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Help learning to make soup

I love soup, but am intimidating to make it. I never know what spices to combines, whether to use stock or broth, when to add crushed tomatoes. I would appreciate any help as to how to learn to make soup- any guidelines. Thanks!

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  1. My first attempt as soup was lentil and I was scared to death and followed a recipe exactly. It came out fine, but not great. Same with others when I followed exact recipes. Now I just throw whatever I can think of into a pot, make sure there's enough broth in there for it to actually be soup, and let it hang out for a few hours. Always tastes good.

    Start by using flavors you know you like together in other meals. If you like chicken and thyme, there you go. If you like beans with ham, start from there. I would strongly recommend using low sodium broth if you aren't making your own. Otherwise it will get too salty fast.

    1. Not so much advice (I'll leave that to the true experts on the boards) as much as my own experience...This winter I've been trying to learn more about fresh herbs. I'll pick a few, add some veggies and as mojo said above, "...let it hang out for a few hours." My ideas about what to throw together have come from some very casual sleuthing on various recipie sites, the produce guys at the market, and even the package of the herb I have selected. I've had some hits and yes some misses, but the process has been fun. I'm learning what goes together, what clearly does NOT, and what combinations I enjoy most. Following recipies are a great way to start, but don't hesitate to try your twist on things. I agree though, go easy on the prepared broth, the salt seems to be the most prominent flavor.

      1. Hello Learning2cook: Nothing is easier to make than soup. Make sure you have a big-enough pot---8 quarts at least. Let's start with three easy basic soups. 1) Vegetable Soup: Beef bones, onions, celery, potatoes, carrots (just one or two as they are very sweet), canned crushed or chopped-up tomatoes, salt, water. 2) Pea Soup: Ham bone, dried split peas, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, salt, water. 3) Chicken Soup: raw chicken ( I use legs & thighs), celery, onions, salt, water; add noodles for last half-hour of cooking. Quantities: let your 8-quart soup pot be 1/3-1/2 full of solids then fill it to within about 1 inches of the top with water. Bring to boil then turn heat down so the soup simmers slowly. Keep the pan covered with the cover a bit ajar so everything won't boil over. You may have to add a little more water as time passes. After you have done this once you'll know how much water you need to get the consistency you want. Simmer the soup for 2-3 hours. Remove any bones. Correct seasoning. If you want it thicker you can either boil it down some or add a few noodles which will thicken the soup as they cook in it. If you like your soup thickish cook a couple of handfuls of dried beans in it as it cooks (limas are good in beef-vegetable). After you've cooked your soup, it will improve as it sits in the refrigerator. I store soup in big glass canning jars that I got at a thrift shop as they take up minimal shelf room in the refrigerator. If you have freezer space, soup freezes perfectly in plastic containers with tight lids.

        1. One of the first dishes I experimented with when I was learning how to cook (still learning new things to this day frankly) was Tortellini Soup. The colours are brilliant red green and white (er, off-white from the pasta) and it's really satisfying on it's own. You can sub any pasta you have on hand if you don't have tortellini, just try to keep the noodles about the same size and the quantity the same. This one from food network is pretty much it (although I don't remember onion in the old recipe): http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

          As for stock, I often use the low-sodium kind ...the regular ones are over-salted imho. I'll leave the advice about how to make your own stock to the experts...As for when to add crushed tomatoes... that depends I think on the type of soup you're making. The less time the tomatoes have in the broth the more pronounced their flavour will be...but they also won't have melded together with the other flavours as well. Depends on what you're looking for... Is there a specific recipe you're working on?

          1. A good place to start is with chicken soup. Use a cleaned fresh whole chicken, place in a soup pot cover it with water. The way I do it, I fill the pot, covering the chicken with water, add the aromatics, bring it to a boil, shut the heat off, cover it, and let the soup sit for one hour with the lid on.Perfectly cooked chicken that hasn't been boiled to bits.
            Once its cool remove the chicken and the aromatics (dispose them). I let the broth cool and skim the fat. Strain the broth though cheese cloth twice. Remove the skin from the chicken and gently remove as much meat from the bones. I keep dark and white meat separate in case I want to make chicken salad.
            If tell you, "use 6 qts of water, etc" since all things taste different, the soup you make might not taste right to you and because along the way when I cook, I taste, sometimes adding salt, or pepper and that's hard to quantify. Besides not all chicken is created equal. You may or may not get a a very tasty chicken.

