Soup is one of my favorite foods. It's cheap, and you can feed a crowd of people with a tiny amount of food. It's also the first thing I ever learned how to cook and one of the easiest things for people who want to get their feet wet cooking but aren't sure where to start. I have a lot of friends who don't do much cooking -- so here's a few tips for soup-making.
Start by making your own stock.It's super easy. By definition, stock requires bones; if you're making a "veggie stock," you're technically making a broth. Either way, the great thing about stock is that it uses up all of the bits and pieces from other things you cook. Save all of your vegetable ends, your bones from meat, your shrimp tails, etc. and make stock with them. Keep it to one type of animal per meat stock -- pork stock, chicken stock, beef stock -- but you can get by with putting several types of fish into a seafood stock.
The way I make my stock is pretty simple. Take a big pot and chop up some onions, carrots, garlic and celery. If you have other vegetable "bits" floating around, put those in too! Toss that in the pot and start heating it. Add your bones -- if they have a bit of meat on them, all the better -- and then cover it with lots of water. Add some salt and herbs. Cook this at a bare simmer for a few hours. Even better, put the whole concoction into a crockpot and forget about it overnight. Then just strain off the stock and put it in the fridge.
The fat will rise up to the top. You can peel this off to use in cooking if that's your thing, or just toss it. The rest of it can be frozen. Freeze in an ice cube tray and them dump the cubes of stock out into a big plastic baggy. That way you always have just the right amount of stock on hand.
Tips for Making SoupOnce you have a nice, homemade stock to work with, you can make just about anything taste good. You don't need stock in order to make soup, of course, but the stock does add some richness and depth of flavor. Here are a few really simple soups to start off:
- Make chicken noodle by combining chicken stock with chunks of fresh chicken, fresh vegetables, and noodles. You can make homemade noodles if you want, or substitute noodles for rice, barley or some other grain. Carrots are essential. For flavorings, I like to use salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. Seasoning salt is good too.
- Make a wholesome vegetarian minestrone by combining a big can of stewed tomatoes with veggie stock, beans (I like white beans like cannelinis, or chickpeas) and vegetables (I like corn and green beans in this a lot) and either some pasta (shells or macaroni is my favorite). Finish it at the end with a splash of red wine vinegar to kick it up a notch.
- Make a super simple chili by combining a can of crushed tomatoes, two small cans of tomato sauce, a cup or two of beans and chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and garlic. You can add the meat of your choice if you want. Use the leftovers over pasta or rice.
- Want a stupidly simple, shockingly delicious soup? Boil some potatoes (the little white or red ones are best, but any will work) in fish or veggie stock. Poach some fish (something fairly sturdy - I like perch for this) in the same stock after the potatoes are softened. Add some salt to the broth if necessary. Finish it off with an ample squeeze of lemon. Trust me when I tell you that this is amazing and has saved my hide on nights when there was essentially nothing in my pantry that I could eat.
- One of my favorite soups is to combine stock or water with crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, fresh onions, bell peppers and jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper, corn and any other miscellaneous veggies I have on hand. Finish it off with a fresh squeeze of lime.
- Make a super easy chowder by combining potatoes with stock and slow-simmer until the potatoes are softened and mashable. Even better, upcycle leftover mashed potatoes. Add broccoli or corn and cheese if you wish. Finish off with some milk or cream at the end of the cooking process. Season simply with salt and pepper, or put in just a smidge of mustard to bring out cheese. You can boost the nutrition and lower calories by replacing some of the potatoes with cauliflower.
- Around Halloween, I like to do a hearty pumpkin soup. Sweat out some leeks in the pan, then combine pumpkin and stock. Add salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg. Blend all of this, then add some currants or raisins at the end and garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds.
- Add some salt. Do it in small quantities, so you don't get overwhelmed, but you'd be amazed at how much it fixes flavor. You know you have the perfect amount of salt when the food tastes suddenly better without tasting salty.
- Add a splash of vinegar or lemon/lime to brighten up flavor
- Add tomato to basically any brothy soup to make it taste good
- Add cheese to basically any creamy soup to make it taste good
- If you add too much salt, just dump in more of everything else and make a double or triple batch. Freeze the excess.
- You can cook pretty much any grain in soup. Don't try to cook beans in soup, though, because they won't absorb liquid properly if there's any salt in the liquid.