Nothing says warmth, comfort and nourishment better than a bowl of hearty soup.
The smell of it cooking, the hot bowl and the lovely full stomach make cold nights a whole lot more pleasant!
Homemade soup is so easy and is the perfect way to incorporate lots of extra veges into a meal. Follow a few simple rules and it can be nutrient dense, quick to prepare and is the meal that keeps on giving. You can make a big batch and freeze for those gahhhhhh days when there is no time to cook.
Ten top tips for making soup rock
1. Use homemade stock
Store-bought stocks are often salty and just don’t have that depth that you can create so easily at home. If homemade seems really hard then try this:
Don’t throw away the water from cooking your vege. Pour it into a container and freeze. This is a basic starter stock for whenever you need it.
Use your chicken carcass or bones from meat or fish. Just simmer with some water and a splash of vinegar. This works perfectly in the slow cooker. Freeze for when needed. Bones that have been roasted or fried first add a lovely complexity.
Keep all the inedible parts of your vege as you chop. Carrot tops, woody bits of parsnips, celery leaves etc. Once a week throw them in a pot and simmer for a while to create a lovely flavour-packed stock. Freeze to use later.
2. Make stock as you’re cooking
Start with the aromatics like onion, garlic, celery and carrots and let them gently saute and sweat to release their flavour while you chop and prepare other ingredients. Gradually add some liquid (eg, some residual cooking water) and the rest of the ingredients and you have a super quick pot with stacks of flavour.
3. Jazz up the taste
There are so many ways to do this simply and effectively. Just pick the ones that match the soup and time constraints:
Add roasted garlic for a rich additional flavour.
Add tamari or soy sauce for salt and umami.
Use spices. The curry spices like coriander and cumin pack a lot of punch, as do lemongrass or smoked paprika. Star anise will increase the ‘meatiness’ of a beef soup.
Seasoning – salt and pepper are great for bringing out the flavours.
V8 juice or tomato paste add colour and taste.
Greens – wilting some greens like kale, rocket or spinach before serving ups the nutrients and gives complexity.
Acid – a splash of vinegar or lemon juice at the end of the cook freshens a soup.
Sauces and pastes – using a dollop of pesto or harissa as you serve adds a lot of zing.
Add sprigs of fresh herbs. Rosemary you can fish out later, thyme will obligingly shed its leaves for you. Fresh herbs always up the ante.
Dried herbs – everything from bay leaves to basil add flavour and are readily available all year round.
5. Use odd ‘throw-away' bits to great effect
There are foods you can use for flavour and then fish out prior to serving:
Cheese rinds (or bits of dry cheese) add a lovely background flavour
Mushroom stems – chuck into the soup and either remove or leave
Tomato stalks – the stalks from vine-ripened tomatoes give the most ‘tomatoey’ boost
Carrot or celery leaves
6. Beef up the soup
Upgrade texture and weight with noodles, beans, lentils, potatoes or kumara. It also transforms a humble base into a complete meal.
7. Add creaminess
Use reduced-fat yoghurt, sour cream or coconut cream at the end but make sure you warm them prior to adding so they don’t curdle. Add cheese for ‘cheesiness’.
8. Change it up texturally
Use a stick blender to puree the soup once cooked.
Add a slurry (eg. a cornflour with water paste) to thicken, or extra protein at the end.
A little reserved chicken, some egg or some crumbled cheese give the soup texture and a boost.
Add crispy garlic shards, croutons or bacon bits for extra crunch.
9. Bake some bread
Hot soup, the smell of homemade bread… yum!! Or find some great quality sourdough or grainy bread to heat in the oven before serving.
10. Make a base when you have time
Create a generic soup base with your aromatics and stock and have it ready so any time you want to whip up a delicious soup in a hurry all you need to do is add some extra vege, and a protein if you’d like, and dinner is served.
Judith Yeabsley is a mum of two boys who is passionate about healthy food for kids. She runs a food art website, theartofnutrition.com, focusing on presenting fruit and veges creatively. She also works to change the food environment in schools, community groups and lunchboxes. For information on this and great recipes, see theartofnutrition.co.nz.