It’s December. It might be snowy. It might be cold. It might be almost Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa. One thing is for certain: we are overrun with soup recipes.
I’m a big fan of soup all year long, and soup was one of the first things I learned how to make without a recipe. That being the case, I made a lot of rookie soup mistakes, and missed a lot of chances for transcendent soup greatness. If you’re in danger of doing the same, you’re in luck, ’cause I’m on a mission to spare you the trouble. While these are by no means all the things that could go right or wrong in your stockpot, here are some of the biggest lessons that trial and error taught me.
1. Bullion cubes are awesome.
I use vegetable bullion all the time. I’s a quick and simple way to add depth of flavor. But proceed with caution: bullion cubes and concentrates tend to have a flavor such that, even when dissolved in the prescribed amount of water, they can still be overpowering. So, if I’m adding 6 cups of water to a soup, I might use enough bullion for 3 to 4 cups of it. This creates a nice background flavor that allows herbs, spices or vegetables to shine through brightly.
2. Homemade broth is even more awesome than bullion.
If you can make a nice stock at home, do it. It will be more delicate and delicious than anything you can get at the grocery store, and your soup will be better for it. Some good things to use: carrots (including peels and green tops), leek tops, onion ends and peels, celery and celery trimmings, mushrooms (even if you don’t like mushrooms. Trust me.), and a potato or two. I also like parsley, sage, thyme, and some black peppercorns. It is rare for me to have all of these things in my kitchen at once, so I collect them over time. You can save carrot peels/tops, onion peels/ends, celery trimmings, and leek tops in a bag in your freezer. When you have enough to make some stock, just pick up some fresh herbs and mushrooms, and you’re set.
3. Don’t add the tomatoes until the end.
My favorite tomato soups are those thickened with root vegetables, such as carrots or waxy potatoes, rather than dairy products. If you add tomatoes at the beginning, the other things in the pot will not get soft enough to make a smooth puree, no matter how long you cook them. Well, maybe if you cook them until next week.
4. Remember the acid.
One of the easiest mistakes to make with a soup (especially a rich or hearty one) is to forget to add an acidic component. Never underestimate the power of a squeeze of fresh citrus with root vegetables, some tangy fresh tomatoes with beans, or some dry white wine with creamy soups. Add citrus or tomato at the end; add wine before you add any other liquids and allow it to reduce before proceeding. Add acid before you add more salt (you may find that you don’t need the salt, after all). This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of potential acidic components, just a few of my favorites.
5. Soup is a great hiding place for greens.
This one’s pretty self explanatory: kale, spinach, chard? Chop it up and toss it in!