The Secrets of Soup

“There is nothing like soup. It is by nature eccentric: no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup in a can.”Laurie Colwin, 'Home Cooking'

I grew up with Campbell's canned soups. Their salty, predictable flavor to this day reminds me of cold snowy days.

When I first began to cook I avoided soups at all costs - too many ingredients, too big a pot, too much time. To err on the safe side, I always bought my soup in a can.

Along the way, perhaps shortly after college, I distinctly remember tasting a few delicious, home-made soups - a thick, warm carrot ginger and a hearty lentil - flavors I had never experienced from a can. These soups made an indelible impression. The distinct, clear notes of each ingredient clearly shining through in each savory spoonful.

For years their taste haunted me. Nothing from a can came close. It was time to try cooking my own soup...

But I was daunted and had no idea where to start. I turned to our family bible for all-things-food The Joy of Cooking. No pictures, no reviews...needless to say I did a lot of tinkering and tasting.

Over the years I've cooked many, delicious pots of soup. Soup is tremendously versatile. Each soup allows for endless possibilities - anything from hearty or light, quick or time-consuming to rich, spicy or sweet. Now one of my daughter's absolute favorites is our homemade chicken soup.

“To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” Laurie Colwin

Soup heals from the inside out. On a cold, dreary day there is truly nothing that warms us like a bowl of home-made soup. Especially during this cold, wet time of year, soup warms our body from the inside out.

Somehow along the way we've lost the secrets of great soup. Sharing soup brings us together. So I'd like to share a few secrets with you now so that you too, can cook and share the gift of home-made soup.

Soup offers us a quick and versatile way to cook up a home-made meal. Are you ready too create simple AND satisfying soups? Here are a few of my secrets to get you started.

Secret #1...

There is always something left to share when one makes soup. Soup almost begs for uninvited guests, neighbors or spontaneous gatherings (all of which I adore!). Soup brings us together. The first secret of a great soup is a BIG pot. A big, heavy pot is best, but honestly any big pot will do.

When I first started out I used a large stainless sauce pan that was a hand-me-down from my Grandfather Schmidt. A few years ago I splurged and bought myself a deep blue Le Creuset soup and stew pot. It is solid, substantial and its massive weight feels very grounding. I love bringing it out to cook with especially during the winter months. Sitting atop my cupboard its bright blue shape seems to sing to me of soup. My BIG cast iron pot has thick walls that allow the soup to simmer and cook evenly and stay warm long after.

A lid is useful but not necessary. Some sort of ladle, ample, deep serving spoon or even a measuring cup is perfect for scooping and serving the soup.

Read your recipes thoroughly as a blender or immersion blender may be necessary for some soups.

Most importantly, choose a BIG, sturdy pot to cook, simmer and hold your soup.

Secret #2...

The secret to make soups that truly shine, is to select a liquid base that will highlight your ingredients and your particular tastes.

Start with a broth, stock, milk, coconut milk or other liquid base. Many low-sodium boxed broths are available in stores, such as Pacific Organic brand, most of which happen to be gluten-free. Fresh and frozen varieties of stock may be purchased from your natural foods store or local butcher.

"Good broth will resurrect the dead." South American proverb

Feeling adventurous? Make a bone or vegetable broth from scratch! During my time at nutrition school we learned from Sally Fallon about the cultural history and medicinal benefits of bone broth. Here is one simple Healing Bone Broth recipe to get you started.

Choose your liquid base carefully as it will become the foundation for your soup.

Secret #3...

Choose vegetables and herbs such as onions, leeks, garlic, parsley, celery, bell pepper and carrots (also known as aromatics) to flavor your soup.

This is another secret of great soup - to extract the maximum flavor from these aromatic vegetables and herbs in order to enhance the flavor of your broth and soup.

Simply chop these aromatic vegetables and herbs and cook them with a little oil over low or medium heat. Cook these vegetables and herbs in the soup pot BEFORE adding any liquid. This helps to soften their texture and blend their flavors once the liquid is added.

Lightly cook or sweat your aromatic vegetables and herbs BEFORE adding your liquid base to enhance the flavor of your soup.

Secret #4...

What's the secret to many of the best-tasting soups? Use your best and freshest ingredients. I love soup because it can be such a fabulous reflection of what's local and seasonal and at its best.

The other reason I love soup? It encourages us to try something new and get adventurous. Cauliflower, fennel, butternut squash, cloves, cilantro...the list can go on and on. Not sure about a few of these ingredients or feeling less-than-daring? That's just fine. Add these into a soup and all of a sudden they're a delicious addition.

I invite you to stop by your local farmer's market and pick up whatever's fresh, in season and looks delicious. Then find a recipe and make a big pot of home-made soup. Ask your neighbors to join you and let me know how it turns out!

*Hint: This is a GREAT way to sneak new vegetables unto your family's repertoire. (and that's our little secret! wink)

Choose the freshest local ingredients (or grow your own!) to guarantee the best flavor in your soup.

Secret #5...

What's difference between a deliciously satisfying homemade soup and a ho-hum soup? The next secret - Seasoning! Salt and seasoning spices enhance the flavors of the soup and each of its ingredients.

Let's take a tip from the professionals. Seasoning is a crucial part of a flavorful soup. To insure appropriate seasoning, add salt, pepper and spices, slowly and at different stages.

Salt and season the aromatic vegetables and herbs. Ginger, fennel and cayenne are just a sampling of some of our favorites.

Salt and season meat separately before adding it to your soup.

And, most importantly, make sure to taste your final product BEFORE serving to add a little salt or seasoning as needed.

Adding the proper amount of seasoning is an essential secret to every great tasting soup.

Secret #6...

Taste your soup! That's right, it's a good idea to sample during the process, especially if you hope to get the flavors JUST right!

Seasonings change as the flavors mingle in a soup. Make sure to taste your final product BEFORE serving.

Secret #7...

What's the final finishing touch secret to fabulous home-made soup? Add some contrast!

Your warm, delicious bowl of home-made goodness needs a secret finishing touch. Just add a little touch of something fresh and uncooked.

A few of our favorites include fresh herbs, ghee, yogurt, nuts or edible flowers. A sprig of raw kale. A dollop of ghee. A squeeze of citrus juice. This bit of added color, texture and flavor enhances the overall presentation (you're a pro now!) as well as offering just a hint of contrast to the soup.

Get creative and finish with flare! Adding a garnish to your soup is the secret finishing touch.

Secret #8...

You've used delicious and fresh ingredients. You've cooked and seasoned until it's just right. Soup's on! Now it's time to share your gift. A big pot of soup is just right for sharing. Soup brings us together. Reach out to someone, or loads of someone's and share your soup. A meal always tastes better when shared. Ask your neighbors to join you and let me know how it turns out!

“A soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.” Willa Cather, 'Death Comes for the Archbishop'

This quote reminds me of one of my childhood favorites - the story Stone Soup. Don't feel daunted by the task of cooking great soup. Follow these secrets for success and your soups are bound to be delicious.

What's your favorite heart-and-soul-warming soup? This is the recipe for my favorite soup!


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