Whatever the kind, all soups follow a similar road to deliciousness: aromatics and main ingredients go into a pot, a liquid is added and the whole thing is simmered until done. While a good soup recipe is a great thing, their similar paths mean you don’t actually need one.
Before You Start
Think about the bowl of soup you want to sit down to. Is it a brothy chicken noodle? A chunky minestrone, or a puréed butternut squash?
With that image in mind, build a foundation using cooking fat, an aromatic base and seasonings. First, consider the cuisine that inspires the dish, and choose a fat based on that. For example, use butter for a French soup, olive oil for an Italian one, and coconut or peanut oil for Thai flavors.
Next, do the same to select among the aromatic bases, built on chopped vegetables: Will your soup call for a classic French mirepoix, an Italian soffritto, or Southeast Asian shallots and ginger? If commitment scares you, keep things simple by cooking onions and garlic in a neutral-tasting oil.
Then, pick your seasonings, whether bay leaves and peppercorns, or a spicy curry paste. Just remember: Less is more. Stick to three or fewer seasonings to keep from muddying the soup’s flavors.
Cook the aromatic base and seasonings in the fat you have chosen. Once the vegetables are tender, add stock or broth. No single element wields as much influence on a soup’s taste as its liquid. You will want about a cup of liquid per serving — a little more for a brothy soup, a little less for a hearty one.
If you’re after clean, light flavors, or if you don’t have any stock on hand, use water. It’s never a bad choice, but sometimes stock is a better one, especially if your goal is a hearty, savory soup. Avoid canned and boxed stocks, and instead make and freeze stock, or buy good-quality fresh or frozen stock from a butcher. It will make all the difference.
After building layer upon layer of flavor, there is the payoff of adding the ingredients – heaps of meat, grains, beans or vegetables — that first inspired you to make soup. When you can, add them to the pot raw so they can release flavor into the soup, and absorb flavor from it.
As the soup simmers, taste and adjust the seasonings, and stir often to prevent sticking and burning. You will know the soup is done when all of the ingredients are tender and the flavors come together, about 25 minutes for tender vegetables and up to three hours for tough meats like pork shoulder. If you’re planning on making a puréed soup, use a hand blender in the final stages of cooking to get it to the desired consistency.
Serve your soup topped with any number of garnishes — a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, some croutons and a drizzle of good olive oil. Or, make a large batch, and freeze the leftovers for up to two months. You will thank yourself for your earlier generosity and foresight.
Yield: About 6 quarts
Total time: 7 to 9 hours
4 pounds raw chicken bones
6 quarts water
2 onions, unpeeled, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
2 celery stalks, halved crosswise
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
5 parsley sprigs (or 10 stems)
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
1. Put everything but the vinegar in a large stockpot. Bring the stock to a boil over high heat, then turn down to a simmer.
2. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Add the vinegar. (It helps draw out nutrients and minerals from the bones into the stock.)
3. Simmer the stock for 6 to 8 hours, covered, keeping an eye on it to make sure it stays at a simmer.
4. Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve. Let cool.
5. Scrape the fat that rises to the top. (Save it in the fridge or freezer for matzoh ball soup.) Refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Whatever You Want Soup
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: About 45 minutes
4 tablespoons butter, olive oil or neutral-tasting oil
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
6 to 8 cups meat, vegetables or other add-ins
About 1 1/2 pounds raw, boneless chicken
About 8 cups water or chicken stock, preferably homemade
1. Set a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat and add 4 tablespoons butter or oil. When the butter melts or the oil shimmers, add onions and garlic, and a generous pinch of salt.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Place the meat, vegetables and other add-ins in the pot, along with the raw chicken (if using), and add enough liquid to cover. Season with salt. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
4. Cook until the flavors have come together and the vegetables and greens are tender, about 20 minutes more. If you added raw chicken, remove it from the soup when cooked, allow to cool, shred and return to the soup. Taste and adjust for salt.
5. Add more hot liquid if needed to thin the soup to desired consistency. Taste and adjust for salt.
6. Serve hot, and garnish as desired.
For add-ins, you can use a combination of vegetables diced into 3/4-inch pieces (use one or more of carrots, fennel, celery, leeks, winter squash, potatoes or parsnips); cooked beans, lentils or chickpeas; up to 4 cups of sliced kale or green cabbage; or up to 3 cups of cooked, shredded chicken or pork, if not using raw chicken.
If desired, replace some of the liquid with bean broth, heavy cream, chopped
tomatoes in their juices or full-fat coconut milk.
Butternut Squash and Green Curry Soup
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: About 1 hour
For the soup:
4 tablespoons coconut oil or neutral-tasting oil
3 medium shallots, diced
1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 lemongrass stalk, cut into 3-inch pieces
2 medium butternut squashes (about 4 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into about 3/4-inch cubes
2 (13 1/2-ounce) cans coconut milk
6 to 8 tablespoons Thai green curry paste, or to taste
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 to 4 cups water or chicken stock, preferably homemade
For the garnish:
3/4 cup raw peanuts
3/4 cup unsweetened raw coconut flakes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
8 small dried red chilies, such as Japones or chiles de árbol, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon neutral-tasting or melted coconut oil
1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
1 teaspoon sugar
10 lime leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
Handful of Thai or Italian basil leaves
2 to 3 limes, quartered
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Melt oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add shallots, ginger, lemongrass and a generous pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are tender and just starting to brown, about 18 minutes.
2. Add squash, coconut milk, curry paste, 3 tablespoons fish sauce and 3 cups water or stock. Increase heat to high. When liquid comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook the soup covered until squash is tender, about 25 minutes.
3. Make garnish while soup cooks: In a medium mixing bowl, toss together peanuts, coconut flakes, fish sauce, chilies, 1 tablespoon oil, the minced lemongrass, the sugar and the lime leaves, if using.
4. Spread mixture out onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes after the first 10 minutes. Remove from oven when coconut is deep golden brown, and pour mixture immediately into a bowl to prevent overcooking. Stir to combine, and set aside.
5. Remove soup from heat. Remove lemongrass stalks from pot. Use a hand blender to purée soup. Alternatively, transfer soup in batches to a blender or food processor and purée. Taste and adjust for salt and curry paste. Add water or stock to thin soup to the desired consistency.
6. Thinly slice the basil leaves and arrange on a small plate or platter, along with lime wedges and peanut mixture. Serve soup hot with garnishes.