We’ve been spoiled by the temperate weather these last few weeks, but winter will be making its way back to freezing temperatures by the end of this week. Frigid weather calls for a batch of soup. Even a culinary luddite can manage a meal made from scratch instead of a can when it comes to soup.
As eaters strive for more control over the ingredients of their meals—less salt, more flavor, spicier, no additives, no BPH—the simplicity of soup can provide several meals worth of food with minimal effort and ingredients. With a little extra effort, soups can go from fantastic to phenomenal. This week’s Dishing the Dirt is dedicated to upping your soup game.
Cooking soup is something that can be done in a single pot. Soup has been made for thousands of years in everything from tightly woven baskets into which hot stones are dropped into the liquid to state-of-the-art, water-jacketed steam kettles gently simmering ingredients to perfection.
Soups are indicative of specific geographies and cultures. From the Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, Chicken Corn Soup, to Vietnamese pho, the mere mention of a steaming bowl of goodness can be a dead giveaway of one’s heritage.
The base of soup is some type of liquid, most often stock or broth. People often ask me what the difference is between the two even though the terms are interchangeable in most recipes. Broth is made of a simple ingredient (meat/bones/vegetables) simmered and reduced to unlock flavors, fats and proteins, while stock includes additional ingredients such as herbs, spices and aromatics.
In bisques and chowders, dairy is added to create a creamy consistency and flavor. Vegetarian or vegan versions use puréed potato, cauliflower and other light-colored starchy vegetables to achieve a similar consistency and color without dairy.
Other liquids used in soup include vegetable juice, coconut milk, beer, wine, whey, cider and plain ol’ water.
To get a better idea of how to make amazing soup, I went to the expert at Central Farm Markets, Christine Ilich, owner of Heirloom Kitchen, who cooks up seasonal vegetarian soups using ingredients from other producers at market. Christine listed several tips for making great soups:
- Fresh seasonal ingredients provide the best flavors.
- Use fresh herbs whenever possible and add at the very end of cooking for the strongest flavor and best color. Herbs and spices can help you use less salt and still get good flavor. If you must use dried herbs, add during cooking to bring out the flavor.
- Use good olive oil, single-source is best.
- Good soups come from building flavors. Start with carrots, celery, onion (and garlic, if you like). Sauté in good olive oil (with a bit of water to help soften-the water will evaporate out), then add in other veggies, stock, seasonings.
- Season soups with salt and pepper after the mixture comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and always taste (!). Add salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, and spices as needed.
- With vegetable soups, make sure your veggies are tender but don’t overcook. You don’t want to make mush of beautiful, seasonal produce.
- Beans and natural starches in the vegetables themselves thicken up soups. Even a few tablespoons of lentils or beans will thicken up a vegetable or meat soup nicely.
- When prepping for soup, have all the veggies and herbs chopped and ready to go before you begin.
- For vegetarian soups, puréed tomatoes add flavor and color, and mushrooms add a good ‘meaty’ flavor without meat.
And if you aren’t up for the challenge of making your own soup, each week Heirloom Kitchen offers a variety of freshly made, seasonal soups with ingredients sourced from Central Farm Markets growers.