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How to make great soups
Whether it's for lunch or dinner, soup can be a delicious and satisfying meal. It's filling, comes in endless varieties, can be cheap and quick to make, and freezes and reheats easily. So why do people still buy soup in a can when homemade soup is so tasty and economical?
I think it's because people don't realize that making soup in not only easy, but that there are tricks to making consistently good soups. If you follow these simple tips, you can learn how to make great soups all the time.
Choose flavourful ingredients
There are some basic tips to choosing ingredients for your soups that you should know about.
Aromatics - These should be added to most soups, especially when you're not using stock. These include celery, onions and carrots, and should generally be chopped up finely and cooked down before adding your other ingredients.
Stock - A great stock can make your soup so much better. If you're buying stock, choose a variety that's of decent quality and that doesn't contain too much salt (I buy the low sodium variety). Making your own stock is easy, but it does take a little time, so make a big batch and store the rest in the fridge or freezer until you need it.
Other ingredients - It's kind of a no-brainer - choosing better quality ingredients will result in a tastier soup. In particular, choose better quality canned tomatoes, and pick organic carrots over conventional (much tastier for some reason).
Treat your ingredients with care
While soup can be easy to make, it's not just a matter of chucking all of your ingredients in a pot and leaving them for an hour. You should consider how to make each of your ingredients as tasty as possible. Sometimes this may mean keeping it really simple!
- Make sure your soup tastes like what it is. For example, if you're making broccoli soup, it should taste like broccoli - extra fillers like cream and stock aren't necessarily needed.
- Remember that your ingredients probably take different amounts of time to cook. Even in a blended soup, try to cook your ingredients the optimal amount. This may take some trial and error!
- Try roasting some of your vegetables for a flavour boost: squash, zucchini, root vegetables, onions and garlic become deliciously sweet when roasted.
- Try caramelizing your onions rather than simply frying them.
Add something special
Adding some special ingredients to your soups can really liven them up. The sky's the limit here, but delicious and unexpected ingredients are great to add to soups. Here are some of my favourites:
- Pesto - delicious when added to a vegetable soup
- Tortellini - ready made tortellini or ravioli is an easy way to make your soup both tasty and filling
- Shredded or cubed meat - Save leftover meat from your roast dinner to add to your soups. One of my favourite soups is Ham & Pea Soup, which contains yummy chunks of ham.
- Rice/egg noodles - I love adding rice and egg noodles to soups to make them more filling and to add a nice contrast of textures
- Some great vegetarian options - grilled tofu or seitan, chopped boiled egg and chick peas or other beans/pulses
Use plenty of spices, herbs and seasoning
The key to making your soups taste great is to use plenty of herbs and spices to make them really flavourful. Especially if you're making a quick soup, using some herbs and spices can pack a huge flavour punch without the requirement of a long cooking time. Just remember that spices like coriander, cumin, chili and pepper should be toasted or fried to bring out their flavour before adding them to your broth. When you can, choose fresh herbs over dried, and add them at the end of cooking to keep them tasty and fresh without losing too many nutrients. Salt seems to be a bit of a dirty word these days, but seasoning your food well really makes it more appealing. Try soy sauce instead of salt to add a bit of umami (meaty flavour) to your soup.
Add a delicious topping
A finishing touch to your soup can add that wow factor that is sometimes missing from soups. Adding an extra punch of flavour, colour and texture can make your soup even more special. Try one or more of these ideas to spice up your soup:
- Add a swirl of cream, yogurt or creme fraiche to a blended soup to add flavour.
- Adding something crunchy like croutons, toasted nuts, seeds or tortilla chips makes soup a lot more interesting to eat.
- A pinch or two of fresh herbs added when serving up your soup can add great flavour even to chunky soups.
- A small grating of parmesan or another type of cheese can make your soup even more decadent.
Recipe: Cheryl's Carrot & Butternut Squash Soup
I recently made this soup when I had a lot of leftover carrots and half a butternut squash. It turned out to be completely delicious, so I hope you enjoy it! Cooks in about an hour, including prep time, and serves about 4.
Carrots - 5-6 (medium), chopped
Butternut squash - half, cut in half lengthways or in large cubes. Remove seeds, wash well and set aside.
Red onion - 1, sliced
Coriander & cumin (ground) - 1/2 tsp each
Celery - 1 stick, chopped
Stock - 500 mL
Vegetable oil - 2 tbsp
Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C. Place butternut squash on a baking tray and put it in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Prepare your washed and dried squash seeds by mixing with a splash of vegetable oil and a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of your vegetables. Heat a large pot with a lid on a medium heat. Heat the oil, then add the sliced red onion with a pinch of salt. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion has started to caramelize. Add the coriander and cumin and fry off for 1 minute to release its flavour. Add the celery and carrots, season and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the stock, then bring to a boil, cover and turn down to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are cooked but not mushy - about 10 minutes then remove from the heat (if your squash is not yet ready). Once cooked, remove squash from the oven and let cool slightly. Add squash seeds to the same baking tray and bake for around 5-6 minutes - watch closely and remove from oven once golden. Once cool enough to handle, remove flesh from squash and chop into large chunks. Add squash to pot with carrots and stock, then blend with stick blender. Add some extra water if too thick, and heat to desired temperature. Check seasoning then serve with a sprinkling of squash seeds on top and some crusty bread.
How to make great soups
- Choose flavourful ingredients
- Treat your ingredients with care
- Add something special
- Use plenty of herbs, spices and seasoning
- Add a delicious topping
Soups are an easy and delicious option for lunch or dinner. With a minimal selection of vegetables and pantry ingredients, you can make a fabulous soup in no time! When you have some spare time, whip up a big batch and freeze it for future meals. You might even save some money in the process.
Some other great soup recipes
- Chicken Love - Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup
A great homemade chicken soup recipe, or as she calls it a "pot of love"!
- Creamy Butternut Squash Soup Recipe with 6 Variations
An easy recipe for creamy butternut squash soup - with 6 flavor variations on this basic theme
- Spring vegetable soup with basil pesto recipe - Recipes - BBC Good Food
A former magazine cover star, this satisfying soup is special enough for entertaining and easy enough to size down
- Split pea & green pea smoked ham soup recipe - Recipes - BBC Good Food
John Torode shares the recipe for one of his all-time favourite soups
- Spicy Tortilla Soup Recipe : Food Network Kitchens : Food Network
Food Network invites you to try this Spicy Tortilla Soup recipe from Food Network Magazine.