A bowl of soup is as comforting as a well-loved sweater. And it’s easy to make your own mouth-watering healthy soups; just follow these 7 secrets!
Ever feel that creating a flavorful homemade soup requires a bit of magic? Too often, soups are either bland and watery or too salty. Grandma’s homemade soups were always delicious though – how did she do it? Like most things, it was experience and repetition. Grandma’s soups were delicious because she turned pantry odds and ends into soup; month after month, and year after year.
At some point soup became a convenience food like burgers or fries; a food item we buy instead of making from scratch. I am all for convenience, but when I want soup these days, I want something that goes beyond the can. I bet you do too. Grandma knew these secrets. Follow them and all your soups will have the same lip-smacking, bowl-licking flavor.
1.Start with oil, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, or some combination thereof
You can make soup by throwing all ingredients into a pot with water; and sometimes I do. But for intense flavor, sauté chopped aromatic veggies like onion, garlic, or celery in a little butter or olive oil until soft. Then add the remaining ingredients. Other good aromatics to use are leeks, shallots, or bell peppers.
2. Add fresh or dried herbs and spices
Ahhh, soup’s pièce de resistance – herbs. Add up to 1 teaspoon of dried herbs to the soup pot for every serving. For example, for a recipe that uses 8 cups of liquid, add at least 4 – 8 teaspoons of dried herbs. Use a combination of herbs for more complex flavor. I especially like to use:
- basil/marjoram/rosemary/oregano/parsley for tomato-based soups
- thyme/rosemary/dry mustard/paprika for beef or lamb soups
- turmeric/dill/parsley/sage/ginger for chicken or turkey-based soups.
All soups benefit from an added bay leaf (don’t forget to remove it before serving) and a bit of black or red pepper. More unusual herbs like smokey Spanish paprika, grassy chervil, or earthy cumin also work well in soup. You can find more about the Best Herbs for Cooking here.
3. Add pungent root vegetables or cabbage
My mother’s famous chicken soup has plenty of potatoes, carrots, and turnips. Like most people, I never cared for turnip, but it adds sweetness and umami. Root vegetables like rutabaga, turnip, celeriac, and carrots give soup an added flavor boost. Don’t be afraid to try these veggies. I still don’t like mashed turnip, but chopped turnip in soup adds a sweet, nutty flavor. Chopped cabbage can be used in the same way; it takes a soup from ho-hum to excellent by enhancing all the other soup flavors.
4. Make your own broth
Herbs and veggies add flavor and mouthfeel, but broth is at the heart of a homemade soup. A mediocre broth is hard to overcome. The best way to get a good quality broth is to make it from scratch, using fresh vegetables or meat with bones. Homemade broth absolutely has the best flavor. You can make a large amount of broth at once, and then can it (following an approved process), or extra broth can be frozen. Some commercial broths and dried bouillon cubes/powder are ok too; be sure to check the label and make sure salt isn’t the main ingredient. Or, make your own convenient powdered broth. Follow my recipes here.
5. Add chewy grains
When my children were young, a favorite lunch was macaroni soup; basically, a chicken noodle soup mix with added macaroni. It was a great meal, but leftovers weren’t worth keeping, because macaroni breaks down in the liquid. Pasta is a great addition to soup, but it doesn’t keep well. On the other hand, adding chewy pearl barley, rice, or chunky Israeli cous cous lends that pasta feel, but keeps well – even in the freezer.
6. Don’t forget umami
Umami is a savory flavor that provides taste satisfaction. Lack of umami is a common problem in both soup recipes and restaurant soups. Manufacturers and restaurants try to overcome this by adding more salt. Sadly, no amount of salt can provide umami. Luckily, it’s not difficult to add umami ingredients. Simply include tomatoes, tomato juice, mushrooms, beef, seaweed, miso, or bonito flakes to a big pot of soup. Or, top each serving with grated Parmesan cheese.
7. The finishing touch
The final secret to making a great soup is to finish it off with élan. When serving, add a dollop of pistou or pesto to tomato based soups. Give chili extra crunch with chopped peanuts. Make dumplings for chicken noodle or other clear soups. A splash of red wine vinegar to each bowl of lentil or bean soup adds a bright and tangy flavor. Grated cheese enhances almost any soup, and fresh cracked black pepper adds the finishing touch to beef stew.
Soup has a lot going for it. It is the most comforting of all the comfort foods. Homemade soup is a good way to clean out refrigerator odds and ends, and it stretches the food budget – in a healthy manner. It can be as simple as bean soup, or as fancy as mushroom bisque. Grandma knew these soup making secrets. Now you can beat her at her own game – no magic required!