            Aromatics for basic chicken stock & chop large because they are going to be tossed.
            1 onion
            2 carrots
            2 stalks of celery
            garlic cloves sliced in half

            For the actual soup
            1 large onion
            4 stalks of celery
            4-5 carrots
            reserve parsley
            2-3 cloves of garlic sliced
            Kosher or Sea Salt and fresh pepper (You will need more salt then I can tell you, but its usually a lot, so taste the soup.
            Chicken cut up into bite size pieces either all white or dark, or a mix.
            Wide egg noodles or small pastina, you pick.
            Put only the veggies with the broth back into the pot with the soup pot bring it to a simmer and cook until vegetables are al dente, add the chicken, and then the last few minutes add the noodles. Season and taste the soup! Toss the parsley in a few minutes before serving.
            This is such a comforting and healthy meal.

            To make a broth for Asian soups, when making the broth in the first part, instead of carrots, add ginger root a couple pieces and a little more garlic. And where you will add parsley instead add cilantro and scallions.

            1. Here's some rough and ready ideas I posted previously.

              Soup has: 1=a liquid 2=a protein 3=a starch 4=a green 5=seasoning. Not every soup has all five of these and some soups have more than one ingredient from some of the categories, but if you just use stuff you like, you'll get soup. And you can go from there.

              I'd add that you want to plan your recipe so that everything is heated or finished cooking at the same time. For example, if you're using dried beans, they would have to cook for an hour and a half or two hours, but if you use canned beans, you can just add them to your liquid long enough for them to heat up.

              1. Learning,
                I agree with most of these posters that soup opens itself to interpretation, but it sounds like you also want guidance. I'd recommend looking into the New England Soup Factory cookbook. It includes sections on homemade stocks, good ol' favorites, and creative takes, so you can really progress.
                Also, the Washington Post food blogger, Kim O'Donnel, (her blog is called A Mighty Appetite), wrote up a piece on soups recently that is helpful for improvising (this is long, so bear with me). And as a hint, if you're serious about making soups, I recommend picking up an immersion blender, which lets you make a blended soup in literally half an hour and one pot.

                20 Ways to Soup It Up -- Without Leaving the House
                With the exception of a few places in southern Texas and Florida, the nation is under a severe shiver watch. Soup, anyone?

                If you're worried about having the time (or the ingredients) to whip up a pot of soup after a long day traipsing through the tundra, don't be. Chances are good that you have soup fixins waiting to be noticed in the fridge and the pantry. Soup is not meant to be complicated or over analyzed; make do with what you have on hand and you'll be delighted by the results, I promise you.

                Okay, you argue; I've got a pantry full of soup stuff. But how do I get started, and more importantly, how do I get -- and stay-- inspired? It looks like this arctic blast isn't going away anytime soon, and the same soup day after day could get old real fast.

                I am nodding my head in agreement, and I am feeling your pain. This is why I've compiled the following handy-dandy list of 20 ways to get your soup groove on, using ingredients already tucked away in your larder. Twenty different soups should take us into late February, give or take a few days, and if our teeth are still chattering, I'll book us all a flight to Cancun. Deal?

                Here's how the list works: These are not recipes, but guidelines. That means amounts are not exact and cooking times are estimated. All suggestions assume seasoning with salt and pepper before serving, unless otherwise noted. And another thing: Everybody's pantry looks different. Don't bust my chops because I've suggested a can of Thai curry paste; some of you have it, some of you don't, and if you're curious, you can pick some up at your supermarket or nearest Asian grocery for less than a buck. And that comes to my main point: This is an opportunity to play, improvise and have fun. Imagine you're a contestant on "Iron Chef" and you've got to get dinner on the table in under an hour without a trip to the market. Come on, go for it! If nothing else, this exercise will make you forget about the cold for an hour.

                And yes please, add your thoughts and ideas to the list in the comments area below. We all need more than 20 ideas, particularly for the poor souls in snow-covered Buffalo and the Siberian state of Minnesota.

                Today is chat day; join me at Noon ET for What's Cooking.

                Soup's on below the jump.

                1. Sweet potato: Boil three peeled sweet potatoes, quartered, until fork tender. Puree, using cooking liquid, until smooth, Add a chipotle chile in adobo sauce, smidge of honey, a squeeze of ½ lime, puree.

