An essential guide to how to make soup. With just a few skills and a sound knowledge base, you can make amazing soups anytime with any ingredients. Making soup is easy. Beginner cooks can master this quickly without special training.
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What is Soup?
“soup – a liquid food, with or without solid particles, made by cooking meat, vegetables, fish, etc. with milk, water or the like”Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language
When you start cooking from scratch, you will likely follow a specific recipe and hopefully have great success. If your culinary creation speaks to your heart, you should definitely save that recipe so that you can make it wonderful every time.
After making several soup recipes, you might notice similarities and contrasts between them. Brothy vs. creamy, thick vs. thin, smooth vs. chunky. Today we are deconstructing soup.
How Most Soups Are Made
There are exceptions but after making many soups that originated from around the world, I noticed similarities. Most soups follow patterns. They start the same and then at different intersections you make a decision as to what direction you want to take your soup.
When you learn this method below, you will be free to make your own soup creations at liberty. Soup liberty, who’s with me?
The Perfect Soup Model
I’m claiming it. I think it’s perfect. If you have other ideas, leave a comment. I’m always curious. Please share.
This is a model therefore no volumes are included.
- In a large pot (dutch oven, ‘soup pot’, stock pot…whatever you call it), heat a small amount of oil with a high smoke point such as sunflower, grape seed, canola, corn, peanut, safflower.
- Cook your aromatics. If you want to add some smokiness flavor, cook on medium-high heat. If not, cook on medium-low heat. Add the aromatics that cook the longest first. See aromatic notes below.
- Add spices & herbs and stir for one minute.
- Add liquid, vegetables, protein and starch such as noodles. Simmer until they have the texture you desire.
- CHOOSE YOUR TEXTURE – For smooth texture, blend your soup ingredients with an immersion blender or food processor. If you choose this method and your protein is meat, add the meat after this step. For brothy texture do nothing. For somewhere in between, blend only half of the soup mixture. Bring back to a simmer.
- For creamy soups, add your cream at this step. Simmer for five minutes, check seasoning and serve.
Notes on Aromatics
Cooking aromatics depends on the type and the size. Some take longer to cook. Garlic as an example will burn if cooked too long. Larger diced aromatics will take the longest to cook and smaller diced ones vice versa.
Below is a guide to adding aromatics to your soup pot. You can pick and choose your aromatics depending on what kind of soup you are going to make.
- During the aromatic cooking step, cook these first before adding the later.
- Onion, celery, carrot, parsnip, bell pepper, shallot, celeriac, bacon, cinnamon stick, kaffir lime
- After the first group of aromatics is soft, add the following and cook, stirring often until soft. Note, garlic shouldn’t be cooked longer than 2 minutes. It burns easily.
- garlic, ginger, pancetta, prosciutto, parsley, scallions, chili, chives, herbs, chorizo,
Spices & Herbs
Below are some flavor profiles to get you started. Use some or all in a geographical group. If you use all, definitely use much smaller quantities such as 1/4 tsp vs. a teaspoon.
- Middle Eastern – cumin, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, turmeric, sumac, Baharat, caraway, anise, all spice, cinnamon, Aleppo Chile powder, cilantro, parsley, mint.
- Indian – Kashmiri Chile powder, cardamom, cumin, curry powder, turmeric, cloves, fenugreek, garam masala, mustard seed, asafetida.
- Thai – (Thais use large amounts of herbs and plants instead of dry spices) Galangal, kaffir, lemongrass, cilantro, mint.
- Latin – Coriander, cumin, paprika, cilantro, chili powder
- Italian – Fennel, sage, parsley, thyme.
- French – Parsley, thyme, bay leaves, herbs de Provence, tarragon.
- Chinese – chives, cilantro, Chinese 5 spice, star anise.
