Soup Basics: How to Make Soup in 6 Easy Steps

chicken soupIf you know the basics of soup making, you don’t need to follow the recipe word for word, but instead can glean inspiration from recipes and use what you have on hand. With a nice sharp chef knife, a cutting board and a Dutch oven there are endless possibilities. See equipment below.

Step 1: Soup base –  Mirepoix

The base of the soup usually starts with sautéing some vegetables, which flavors the oil or fat. Choose a fat that can handle the temperature. Read more about FATS here.

  • Ghee, clarified butter
  • Coconut Oil
  • Lard
  • Bacon Fat
  • Tallow (beef fat)
  • Butter – keep heat fairly low
  • Olive oil – also not recommended to sautéed at high heat

Warm the oil/fat on medium heat in a thick-bottomed deep soup pan, such as a Dutch oven, and sauté:

1-2 finely chopped onion, shallot or leek

then 1-2 carrots, and if I have it, celery, both chopped finely, or medium-fine, about a half inch chunks.

Sprinkle with sea salt (maybe a ½ teaspoon or so, I dunno exactly, I don’t measure, I add a little as I go along and usually end up needing to add more at the end.)

Chefs call the classic mixture “mirepoix”, otherwise known as the “holy trinity” in the cooking world.

Step 2: More vegetables

If you want to add more vegetables, you can add them to the mirepoix about 5-10 minutes after the carrots and onions.

What do you have in the fridge? Here are some vegetable ideas:

  • Sweet potatoes, parsnips, celerac, butternut squash
  • Mushrooms – crimini, shiitake
  • Bell peppers – green, red, yellow
  • Kale, any variety

The key here is that all the vegetables should be a similar size so they cook at the same rate. Think about the denseness of the vegetable and add it into the soup at the step that gives it enough, but not too much, cooking time. Sweet potatoes would be added earlier than kale.

In terms of amounts, I like to stick to around 4 cups of vegetables for 4 to 6 servings of soup.

Note: you can reserve the most tender veggies and herbs such as for the very end after the broth has been added and the soup has simmered.

Step 3: Aromatics and spices – garlic, ginger, and spices

When everything has had time to soften, start adding the tender aromatics. If you cook these too long before adding the liquid, the aromatic oils you want to collect will be lost, as in cooked off, room freshener.

Add 1-2 cloves of garlic with another sprinkle of sea salt in the last 3 minutes of cooking

Consider also adding 1-3 teaspoons total with a few of these spices:

  • Black pepper
  • Celery seed, thyme, rosemary
  • Cumin, coriander (I usually use a 2:1 ratio – 1 t cumin, ½ t coriander)
  • Chili powder
  • Turmeric, paprika
  • Yellow curry powder
  • Fennel, cinnamon, ginger powder
  • Ginger, fresh, can be added in the last 30 seconds before adding the broth. Peel with paring knife and finely mince ginger – slice as thin as possible against the grain, then chop the thin slices finely in one direction, then turn 90 degrees and mince.
  • Lemongrass, galangal (Thai ginger), anise – you can add these as chunks to simmer with the broth – for flavor – but don’t eat if big chunks.

Step 4: Protein

Add some meat – sliced chicken breast or skin-less thigh, beef slices, ground meat, sausage, pork slices, fish chunks. Cook till close to nearly done.

If using beef stew meat (chunks of beef), you will want to cook these longer and perhaps even separately first, then set aside and added at this step.

While the meat is cooking, you can add spices in above step now instead of with veggies, or some spices with each step. If using ginger, add last, just before you add the broth.

Step 5: Broth / Simmer / Starches

Broth – Add chicken, beef, veggie broth or stock (homemade or store bought) or water. I often do 1 quart of broth and then another quart or so of water.

Check out this delicious and healthy recipe for: BONE BROTH.

Simmer Times – Okay, this is where the magic happens. How you cook your soup is important. You’ll want to simmer your soup, not boil it. Boiling soup too rapidly can cause the broth to turn cloudy. So how long do you cook it for? It depends. Obviously, you want your meat cooked through and your vegetables tender—which should take 20 to 30 minutes.

Grains / Starches – Add starches like potatoes, rice or pasta and time them so when they are done cooking when the soup is ready.

  • Potatoes – 10-15 minutes
  • Pasta – 10 minutes (see package)
  • Rice – 25-30 minutes
  • Beans, cooked – add in the last 5 minutes or so.

If you’re using pasta/grains, add it 10 minutes into cooking. Most pasta will take about 10 minutes to cook. And remember, grains and pasta expand, so you don’t need a lot—about 1/2 to 1 cup of each for 4 to 6 servings should be plenty.

Add starches like potatoes, rice or pasta and time them so when they are done cooking, your soup is done cooking as well.

Step 6: Finishing touches – Taste and season

Add tender leafy vegetables, even in the last few minutes or cooking:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach, chard, basil, cilantro, parsley
  • Tomato – can be added with broth or towards the end
  • Honey, apple cider vinegar
  • Beans pair nicely with chili powder and cumin.
  • Tomato purée or diced tomato?
  • Cream or Coconut milk – add at the end. Don’t boil – when  you reheat this soup, just bring gently to temperature.

Herbs/Spices – You’re almost done! Taste your soup—make sure you cool down your spoon first! Then adjust the salt and pepper to your taste. Does it need some more spices? What about splash of vinegar or a little sweetness – honey or agave could work here.

Add fresh herbs when your flame is turned off the soup, right at the end, before serving. This is also the time to add a drizzle of olive oil or garnish with sour cream or yogurt for some soups.

That’s it! You can make any soup using the ingredients you have on hand with the flavors you prefer, without any recipe. I almost never use a recipe anymore because this is so much easier, though I do write down what I did if it was good. Who knows, you may just end up inventing a brand new soup, and maybe even creating a new family favorite

Here are some combination ideas. What do you have on hand? Feel free to mix and match:

  • Carrot soup – mirepoix with extra carrots – garlic, fennel, cumin, coriander, ginger pureed with immersion blender – garnished with sour cream and scallion slivers.
  • Sausage, butternut squash, kale in broth with garlic, thyme, rosemary
  • Garbanzo, sweet potato, peanut butter, ginger, honey, carrots, potatoes, spinach
  • Chicken curry with carrots, mushrooms, kale and spicy chili. See Slow-cooked Chicken Curry.
  • Chicken with rice – just do the mirepoix, chicken broth, rice and shredded chicken,  or this Asian variation Vietnamese Chicken and Rice Soup.
  • Stock mixed with tomato purée is delicious, as is stock with milk. Or even cream with tomato purée!
  • Cream soups might benefit from a dash or parsley or thyme.

EQUIPMENT for cooking:

  1. A sharp chef knife and cutting board. Also a paring knife is helpful. Image
  2. A large, nonreactive (stainless steel or ceramic) soup pot or Dutch oven that can hold at least six quarts will allow for large batches. Or an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker.
  3. An immersion blender or high-speed blender if you are making pureed soup. Immersion blenders keep you from having to transfer hot soup from the pot to a blender.
  4. A large spoon to stir the pot.
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