                2. Southeast Asian-style variation: Sweet potato, use half a can of coconut milk, plus water for cooking, plus some very finely chopped lemongrass and a few tablespoons of Thai red curry paste. Simmer until sweet potatoes are tender. Puree or leave as is. Tofu is a nice addition to broth-y version. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

                3. Potato: Boil three-five medium peeled waxy potatoes, with one cleaned, chopped leek, 2 whole peeled garlic cloves, until potatoes are fork tender. Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme if available. Remove herb sprigs, if using, , and puree until smooth. Add ½ bunch fresh parsley , the juice of ½ lemon. Cayenne and/or paprika is nice here. Substitute a quartered onion for a leek.

                4. Parsnip-y variation: Add 2 chopped parsnips, replace leek with a quartered shallot, replace black pepper with white pepper. Spritz lemon just before serving, with chopped minced rosemary.

                5. Portuguese-style variation: Simmer potatoes in chicken stock. In a separate skillet, cook sausage until brown. Remove, and reserve. Add a splash of white wine or a spoonful of stock to deglaze, add onions, garlic, chiles if desired and chopped, stemmed kale. Toss to coat with seasoning, then add contents of skillet to saucepan with potatoes and bring up to a boil. Cook until potatoes are fork tender. Add sausage.

                6. Broccoli: Separate florets from stems and coarsely chop stems. Place in saucepan. Add a quartered medium onion, 3-5 garlic cloves, 1-inch hunk of peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped. Add just enough water to barley cover. Bring up to a boil, simmer until stems are fork tender. Puree until smooth, add cayenne to taste, as well as small amounts of cumin and coriander.

                7. Cauliflower: Boil florets in water or stock, with one medium or 2 small peeled waxy potatoes, quartered. Add a quartered onion, a few cloves of garlic, a parmigiano rind if you have. Cook til fork tender, remove herb sprigs, rinds. Puree until smooth. Add dairy or plain soy milk - this is one of the few purees that benefit from dairy or a soy equivalent. Season with grated nutmeg and small amounts of cayenne; garnish with bread crumbs and/or grated parmigiano.

                8. Chicken Rice: Can of your favorite commercial low sodium or sodium-free chicken stock, in a saucepan with a thumb-sized hunk of peeled ginger, a whole peeled garlic clove. Bring up to a simmer, and allow broth to infuse with aromatics for about 15 minutes, over low heat. Meanwhile cook your favorite grain - rice, quinoa, pearl barley, and keep on standby. Steam your favorite quick-cooking green in the chicken stock - spinach, tatsoi, bok choy leaves, baby kale - for 1-2 minutes. Spoon grain in soup, pour stock and greens on top. Season with soy sauce or fish sauce, spritz with sesame oil, garnish with sesame seeds. A squirt of chile sauce is nice, too.

                9. Chicken rice variation : Fry an egg, cut into strips and top over rice. Maybe you've got some leftover chicken from last night's dinner. Add it to the mix.

                10. Chicken rice -- vegetarian variation: Make a quick veggie stock with a quartered onion, 2 whole peeled garlic cloves, that hunk of peeled ginger. Bring up to a boil, simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain and use as soup base.

                In addition to greens, add diced tofu. In addition to sesame oil and seeds, chopped scallions are a tasty garnish here.

                11. White bean puree: In a saucepan, cook ½ chopped onion and 1-2 cloves chopped garlic in olive oil. Add ½ chopped seeded chile, if you like it hot. Cook until onions are soft, about 3-4 minutes, then add 1-2 cans of drained white beans and enough of your favorite canned stock to cover. Add a sprig of rosemary and cook until at a lively simmer. Remove rosemary, and puree until desired consistency. Add a few strips of roasted red pepper for beautiful color and richness. Add more liquid as necessary. Return to pot, and warm until ready to serve. Garnish with olive oil and coarse salt. Croutons are nice here as well.

                12. White bean variation: Chopped ham and/or bacon cooked with onions and garlic. Remove meat, reserve as garnish. Cook beans and broth together, add chopped bok choy, garnish with ½ lemon and chopped fresh cilantro and/or parsley.

                13. Canned chickpea concoction with an Indian twist:
                Cook onion, garlic, ginger and chile in oil. Add ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne, and stir with a wooden spoon. Add drained chickpeas, stir to coat, and add a 28-ounce can of tomato puree or chopped tomatoes. Bring up to a boil, then cook at a simmer, until desired texture. Garnish with toasted caraway or cumin seeds.