Broth is probably the most common liquid in soups. You can either make your own or buy it. In some soups the broth making is one of the steps. Chicken Noodle Soup is an example. Simply simmer a whole chicken with some aromatics. Remove the chicken and shred the meat. Strain the broth. Place the broth back in the pot with the shredded chicken and continue with your recipe.
Below are some liquids I have used in soups.
- Veggie, beef, chicken, vegan broth.
- Red and white wine, usually to deglaze a pan.
- Beer, both dark or light.
- Cooking sherry to deglaze a pan.
- Vermouth to deglaze a pan.
- Vinegar as a flavor enhancer.
- Lemon juice at the end to liven the flavors.
To make a soup creamy, you may add any of these toward the end of your cooking time.
- Cream or Half & Half
- Cashew cream. Just blend salted cashews with water in a blender until smooth. Adding this to soup is a great way to make it creamy, and it’s vegan!
- Coconut milk
- Plain yogurt
- Peanut Butter
You can add any vegetable to soup, right? If you can think of one that should never be in soup, leave a comment below. Of course I’m curious. Below are some of my favorites.
- Tomatoes, I usually use canned.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cabbage, bok choy etc.
This is where soup gets interesting. Soup can easily be made vegan, pescatarian, vegetarian or with meat.
- Seeds, usually as a garnish.
- Lentils and other pulses.
- Soy beans
- Peanut butter, makes soups creamy too.
You certainly don’t have to add starch but if you do, some of my favorites are below. One added benefit to some of the starches, it can make your soup thicker.
- Potatoes are great for making soups thicker after you mash them or process them. The starches will thicken the soup while it simmers.
- Potato flakes are great for making soup thicker.
- Beans, they are starchy too.
How to Make Soup Dumplings
In soups, dumplings are like little presents to the soup lovers out there. Soft, pillowy surprises are found in many hot and steamy soups.
Soup dumplings take on many forms. The methods and names are determined by geography and culture.
There is a German type of dumpling that uses a simple batter and sieve with large holes. This dumpling is called spatetzle. Check out Amanda’s easy Spaetzle recipe with step-by-step photos.
A shortcut Southern Dumpling uses biscuit dough. Jessica has an easy recipe utilizing store-bought biscuits in the classic Chicken and Dumplings.
Another Southern Dumpling hack is to use Bisquick. Recipe Ireland has the Original Bisquick Dumpling recipe. Be sure to check out the comments section for some great tips!
If you want a deep dive into Shanghai style soup dumplings, The Woks of Life has an amazing tutorial on how to make these gems.
My go-to soup dumplings is actually frozen pot stickers that I get in the frozen section of my grocery store. I make a clear, brothy soup and drop in the dumplings. I made a Crockpot Curry and Dumpling soup using this method.
How to Make Soup Vegetarian
If you are vegetarian and you want to start cooking from scratch then you are in luck. It is super easy to make vegetarian soups.
Simply make your soup utilizing the Perfect Soup Model above and choose vegetarian ingredients.
How to Make Soup Vegan
Making vegan soups takes a little more consideration than vegetarian soups. You will want to make sure you read the label on your broth when choosing store bought. Making your own is easy and better though. My favorite method for making vegan broth is utilizing a few classic Asian ingredients.
I keep dried mushrooms and Kombu seaweed in my pantry. It lasts for years. I simmer a pot of water and add mushrooms, seaweed, onion, salt, peppercorns and celery. The mushrooms give the broth some umami which is hard to find in vegan dishes.
When making my own broth, I like to make a large batch of concentrated broth and freeze it in quart size freezer bags. Freeze the broth in the bags on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, simply stack the bags in the freezer for a convenient, space saving option.
Refer to the ingredients above for your vegan protein options and add the veggies and starch of your choice.
If you are making your own broth, you will need to check out this post on How to Make Broth. It also gives you clues as to when homemade broth is a must or if you can get away with store bought broth.
CONFUSED ABOUT THE DIFFERENT CHILI POWDERS? I’ve got the details in my article What is Chili Powder?
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