5 Steps to No-Fail Homemade Soup in Endless Flavors

Chow on 12.19.12
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Photo: Jess2284/Creative Commons

I grew up on soup because my mom makes it every day for lunch. While that may seem like a lot of effort, she claims it is the easiest and healthiest lunch option for feeding a family of hungry kids. Using whatever was in the fridge and pantry, she’d do some chopping, let it simmer for fifteen minutes, and voilà, delicious vegetable soup for lunch. I love soup because it's forgiving and flexible; I can easily put in and take out ingredients, depending on what's available and what my kids want to eat. Here’s the no-fail soup formula that I learned from her.

1. Aromatics and Vegetables

The soup’s ‘foundation' always starts with onions and garlic. Use 1 large onion finely and 2-3 cloves of garlic and sauté in a large pot with a generous glug of olive oil.

Next, choose 2-4 of the following vegetables: 2 carrots, 2 celery ribs, 1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, 1 medium zucchini, handful of mushrooms, 1 head of broccoli or ½ head of cauliflower, 2 potatoes, 2-3 cups diced squash or sweet potatoes. Peel if necessary and dice. 

If you wish to add meat, toss in ½ lb raw sausage meat, 1 cup diced ham, or 1 cup diced chorizo sausage. (Don’t add other cooked meat yet.)

Sauté 5 minutes until tender and ever so slightly browned – longer with sausage.

2. Seasonings and Herbs

Add any one of the following: 1 tbsp dried basil, 1 tbsp dried oregano, several sprigs of fresh thyme. If you want a subtle creamed soup, leave these out. For a spicy soup, use 1 tsp minced jalapenos in adobe sauce or 1-2 tbsp curry powder or paste. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir and sauté for 1 minute.

3. Stock and Liquids

Next I add approximately 4 cups stock, preferably homemade or else organic stock in Tetra-Paks: chicken, vegetable, or beef. Use water with a few bouillon cubes if necessary, or even just water.

If you want a tomato-based soup, add a 28-oz can of diced tomatoes.

If you want a cream-based soup, add enough water to cover the vegetables but not too much.

If you want a bean soup, add beans along with stock and let simmer.

For regular vegetable soup, add liquid until it looks slightly more watery than you want it to be because it will boil down and you’ll likely add more ingredients to thicken it up. Let it simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Carbohydrates, Grains, Extra Meat & Veggies

(Ignore for cream-based soups.) I usually cook carbs separately before adding to the soup, in order to avoid adding a ton of starch to the liquid. Use 1 of the following: ¼ cup small pasta, such as orzo or macaroni; ½ cup leftover cooked rice; 1 package tortellini; ½ cup cooked bulgur; 1 can or 1-1/2 cups any kind of cooked beans.

Now is the time to add leftover cooked meat, such as diced chicken or turkey. Add 1 cup frozen corn or peas, if desired. Let simmer till heated through and everything is cooked.

5. Finishing Touches

If making a cream-based soup, remove from heat once vegetables are tender and purée. Add approx. 1 cup milk, cream, or coconut milk, and heat again.

If making a tomato-based vegetable soup, add any of the following finishing touches: ½ cup sliced olives; 1 small jar marinated artichokes, chopped; 2 tbsp capers; handful of minced fresh herbs, such as basil. Always season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on top, if desired. Usually serves a hungry family of 4-6. 

My favourite combos: spicy black bean soup, curried butternut squash soup, tomato minestrone soup, cream of cauliflower soup.

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