7 Steps to Soup Heaven

When the temperatures drop, there’s nothing quite like curling up with a bowl of homemade soup at the end of a long day. But sweater weather can also mean jam packed schedules (school concerts! football games! holiday parties!), and it can be hard to find the time to follow a detailed recipe. Luckily, making a good soup is really all about sticking to a few tried-and-true guidelines and then letting your creativity run wild. So brush up on these seven rules (that leave room to riff) and you’ll be in comfort soup heaven in no time!

1  Build a base.

Aromatics are the start to any successful soup. When in doubt, just grab a big pot and sauté something from the allium family (onions, leeks, scallions, shallots) in a little fat (butter, olive oil, bacon fat, whatever you have) until soft and translucent. If you like, add garlic plus carrots and celery chopped in a small dice. Sweat them at medium-low heat until they soften. This step is the essential foundation laying step; it makes sure that your soup doesn’t taste f lat or one-dimensional. You could add practically anything now and it would still taste good.

2  Spice it up.

Herbs and spices add another layer of complexity to even the simplest soup. Add dried spices early on, while you cook your aromatics. The heat brings out the oils in the spices and makes them pop. Try autumnal classics like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and allspice, or go a little more wild with garam masala, turmeric, and chiles. If using fresh herbs, wait and add them at the very end for maximum punch.

3  Use in season produce.

Fall produce is made for soups; those hearty root vegetables can handle a long slow simmer without turning into mush. Try squashes, turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, apples, pears, cauliflower or hardy greens like kale and chard. Chopping them into small pieces will help them cook more quickly and be easier to eat. Simmer the vegetables in stock or water until they’re soft. Generally, stock is going to give you more flavor, but sometimes can also muddle the flavors. A good ratio of cooking liquid to vegetables is about 3:1. For a heartier soup, use less liquid.

4  To puree or not to puree?

So you’ve pumped up the flavor with a base and simmered the rest of your ingredients until tender. Now, it’s time to decide on a consistency. Some fall ingredients blend up beautifully, like sweet potatoes and squash, others, like greens are best left in pieces in a clear broth. If you choose to blitz, an immersion blender will make your life much easier. If the finished product is too thick, you can always add more liquid (water or stock), but if the finished product is too watery, you’ll have to reduce it on the stovetop to achieve proper consistency.

5  Pick your protein.

Soup doesn’t need a protein, but if you’re taking it from first-course to the main meal event, it helps to round out the meal. Beans are simple and cost-effective (especially if you use dried ones. Soak them ahead of time and add them early). Tofu is great added right at the last minute. If you’re in the mood for meat, choose cuts that benefit from low, slow cooking, like pork and lamb shoulder or chicken breast.

6  Make it healthier with grains.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a classic noodle, but fall is made for experimenting with chewy, heart-healthy grains like barley, faro, spelt, brown rice, and quinoa. They add texture and substance without stealing the spotlight. Grains can go in raw, but adjust cooking time to account for them (less time for quinoa and white rice, more for farro, barley, and brown rice), or you can add cooked grains already on hand right near the end.

7 Take it over the top.

Toppings, add-ins and condiments really take a good soup to great. Try croutons, crispy-fried onions or crushed nuts with creamy soups. Add a swirl of plain yogurt, sour cream or unsweetened cream to a soup with spice. Crumble or shave cheese over a hearty stew. Or use fresh herbs and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten broth-based soups. A little bit goes a long way!

  1. Onion + Carrot + Fennel + Garlic + Olive Oil + Chicken Broth
  2. Red Pepper Flakes + Tomato Paste
  3. Escarole or Chard
  4. No puree
  5. Cannelini Beans
  6. Spelt or Farro
  7. Shaved Parmesan