I don't know about you guys, but "Soup Season" is probably my favorite season of all. There's nothing quite like a big pot of soup simmering on the stove, making your entire home smell delicious. It's filling and can be fairly healthy depending on what you put into it. But my favorite part is how easy it is to customize to your taste. Once you've got the building blocks, you're good to go!
Decide on your flavor profile - are you going for something classic like Chicken Noodle? Something Italian, like minestrone? Or Mexican, like tortilla soup? Deciding on a flavor profile will help you choose the right ingredients. However, if you're not sure about that quite yet, the easiest thing to do is start with the classic "mirepoix", a mix of chopped onion, carrot and celery. This is a good base to just about any soup, and you're going to start by simply sautéeing the chopped veggies for about 7-8 minutes on medium heat, until they're softened and the onion is translucent. At that point, feel free to add some more aromatics, such as diced garlic, freshly chopped ginger, chiles, shallots, or a bundle of fresh herbs. Loosely tie herbs like thyme, rosemary, and oregano together with kitchen twine, and throw them in the pot. This will make it easy to spoon them out later, after they've helped flavor your soup!
Pick a stock, any stock. My default is chicken, but if you're vegetarian a good veggie stock works! Beef stock is also great if you're going for a richer, meatier flavor. When you're considering the flavor profile of your soup, consider adding other items, such as canned diced tomatoes or fresh lemon juice. Step Three
What do you want the consistency of your soup to be? If it's more of a puree, consider using an immersion blender at this point. Immersion blenders make it easy to simply blend some of the ingredients, or fully puree a soup such as a broccoli cheddar or roasted tomato. You can also use a regular blender! Just be really careful transferring your hot soup to the blender, and work in batches. If you put too much in your blender, it could easily splatter out, making a mess and probably burning you in the process.
Protein! Beans add a great texture and a lot of protein to any soup. For a mexican soup, try black beans. For Italian soups and stews, cannellini or great northern beans are a good neutral filler. Kidney beans also work for most soups. For mediterranean soups and stews I also love to use chickpeas or lentils. I usually buy my beans canned, and simply rinse them before throwing them in with the stock. Try to choose the low-sodium options when available - we'll season the soup on our own.
Are you a meat eater as well? Rotisserie chicken is a great quick and easy addition to most soups. Just buy the whole rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and shred it at home. It yields a decent amount of juicy, shredded chicken and all you have to do is throw it in the pot. It works well with standard chicken noodle soup, as well as a chicken tortilla soup or miso chicken soup. One of my favorite soups to make is Italian sausage based, in which case I buy ground Italian sausage and brown it in step one, before I add the chopped veggies. Chorizo also works well in a lentil or spanish-style soup.
Seasoning! Add in salt and pepper to taste, as well as any other type of seasoning that makes sense with your soup. Cumin, paprika and chili powder work well in tortilla soup. Dried oregano, basil, Italian Seasoning and Bay leaves work well in minestrone. Just go through your pantry and pick out some of the seasonings you never use. Add a little at a time, and keep tasting until it gets to be what you're looking for!
Grains. Do you want noodles in your minestrone? Grains like farro in your lentil soup? Or brown rice in your Chicken & Rice? I usually prefer to cook my grains separately, although you can usually bring your soup to a boil and cook noodles in the soup itself. This usually makes the pasta overcooked, and when you save the leftovers for the next day the pasta absorbs even more liquid and becomes even mushier. No thanks! Better to cook them separately and for a shorter period of time than you normally would, as they will cook in the soup a little more no matter what. Finally, don't forget to keep them separate until you put them in your bowl! Leftovers won't keep well once they're mixed.
Make sure you keep tasting along the way - every time you add a new ingredient your soup needs to be further seasoned. This is the last step! Add anything that you don't really want fully cooked. Chopped spinach takes only about a minute to wilt in soup, and will get brown and mushy if you cook it longer. Fresh cilantro is a great thing to add to a tortilla soup at the end. Freshly chopped basil is SO good stirred into a roasted tomato soup. Finally, garnish with cheese, croutons, or breadcrumbs, and enjoy!
Hopefully this guide showed you how easy it is to choose your own ingredients and build a delicious soup. Get creative and go with what's in season to help inspire you. Farmers Markets are a great way to find out what's at it's peak, and can help you make some new and healthy choices.