At the grocery store where I work, we have Chef Cindy who develops, prepares, and samples recipes for customers – usually to feature specific products or for holidays or events. Every year, she takes off the month of October, which she spends at Cape Cod recharging her personal batteries in preparation for the craziness of the busy holiday season. When she returns in November, she always says, “I’m in a soup-making mood!”
But my Dad z”l didn’t wait for the weather to turn chilly; he ate soup all year long. He always said that you can judge the quality of a restaurant by its soup. Any place that can’t make a good bowl of soup, can’t do anything else well either. My Dad was a really smart guy.
I agree completely with him. I also eat soup in all weather and almost always order soup when I eat out. A cup of soup is often the healthiest option for a first course, especially when most of the appetizers on the menu are fried. For me a bowl of soup and a small sandwich is a perfect lunch.
Soup is easy to make, freezes well, and defrosts quickly – an ideal dish for a busy life. Here are some tricks to making all your soups extra delicious.
Stock: Start with stock, not water. Whenever you cook, keep a large plastic bag or container on the counter to collect all your vegetable scraps. Keep almost everything – onion skins and ends, carrot peels, celery bottoms, pepper guts, mushroom stems, cabbage cores, herb stems – pretty much every piece of vegetable that you don’t use, except potato peels and anything coated with wax. Throw it all in the freezer - you can add to the container over time. When it’s full, dump it into a stock pot, add water, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour or so. I sometimes add a couple cloves of garlic or a piece of ginger if I have it. No salt though, because when you use the stock, you want to season your dish as you go. When it’s got good color and flavor, cool and strain through a sieve lined with a tea towel, coffee filter, or a couple of paper towels. Freeze the stock in various size containers so you can pull out a little or a lot, depending on what you’re making.
For meat stock, save bones. You can save the carcass of a roasted chicken or the bone from a grilled steak. Throw them into the pot with your vegetable scraps for a heartier stock.
Cool it down: Always let soup cool before putting it in the refrigerator or freezer. If you’re making a very large pot of soup, hold back some of the liquid. Take it off the stove and stir in a block of frozen stock to help cool it down quickly.
Boil, then simmer: There is a reason that recipes say “bring to a boil, then simmer.” Bringing a pot of liquid to a full boil ensures that all of the liquid is the same temperature before you turn down the heat.
Sauté to start; greens to finish: Most soup recipes begin with sautéing onion, celery, and sometimes carrot in a little oil. Caramelizing these veggies gives the dish a richer base and deepness of flavor. At the other end of the cooking, add any greens or fresh herbs last. Stir them in just until they wilt to keep the flavors fresh.
Use other liquids with flavor and body: I’ve written about nut milk alternatives to cream; soup is a great place to use these products. Not only does the soup stay parve, but many of these products are much lower in fat and calories than cream, especially unsweetened almond milk. Coconut milk is a little richer, but also whiter, which is nice for light colored soups like cauliflower or potato.
Juices are another way to intensify the flavor of a soup. Tomato juice or paste are great, but this might be a time to try other juices like carrot or some of the popular vegetable-based juices available in the dairy case. Just check the ingredients to avoid added sugar and juices with too much fruit, which will make your savory soup too sweet.
Equipment: If you don’t have an immersion blender, consider getting one. They aren’t too expensive. It’s safer to puree soup right in the pot than try to transfer it to a food processor or blend while it’s hot.
Use a starter: There is nothing wrong with using a soup starter mix to get yourself going. Look for mixes that include dried beans and vegetables. Stay away from bouillon cubes or powders that are nothing but flavored salt. Plain kosher salt is cheaper and you can control it. If you want extra flavor, look for concentrated liquids or pastes that are made by reducing broth to concentrate the flavor.
Finish with a punch: Just before serving, add a squeeze of citrus or a splash of vinegar to punch up the flavor. Lentils in particular like a bit of vinegar, but almost any soup will benefit from a little acid.