Base Recipe: Soup from Scratch

We love soup. It’s easy to make, has endless possibilities for flavor combinations, freezes well for future meals and can help reduce food waste (soup is a great cover for vegetables that are close to meeting the compost bin).

Plus it’s made in one pot, so clean up is a breeze. If you’re new to cooking, or if you haven’t practiced much soup making, finding a recipe to start out with is a good way to build your soup making skills.

Every soup has these basic essentials: vegetables, fat, liquid, seasonings and (sometimes) protein. Once you practice one or two recipes, you’ll notice that most soup making follows a similar order of steps from start to finish. Check out our pro tips below before getting started!

1. Choose the type
Do you want a brothy soup like chicken noodle or Italian White Bean? A chunky one like clam chowder, minestrone or 15 Minute Chili? How about something pureed like Cauliflower Potato or butternut squash? Take a look at what ingredients you have on hand and start the creation there.

2. Sear the meat (skip to 3 if you aren’t using any)
Searing cuts or grinds of beef, pork or poultry will impart deep flavor in your soup. Heat your soup pot over medium heat and add a small amount fat to lightly coat the bottom. Add meat and allow it to brown, about 4 minutes per side for cuts. Remove the meat to a plate.

3. Build a base flavor
Most soups start off with sauteing vegetables over medium heat. If you’re using meat, you can use the same pot you just seared it in to capture all of those tasty browned bits (or fond). Here are some standard vegetable combos and every “part” is the same kind of measurement, like ½ cup.

  • Mirepoix (meer-PWAH) – 2 parts onion to 1 part each carrot and celery. A classic French starter, the vegetables are diced very small and gently sautéed, but not browned, in butter until they soften.
  • Holy Trinity – 3 parts onion, 2 parts celery, 1 part bell pepper. This base is for anything Cajun or Creole flavored and is chopped into a medium sized dice. Sauté it in butter or oil until it sweats and begin to brown a little.
  • Sofrito – 2 parts peppers, 1 part onion, garlic and cilantro. The backbone of many Latin flavored soups, vegetables are finely diced by hand or in a food processor or blender. They are cooked for about 15 minutes until they come together in a paste-like consistency.

4. Add seared meat
Place the meat back into the pot making sure to include any juices that pooled on the plate.

5. Add hard veggies
Consider the amount of time you think it will take to cook the vegetables you are using. For example, diced potatoes will definitely take a longer time to cook than peas, so you’ll want to add them at this step. Rutabaga, turnips, sweet potatoes, parsnips and celeriac all take a little time to cook thoroughly.

6. Add liquid
Chicken, beef, vegetable and fish stock (or broth) are readily available at most grocery stores. Pureed tomatoes, jarred pasta sauce, water, or milk are also options. You can even combine more than one – stock mixed with milk is delicious, as is cream with tomato puree.

7. Add seasonings
Don’t be shy! This is the step that will give your soup its signature flavor. The combinations are entirely up to you, but remember a little bit of some (cinnamon, cloves, curry) can go a long way.

  • Black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cloves – lentil and bean soups
  • Thyme, parsley, bay leaf – a classic combo for brothy soups like chicken noodle
  • Chili powder, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, cinnamon – chilis and stews
  • Basil, oregano, rosemary – Italian-themed soups like minestrone

8. Simmer
Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup until the meat is done and hard vegetables are tender. Taste and season as necessary.

9. Add remaining veggies
Any additional vegetables you want to add, do so now. Continue to cook until they are soft.

Pro Tips

  1. Cut ingredients into sizes easily picked up with a spoon. Stews can go bigger, as they cook longer and larger pieces of meat and vegetables will easily fall apart.
  2. Cook starch like noodles and rice separately, then add to bowls when serving. Ever make chicken noodle, then go for leftovers and there’s no broth left? Pesky noodles absorbed it all overnight!
  3. To reduce fat, cool the soup completely. Fat will rise and solidify on the surface and it’s easy to skim it off.
  4. Season your meat with salt and pepper before searing.
  5. Don’t forget toppings! A squeeze of lemon or fresh herbs can brighten flavors, chopped nuts, seeds or croutons add crunch, a spoonful of plain yogurt, sour cream or Parmesan cheese can improve dull flavors.
  6. Parmesan rind, tomato paste, bacon, peppercorns or nutritional yeast will add flavor depth as the soup simmers.
  7. Save some for later. Over time, the flavors will meld together and sometimes taste better the next day.

Written by Adriene Worthington, RDN, LDN

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