Soup can be anything you want it to be - quick, hearty, light - and once you master the basics, you can experiment endlessly with your favorite vegetables, beans, and meats to make tasty meals in no time. Cooking homemade soup can be easy and makes wonderfully satisfying meals.
1. Start With Delicious Liquid
Soups are mostly water, but it's often disguised as broth or stock, wine, or milk. Whatever the liquid in your soup is, use one that you would want to drink.
The vast majority of the time, the liquid in soup is stock or broth. Best to use homemade, but many delis and butchers sell freshly made frozen stock that works great too. If you buy mass-produced broth, dilute it with water (about 4 parts broth to 1 part water) and find a brand sold in boxes instead of cans to avoid a slight tinny taste.
When adding wine to soups, be sure to bring it to a boil and let it cook for at least 10 minutes to cook off the harshest of the alcohol.
For cream- or milk-based soups, use fresh dairy products (this is no time to "make us of" expired cartons!)
2. Sweat the Aromatics
Aromatics include onions, leeks, garlic, and often celery and carrots. Cooking them over low to medium heat in the pan before adding any liquid will help soften their texture and blend their flavors. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft but not browning, about 5 minutes. The goal is to break down their cellulose (making them easier to eat or purée later) and get them to give off some of their liquid, which will deepen the flavor of the soup.
Clean and chop leeks to remove grit.
4. Salt in Layers
Canned and prepared soups are known to be high in sodium. There's a reason: all that water takes a lot of salt to flavor! The difference between soul-satisfying homemade soup and "why did I bother?" homemade soup is often in the salt. Cooks, afraid of over-salting, create pots of soup just a teaspoon or two shy of proper seasoning.
Salt soup as chefs do: in layers. Add some salt to the aromatics and other vegetables as you cook them. If you're cooking the meat separately, make sure it is well seasoned before it goes into the pot. And, most importantly, taste it before serving and add salt until you taste a hike-up in flavor, then stop.
5. Hit It With Freshness
You've used great ingredients. You've cooked and salted them properly. How to make the most of it all before it hits the table? Add a bit of something fresh right at the end. Fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice, a dollop or two of cream or yogurt. A hit of something un-cooked and un-simmered will highlight the deep, delicious, melded flavors in the rest of the soup.
6. Garnish Like a Pro
Go beyond chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper (although they both make great garnishes for many soups!). Chefs know that the best soup garnishes offer a contrasting flavor or texture to both compliment and highlight the soup.