Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Super Soups

I love making soups, because they are easy, fun, and healthy. Soups also take very little time or thought to prepare, both of which are in short supply on busy days. Plus, it’s almost impossible to make a bad batch of soup. You can always add more seasonings, or more water if it’s too strong, and if you overcook the vegetables you can puree and turn into a chowder.  Soups are also a great way to make meat go farther, and a creative way to use leftovers.

If you learn the basics of making soup, you can whip up a pot in no time without a recipe. I enjoy the spontaneity, making it up as I go. You can make a big pot and freeze or can for later enjoyment. I can my soups in the summer and we enjoy wonderful healthy homemade soups all winter long.

There are options for every schedule. You can throw ingredients in a crockpot and have magically ready for dinner, or you can throw ingredients in a pot on the stove and have ready in a couple hours, mostly unattended.

Basic Soup Recipe
  1. Stock
  2. Bulk
  3. Flavor
  4. Seasonings
  5. Extras 
Stock or Broth
Every soup starts with a stock or broth. This is the liquid part of the soup. It can be meat or poultry stock, or vegetable stock. You can use homemade stock or store-bought. If you do buy it at the store, look for low salt, no MSG, and say no to the bouillon cubes. I like to use a high quality concentrated liquid stock. It’s expensive but well worth it.

Ambitious folks make their own stocks, but I don’t have the time or storage space.  For vegetable soups, you can make a simple stock of onion, carrots, celery, bay leaf and seasonings, simmered for 20 minutes.

The bulk of the soup is the vegetables. The combinations are up to you. See the list below for ideas. Keep in mind strong flavored vegetables can overpower others. Chop the veggies into uniform pieces so they cook evenly.

Flavor or Base
The flavoring of your soup can be a meat or poultry, or a strong flavored vegetable. Examples of strong flavored vegetables are broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, tomato, and cabbage. Chop into uniform pieces and add to the stock.

If you are using raw meat or a soup bone, you will probably need to separate the fat when the soup is done.  I prefer to precook the meat or use leftover meat. If you do have to separate the fat you can do it by skimming off the top with a spoon, using a special fat separator, or refrigerating and removing the solid fat off the top.

When you have all of your ingredients in the pot, bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for a half hour to an hour (depending on the size and rawness of your ingredients). Now comes the fun part, the tasting! Taste the liquid part of the soup and season to your tastes. Add salt, pepper, herbs, and red pepper as needed. Let it simmer a bit longer and taste again.

If the flavor seems to be missing something, try a splash of something acidic. I’ve found that this is the secret ingredient that seems to round out the flavor of the soup. Depending on the flavor of your soup, you can add red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or even regular white vinegar. Lemon or lime juice is good in tomato based soups. You can experiment, but try a little at a time and see what happens. Have fun! The soup is done when the vegetables are cooked through and the taste is how you like it.

You can make your soups more fun and more filling with some extras such as pasta, grains, and dairy products. Pastas and grains can be cooked in the soup, but will absorb much of the liquid and make the soup thicker. The texture can be a little different, so some people will cook separately and add at the end. Egg noodles and smaller pastas work well in soups. Grains such as barley and rice are also a nice addition to make soup more substantial.

To make a creamy soup, simply puree the vegetables after they are cooked, and add cream, milk or sour cream before serving. Mashed potatoes can also be used to thicken a soup without adding fat.  You can also use flour or cornstarch to thicken a soup, see the Condensed Cream of Anything Soup recipe for more.

If using a slow cooker, cook on low for about 10 hours or high for about 6 hours. If cooking by stovetop, simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until vegetables are the texture you like.

Storing Your Soup
Soups make fabulous leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer. The only issues you may have are with the extras. Pasta, grains, and cream don’t always reheat well. The soup will still be edible and taste the same, but the texture can change. This has never stopped me, but if it bothers you, you can keep those ingredients separate and add before reheating. 

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