Image by Magic Madzik
Learning to cook without recipes can be not only a huge time-saver in the kitchen, but a money-saver as well.
Soup is an incredibly versatile food. It can be hearty and chunky, or light and refreshing, vegetable based or full of meats, beans and grains. It can be a meal in itself or a side dish. It can be made using specific, fresh ingredients, or very frugally by putting together the week's leftovers.
Most importantly, it is nourishing and satisfying. When made using homemade bone broth, it is also healing and aids greatly in proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Soup should be a standard in every whole food home.
Here is my 5 step process to make excellent soups (95% of the time- we all have our flops!) from scratch, but without using recipes:
1) Start With an Empty Pot and Some Oil
The first step in making any soup for me is to heat up some oil in the pot, with no liquids added. It might be butter if I'm making a roux for a creamy soup, or just some coconut oil or beef tallow to fry up some onions and garlic in.
If I'm making a soup with vegetables in it, like chopped carrots, celery, peppers or mushrooms, I always add these veggies to the oil and onions. Letting them saute for a few minutes before adding any broth or liquids add more flavor to the soup.
Image by whitneyinchicago
2) Use Homemade Bone Broth
I used to think that soup needed those little cubes or cans of store-bought broth to taste good. I was so wrong. Once you get used to using homemade bone broth in soups, nothing will ever taste the same again.
For a tutorial in making bone broth, see this post. For more on how to get just the right consistency to your broth and to ensure that you are drawing the gelatin and nutrients out of the bones, read What Bone Broth Should Look Like.
Add your broth after you've sauteed the veggies for a few minutes. You'll want to bring the soup to a boil as you're tossing in more of the ingredients listed below. Make sure that you cook it long enough for things like carrots or potatoes to cook sufficiently.
If you're making a creamy soup, start adding ingredients only after your roux is complete. Add the broth or other liquids next, and then add any vegetables, meat or fish, beans, etc.
3) Add Other Ingredients
This is the fun part. There are countless ingredients that you can chuck into a soup and it's hard to go wrong.
Here are some of the ingredients that frequent my soups:
- Lots of Veggies- Carrots, celery, onion, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, green beans, chopped greens (spinach/chard/kale), tomatoes, celeriac (celery root), potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, turnips, parsnips, peas, corn...
- Animal Protein- Beef (either stew beef or roast leftovers or even cooked ground beef), chicken (from a roast chicken, cut-up breast, ground), sausages, lamb, turkey, fish (canned fish, or chopped filets), eggs (beaten first and then whisked into the soup)
- Beans and Legumes- Lentils, any type of beans, split peas
- Dairy- Milk or cream, kefir or yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche, cheese
- Grains- Barley, brown rice, wild rice, tortilla strips, dumplings, brown rice pasta
Sometimes I make soup by cleaning out my fridge. Other times I just start adding ingredients that seem like they would work well together. I might have a specific goal in mind (a seafood chowder, an Italian style-soup, a way to use up extra cauliflower). Any way you approach it, you can make something that will fit the bill.
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4) Season Your Soup
I tend to think that this makes or breaks a soup. Seasonings can take ordinary ingredients and make them into something really extraordinary.
The key is to try to think of flavors that might mesh well with what you've already got going, and that will mesh well with each other as well.
If you've added a lot of hearty vegetables with beef, you could give it an Italian twist by adding a can of tomatoes, putting in some leftover or frozen beans, and lots of herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc. A bit of apple cider vinegar or even balsamic vinegar might be nice (just a splash). Garlic is always good.
You could take that same hearty beef and veggie soup, and give it more of a Mexican feel. Add some cumin, paprika, oregano, garlic and onion powder, and some chili or cayenne. Frozen corn is a nice addition. Serve it with tortilla strips or crumbled chips on top, some sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese. Avocado would also be nice.
Here are a few more ideas to get you started:
- A tangy Thai influenced chicken soup, with peas, bean sprouts, ginger, garlic, and lemon or lime.
- A warming, root veggie soup, similar to a Scotch Broth. Think carrots, turnips, parsnips, with a beef or lamb base, and some pot barley as well. Onions and leeks, parsley and simple salt and pepper work well to season it up.
- A creamy cauliflower/broccoli soup, using a chicken base, some dry mustard, lots of sea salt, and cheddar cheese.
- A curried squash soup. Try adding onion and garlic, apples, maybe some coconut milk, and of course, curry powder.
Don't underestimate the importance of adding seasonings ON TOP of your soup. A sprinkle of Parmesan or grated cheddar cheese. Fried tortilla strips or sourdough croutons. Creme fraiche drizzled, or a big dollop of sour cream. Fresh herbs like basil, oregano or cilantro strewn across. These are the finishing touches that add so much.
Image by WorththeWhisk
5) Blend It
Yes, really. Blending soup is one of the keys that I have learned for helping flavors to meld together and really bring out the best in each other.
I use different levels of blending depending on the soup. Some soups, like a Curried Apple Squash, would benefit from complete blending so that they're smooth and creamy. Some, like a Chicken Lentil Vegetable is really nice pseudo-blended. Enough to mix the flavors and create a thicker, richer soup base but not so much that you lose the veggie and chicken chunks.
Almost every soup benefits from at least a few quick pulses of a hand held blender, regardless of how smooth or chunky you want the texture to be. I just do it straight in the pot, and there is virtually no extra cleanup. I love it.