                14. Chick pea variation, with lots of lemon and garlic: Cook 6-8 cloves of chopped garlic and an onion in oil. Add chopped fresh chile or red pepper flakes. Add 2 cans of drained chickpeas, stir to coat, then add choice of stock (enough to cover - at least six cups). Bring to a boil, then on a simmer, add one bunch of chard and cook til tender, about 10 minutes. Squeeze the juice of 2 lemons at end. For bulk, add pearl barley or orzo when adding chickpeas.

                15. Variation, on a variation: Use spinach instead of chard; garnish with pine nuts and a smidge of feta cheese.

                16. A carrot-y thing: In a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over medium heat, cook onions and/or leeks until soft, then add a handful of peeled chopped carrots. Cover with stock of choice. Add a bay leaf. Bring up to a boil, then cook at a simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Puree; season with cayenne or smoked paprika, ground ginger. In a separate skillet, toast caraway seeds or cumin seeds in a smidge of oil. Add seeds to warmed puree. Good garnishes include chopped fresh parsley or finely minced sage. I also like a little roasted garlic here.

                17. Mushroom-barley combo: In oil, cook diced shallots (or onions), garlic and thyme, and cook until soft and a bit golden.

                Add about one pound mushrooms (preferably mixed) and allow to brown. (Avoid pouring into one heap, as they'll be crowded and steam rather than sauté). When mushrooms are good and brown, feel free to add a little red wine, sherry or stock to loosen anything stuck to bottom of pan. Add stock (water is acceptable, but your favorite veggie broth is good too), ½ cup of pearl barley, bring up to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook until barley is tender, at least 45 minutes.

                18. Winter squash puree: Peel, seed and dice your favorite variety. Throw in a quartered onion, lots of thyme and/or rosemary sprigs. Add water, stock of choice. Cook until squash is tender, about 30 minutes. Puree; season with a smidge of cayenne or smoked paprika .

                19. Squash variation: With liquid, add a can of diced tomatoes. When squash is tender, add a bunch of cleaned spinach, kale or chard leaves, torn, and allow to cook 5 minutes. For more bulk, add a can of white beans and cook for an additional ten minutes. Garnish: grated cheese of choice.

                20. Canned tomato goodie: In a saucepan with a few tablespoons of oil, cook chopped onion, garlic and bell pepper. Add celery if this is of interest. When onions are soft, add a 28-ounce of your favorite canned whole tomatoes. For extra flavor, a splash of wine is nice here. For brothier results, either add water, stock or an additional can of tomatoes. For bulk, add ½ cup orzo or barley to the broth and allow to cook. Orzo will take about 15 minutes; barley takes at least 45 minutes. Possible add-ons: grated cheese, chopped anchovies, capers, chopped fresh parsley.

                1 Reply
                1. re: katecm

                  Wow, what a wealth of info! I was right that the experts would have much more to say :) Thank you

                2. I grew up in the South, where the ingredients are pretty basic, but the cook times are longer. My mom never seasons with anything other than salt and pepper, and her soups are fantastic! The trick is she lets them cook for a really long time to allow the flavors to marry. Maybe if you start out with few herbs and longer cook times, then as you get more comfortable ease into adding extra herbs and shorten the cook times.

                  1. Only one tip here, gleaned from sad experience: as a couple of people have already said, if you add noodles or rice, add them no more than a half-hour before serving. And add a lot less than you think you'll need. Otherwise if you leave the soup to sit you'll end up with a huge pot of soggy rice or noodles with soup ingredients mixed in. Rice especially; it just keeps soaking up liquid and expanding until there's no liquid left.

                    1. Both The Zuni Cafe book and Peterson's Sauces book have lots of good info on stock/broths/etc...My keys to sucess?

                      MAKE YOU OWN STOCK!
                      Use fresh ingr- if it's ready for the compost, it's not good enough for your soup. Freeze and use leek, onion and mushroom trimmings in your stock- thier flavors are potent enough that freezing akter thier flavors.
                      Emersion blender-Pureed soups are too easy with one of these- no scary blender, bleching hot liquid everywhere...Also you have more control over the finished products texture...

                      Earthy and spicy or sweet is always good-like black bean soup, mushroom soup or roasted cailiflower come to mind...I like to pick one prominent flavor, say jerselum artichokes and accent with another flavor, say cippolini onion, thyme or basil...

                      1. Thank you all so much for all your help. I really appreciate it!