marjoram; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken pieces to a clean cutting board to cool. Add kale (or spinach if you cannot find baby kale in your market) and beans to the pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, Parmesan cheese and basil in a food processor (a mini processor works well). Process until a coarse paste forms, adding a little water if needed, scraping down the sides as necessary.
Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Stir the chicken and pesto into the pot. Season with pepper. Heat until hot. Garnish with croutons, if desired.
Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Sauteed Leeks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 cups thinly sliced onion
- 1 pound cauliflower florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- Fine sea salt
- 1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped and thoroughly rinsed
- 6 slices Pancetta, diced
- Finely chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish
In a wide, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (do not brown), about 5 minutes.
Add cauliflower, potato and 2 tablespoons butter; stir to combine. Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups broth and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until cauliflower is tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add leek and diced pancetta, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 cups broth and a pinch salt; cook at a very gentle simmer for 15 minutes. Strain liquid into pot with cauliflower; reserving pancetta and leeks for garnish.
In a blender or with a hand immersion blender, carefully purée cauliflower mixture. Return purée to pot, if using a blender, and gently heat to warm through. Adjust seasoning. Add additional broth to thin soup to your liking. Ladle soup into bowls, top with pancetta and leeks and sprinkle with parsley.
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