Every chef has a specialty, a food realm in which she has unique creativity. Mine is soup! And the good news is I love sharing my secrets.
Here are five that you can incorporate when making any soup recipe you love:
1. Start with a great stock or broth.
The first secret of great soup making is learning to make great broths and stocks. They’re the rock-steady foundation on which fantastic soups are built, like a powerhouse rhythm track to a soaring melody.
Take my nana’s chicken soup: Like most cooks of her day, she threw the bones into the stock, but her trademark was to take the vegetables out of the stock at the end and, in that pre-blender era, put them through a Foley Food Mill. She was 4 foot 10 and her pots were BIG. She had to stand on a stool to hand grind those vegetables back into the soup, making the stock richer—with a little more texture, a little something something. And she was not afraid to season! She tasted as she went, layering flavor all along the way. She was famous for saying, “If it tastes good, it is. If it doesn’t, it’s not!” She was right.
2. Learn how great soup is born.
All soups have some common elements:
Fats, such as olive oil, ghee, coconut oil
Aromatics, such as onions, carrots, celery, fennel
Dried herbs and spices, such as cumin, red pepper flakes, fresh garlic
Deglazing liquids, like ½ cup of broth, wine, tamari
Main ingredients, not limited to vegetables, legumes, meat
Broth or stock
Finishers, including salt, acid, fresh herbs, garnishes
Once you recognize the role each ingredient plays in a soup, you’re on your way to freeing up your creativity. You’ll soon see a recipe as a guideline instead of something that must be strictly followed to the letter.
3. Understand the process, step-by-step.
Once you understand why you do what you do at every step of recipe making, you’ll understand how to utilize the essential ingredients to make a great soup.
Heat your pan before adding the fat.
Add aromatics with a pinch of salt. Let the onions dance for a short while to sweeten them. Cook until they’re translucent and slightly caramelized.
Add dried herbs (if using) and spices. Sauté for just a minute, so they combine into your base and get coated in fat.
Deglaze the pan with half a cup of broth or another liquid. Let the liquid simmer until it reduces by half so the flavor is concentrated. (I get so excited about this, I can smell the aromas as I write!)
Now you’re home free. Add the main ingredients, the vegetables, the legumes, the meat, and stir to coat with the seasonings. Everybody is mingling! The chorus line is mingling with the stars. All the characters are on stage.
Add your broth. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until all the ingredients are soft enough to puree or cooked to desired tenderness. Soup’s on!
4. Taste as you go.
Just as my nana taught me, I want to teach you to layer your seasoning, to season as you go along.
This is the key: Taste, discover, and build flavor throughout the cooking process.
Don’t wait to add salt until the end — you will have missed the boat! The salt acts as a scrubbing bubble, allowing vegetables to release their flavors into the soup at each stage. That’s where soup alchemy happens. You build flavor.
Use my little tool called FASS, which stands for Fat, Acid, Salty, and Sweet, to course correct flavor. If you’ve ever wondered how to elevate soup flavor into the realm of absolute deliciousness, this is it.
Fat: Fat distributes flavor across the palate and makes you feel satiated.
Acid: Acid, such as lemon, lime, vinegar, or salsas, draws out and brightens flavor as well as balances soup that’s too sweet or salty.
Salt: Salt brings out the flavor of food and moves flavor to the front of the tongue where taste is best perceived. If flavor is hanging back, then you know you need a pinch or two of salt to move it to the front.
Sweet: My favorite sweet is Grade A Dark (formerly Grade B) maple syrup, so rich you only need a little to harmonize and round out flavor.
A cool or room temperature nut cream swirled into a warm, blended carrot soup adds a distinctive feel and a savory second flavor in a spoonful. An herb sauce can make a soup such as fish, lentil, or broccoli pop. A crispy texture on top can move a soup from good to memorable.
Five to try!
These are some no-fail fall soups that are a pleasure to make, serve and eat.
Moroccan Chickpea and Vegetable Soup
This soup is surprisingly amazing. One of my readers wrote to tell me that the first time she made this soup it never even made it to the table. A couple of friends dropped by, and everyone ended up standing around the soup pot “tasting” until it was gone. Needless to say, this was not the LAST time she made it.
Robust Chicken Soup
I’m not sure what I should call this dish. It’s more than a soup, but not quite a stew. Maybe it’s a stoup (you’re laughing now, but just wait till “stoup” makes its way into the Oxford English Dictionary—take that, mochaccino). Well, no matter what you call it, I think you’ll find yourself singing its praises often, as this is really a hearty, yummy recipe.
Thai Coconut Broth
Am I allowed to say I love this broth? This is like taking your taste buds on a trip to Thailand—infusing Magic Mineral Broth or, if you prefer, chicken broth, with lemongrass, ginger, shallots, kaffir lime leaves, and coconut milk. There are nutrients galore, notably in the coconut milk, and the taste is both bright and remarkably comforting.
Kale Soup with Coconut and Lime
Talk about counterbalancing tastes: Here the überhealthy kale and coconut milk are a magical pairing, with the sweetness of the coconut neutralizing the natural bitterness of the kale. The ginger and lime are like Fourth of July sparklers on top of the flavor profile. The soup is purposely a bit thin, and many people enjoy it as a broth in a cup or take it to go in a thermos. If you want to give it a little heft, try adding glass noodles or shredded sweet potato.
Cozy Lentil Soup with Delicata Squash
Silicon Valley has promised us that, someday, little nanobots will act like tiny microprocessors in our brains, helping to make us smarter. I say, Why wait? We already have a teensy food that does that. It’s the lentil, the vegetable kingdom’s version of a Lilliputian flying saucer. Lentils, ounce for ounce, pack an amazing amount of brain boosters! With a host of spices, cubed delicata squash, and thinly sliced kale, this is my go-to soup when I’m working hard and need to process a lot of information.
ENJOY YOUR NEW SOUP SKILLS! AND ESPECIALLY SAVOR YOUR SOUP. IT’S THE ULTIMATE CULINARY HUG :)
A portion of this post originally appeared in Food52.