Five Simple Steps for Delicious Soup Without a Recipe
Soup is one of my favorite meals to make. It’s easy, fast, and a perfect way to use up those extra veggies and herbs. Most of the time I don’t even use a recipe. Instead, I rely on basic soup-building principles and what foods I have available to guide me. It’s really not hard to make a good soup. Just follow the five simple steps below – and soon you’ll have a sumptuous soup simmering in your kitchen!
1. Start With Aromatics
“Aromatics” is just a fancy term for boldly fragrant vegetables. Think onions and garlic. They have a lot of flavor to give, so it’s best to start with them so they have time to release all their essence into the soup. You don’t need much – start with a small chopped onion and a couple cloves of chopped garlic. Sauté both in a little extra-virgin olive oil just until they begin to release their fragrance and become translucent. If you have a carrot or some celery, chop it up and add that too. Now you’ve created a nice solid base for your soup.
2. Add Other Vegetables Or Meat
Here’s where you can really get creative and add your choice of vegetables and/or meat to your soup. Practically anything will work. Dig through your produce drawer and see what you’ve got. A bell pepper? Chop it up and throw it in! A potato? Absolutely! The key here is that all the vegetables should be a similar size so they cook at the same rate. And since it’s soup, you’ll want the pieces to be no bigger than bite-size so you’re not noshing on huge chunks. Are there any vegetables you shouldn’t add? Not really, but tender vegetables, like spinach or even broccoli, with its delicate florets, may not fare well with longer cooking times, so add those at the end. In terms of amounts, I like to stick to around 4 cups of vegetables for 4 or 6 servings of soup.
If you’re adding meat, add it now too. Again, chop the pieces up small enough to make them manageable for your mouth. For quicker-cooking soups, lean cuts of meat like strip steak, pork loin, chicken breast or thighs are all good choices, as are lean ground meats. Avoid chuck steak, “stew meat,” brisket or pork shoulder – all tough cuts that require longer cooking times for them to break down and become tender. And stay away from bacon, prosciutto, pepperoni and other cured meats, which are very high in sodium (and some are also high in fat); they should be considered “flavorings” to be added later. About 12 ounces to 1 pound of meat is good for 4 to 6 servings.
3. Add Liquids
And now we get to the “soup” part of soup, a.k.a. the liquid. Broth is the way to go here. It really comes down to flavor preference, but I choose chicken broth or, if I want an even richer flavor, beef broth. For vegetarians, try “no-chicken” broth or vegetable broth and, of course, use homemade broth if you have any stashed away. Pay attention to the sodium content of your broth. “Regular broth” has upwards of 700 mg per serving – which is almost half the recommended daily amount if you’re watching your salt. I usually opt for “reduced-sodium” broths that come with about 525 mg per serving. If you only have the high-sodium stuff, you can substitute water for half the broth. Start with 4 cups for 4 to 6 servings. Depending on how much vegetables and meat you add, you may need more or less broth; add enough so everything is submerged by 1/2 to 1 inch of liquid. If using (pre-cooked) legumes, now is a good time to add those.
4. Simmer Your Soup
How you cook your soup is important. You’ll want to simmer your soup, not boil it. Boiling soup too rapidly can cause the vegetables to cook unevenly, while a gentle simmer cooks the vegetables at a steady, even pace. Simmering also allows more flavors to develop and deepen. So how long do you simmer for? It depends. Obviously, you want your meat cooked through and your vegetables tender – which should take 15 to 20 minutes. Use your palate to guide you- try a vegetable or cut into a piece of meat to see where you’re at before taking the pot off the heat.
5. Finish With Herbs
You’re almost done! Taste your soup – make sure you cool down your spoon first! Then adjust the salt and pepper to your taste. Add herbs, dry or fresh, right at the end so they have the greatest impact. If you add them too soon, their delicate aromas will just cook away. Some of my favorites are basil, marjoram and Italian herbs.