How to Create Your Own Soups
Soup feeds the body and soul and permeates your house with aromas that escape under door cracks and out windows to let the neighborhood know that you ARE ALL THAT and a pot of soup. This hearty Italian Sausage soup is, of course, nothing terribly new, BUT as I walk you through the basic steps of CREATING your own soup, I will show you how I switched it up based on what’s in my fridge and pantry and what my family likes.
This is a summary taken from Fine Cooking Magazine (December 2011 issue) and although I considered myself very proficient at soups, it honestly has changed my soup making forever; has elevated and added depths to my soups that I hadn’t known was missing. Well, here we go.
Step 1: Start with either a homemade stock (Like this one from There’s Always Thyme to Cook) or a good quality store-bought (preferably organic) stock at the ready for later. The quality of the stock really does play an important role. I rarely make my own stock, I am ashamed to admit. I am just not an organized person who could handle packaging them up in little icecube trays or containers in my freezer. I am more than thrilled with Imagine’s No Chicken Broth. It is supposed to mimic chicken broth but is vegetarian and since my hubby is ALLERGIC to CHICKEN (imagine that?!), this works quite nicely for us.
—Side note on Roux: French for “reddish brown,” a roux is a thickener for sauces and soups that combines equal parts flour and butter. Creamy soups tend to require a roux to thicken them. For my mushroom soup and spinach soup, the roux I use is two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of butter thrown in with the garlic and onion (aromatics) step.
Step 2: Basic Aromatics which include carrots, celery, onions, garlic, leek, shallots, fennel, parsnips, etc. Other aromatics you might want to add are chopped fresh ginger, chiles or lemongrass. Peel, chop and saute these guys in the big stock pot with either olive oil or some butter, depending on what type of soup you are making. I almost always choose olive oil. AND, here’s a Geni’s bonus tip: I usually throw in my prosciutto, bacon or a ham bone now depending on the soup for a little smokiness. This is one area you can get a little creative. I used left over whole pepperoni which I chopped into “lardons” (chunks) since I didn’t have any of the others I mentioned. Obviously, don’t do this if you are making a vegetarian soup.
Step 3: Add Spices and Hearty Herbs -Add your bay leaf (I have a preference for Turkish Bay Leaf) or some chili powder, ground coriander, thyme, cumin, or rosemary, etc. Stir it up with your aromatics and cook just a couple of minutes.
Step 4:Add Starches like potatoes (red potatoes cubed are my frequent starch of choice), tiny pastas, canned beans, noodles, rice or grains. Stir it up and keep on truckin’.
Step 5: Add the Vegetables. In this recipe, it was kale for me, but you can add spinach, zucchini, peas, chard, bok choy, mushrooms, etc.
Step 6: Now is a good time to pour in your stock. Bring it to a boil and then reduce your heat and simmer awhile…maybe about 20 minutes or so. It really depends on the type of soup you are making. You can puree your soup after it is done simmering if you are making a smooth soup like my Cream of Spinach, Sweet Potato or Creamy Mushroom soups.
*If you are adding some kind of COOKED meat or poultry to your soup, in this case I added cooked and sliced Italian sausage, add it now.
Step 7: MY FAVORITE STEP and the one that CHANGED MY SOUPS! Finish the soup. For those gourmets out there, you may be thinking, “This is not rocket science!”. But for me, it was a game changer. Your options for finishes are fairly endless but here are some common additions to add towards the end of your cooking process; lemon or lime juice (1 Tbsp at a time), soy sauce (1 Tbsp. at a time), Sesame oil (1/2 tsp. at a time), vinegar (red or white wine, sherry, etc. 1 tsp at a time), heavy cream (or in my case half and half or whole milk…I very rarely use heavy cream, 2 Tbsp at a time), fish sauce (1 Tbsp at a time), delicate herbs like mint, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, etc., hot sauce (like Tabasco or Sriracha 1/2 tsp. at a time—trust me) and sugar (brown or granulated…just a 1/2 tsp at a time). It was the lemon juice and Sriracha that, when added, really gave my soup an added dimension.
Garnishes: This particular soup did not have a garnish, but here are some typical options—crisp tortilla strips, chopped avocado, fresh herbs sprinkled atop of a bowl, scallions, a dollop of creme fraiche or Greek Yogurt, toasted chopped nuts, cranberries, Parmesean grated, etc.