Soup Making for Dummies - UMAMI Style
My mom LOVES soup, so I grew up eating a lot of it. I wasn’t always fussy about her selections i.e. barley soup (so gross), but I did vibe in a real way with the overall gist of soup.
As an adult, it is something that I make all winter and even sometimes on a rainy day in the summer. I’ve learned that most soups start the same way, which means if you can make one soup you can make them all (for the most part), even my famous Cream of Mushroom Soup. IYKYK.
I firmly believe that you do not need a recipe for soup and that if you do use one, it is more of a suggestion, not a bible. The great thing about soup is that it’s pretty hard to destroy (not a challenge guys).
Lean in closer for my ‘how to’ guide on all things soup…
The Foundation of Soup
Vegetables – Most, if not all, soups begin by sautéing vegetables (in butter or olive oil), and you can generally choose which veggies you prefer, but in my opinion, onion and garlic are an absolute must. The next most popular veggies are celery and carrots, depending on what type of soup you are making. But just know that almost any vegetable is an option. Measurements don’t really matter; just throw it in the pot.
Spices – I also like to add my spices to the pot while my veggies are sautéing. At least 1 – 2 TBSP (you can add more later). This will form the basis of the flavor of the soup, so you definitely want to think about what you are going for. I’m a huge fan of The Middle Eastern and The Herbed Turkey in soup but really, any of the UMAMI blends are an option. Tomato paste also packs a flavor punch but I would be more selective about when I use it. I also like to combine my spices with fresh herbs, especially a whole sprig or two of thyme which I fish out at the end if I remember. And a bay leaf.
Meat – Please use boneless. It’s just easier. I know bones are flavor, but it means fishing a scalding hot piece of meat out of the pot to cut said scalding hot meat off the bone. Sigh. Even better use chorizo, casing removed. Yumm. (And yes, the turkey one is good too, if you must.) Or cubed pancetta. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are perfect, just try to cut as much fat off of them as possible and cut them into bite size pieces before they go into the pot.
*I would add bacon or pancetta to the pot already cooked (not burnt). Please do not let me see you with fatty raw bacon in your veggies…
Liquid – You can literally use water as your soup liquid, and I am not joking, but I prefer to use some type of stock or broth. I generally estimate based on how many people I want to feed, say a cup per person, will produce more than that when combined with the other ingredients in the soup. Once I’ve sautéed my veggies and spices, I add in my meat if using and next comes the liquid.
I am a huge fan of making my own stock. I try to buy really good quality meat so I think it’s a waste to throw out the rack of a chicken. Also, it means that I do not have to guiltily scrape every morsel of meat off the bone, because it’ll make my stock even better. I usually freeze the rack until I have time (Yes, my freezer is a whole mess!) and then pop my stock ingredients in the slow cooker.
If you are making a creamy soup, why not skip the dairy and try full fat coconut milk? It is great with vegetables and loves The Middle Eastern. You’d be surprised how good it is in soup. If you are using dairy, make sure you add it at the end so that you do not curdle your milk by boiling it.
Thickener – Flour is probably the most popular thickener and the easiest way to use it is to make a roux (use butter to sauté veggies). Essentially, this means adding it in (at least a ¼ cup) to your sautéed veggies and stirring well. Then take the pot off of the heat and stir your liquid in slowly, very slowly. You want it to be smooth before you add the next bit of liquid. At the end if your soup is still not thick enough, you can mix more flour with COLD water until smooth and slowly stir it in.
I personally try to avoid flour so I sometimes puree soup to thicken it. Or the beans or potatoes in soup can be mashed to thicken it.
My Favorites Soups to Make
These are in order of easiest to (not hard but) more effort:
Pureed Vegetable Soup – I probably make this the most when it's cold and I’m feeling lazy or when I don’t want to eat meat. Sauté your aromatic veggies and add spices. Chop a head of cauliflower or broccoli into florets, or peel and cut up a butternut squash, or carrots or…you get the picture. Add to pan with stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer. Use as little stock as possible (enough to cover) so that you don’t risk thinning out your soup too much for when you puree. Hand held immersion blenders are perfect for this so that you do not have to manage pouring hot liquid into a blender. Pureed vegetable soups are great with coconut milk to make them creamier.
Bean soup – These are my fave. If you are using dry beans, be sure to soak them in water overnight and add some salt. Contrary to popular belief, salt does not toughen dried beans. To make soup, sauté aromatic veggies with chorizo. Add beans and plenty of stock and bring to a boil. Be prepared to cook for about 3 hours. I don’t always season at this point if I am using chorizo because it is so flavorful, but if I have a parmesan cheese rind, I throw it in the pot. Once the beans are cooked I mash the soup a bit to thicken. Don’t sleep on tinned beans either, but add them in with the aromatics so they get some flavor.
Cream of Mushroom – People lose their shinoby over this soup! It’s that good. But it is hard to create a recipe for it because it’s a flavor you are going for that a recipe won’t capture (or maybe I just hate creating recipes). So here we go. Slice mushrooms, chop onions and garlic and add to pan with a half a stick of butter or thereabouts and The Everything Spice and a couple sprigs of thyme. No measurements remember? But see how it goes. Don’t panic when the mushrooms release their water, just keep it moving. Once the mushrooms are soft, add enough flour to absorb all of the liquid and stir. Then slowly add your stock. Very slowly as mentioned above. Simmer stirring frequently. Add a ½ a cup to 1 cup of light cream. If your soup is not thick enough add flour to the cream and stir until smooth before adding to soup. Bob’s your uncle.
The best way to finish every soup is to season to taste. Taste, season, and taste as many times as you need to, to perfect it, and to also minimize the risk of over/under seasoning.
If you’re feeling fancy, garnish soup with minced herbs, caramelized or fried onions, or drizzle with an infused oil such as rosemary, basil or truffle. Crunchy or crispy garnishes add a nice contrast to the natural texture of soup.
So there you have it. Easy peasy.
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