Do you really need a recipe to make amazing soup?

Follow these simple techniques for perfect appearance, aroma, and flavor—every time

Soup is about comfort. Warm and creamy, it is the perfect answer to a cold, busy day. Soup is about simplicity. One pot filled with whatever you happen to have in the fridge. Soup is about nutrition. Packed with vegetables, soup shines as a nutritional superstar. However, making a great soup without a recipe takes a few techniques. Below you’ll learn all you need to make a fantastic soup with whatever you already have on hand. Following these steps will ensure you please even the most discerning palate.

Soup without great stock is no soup at all

The heart and soul of all great soup is the stock. Taking shortcuts here will compromise anything you might do later, but if you give your soup the tender loving beginning it deserves, even the simplest of ingredients will become something special. Creating your own stock from scratch is incredibly simply, inexpensive, and oh what a difference it makes! Here is how.

Fill a large stock pot half full with roughly chopped onion, leek, and carrot. Add a few: stalks of chopped celery, sun dried tomatoes, cloves of garlic and peppercorns as well as a bay leaf and other fresh herbs to taste such as parsley and/ or thyme. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer stock for at least 1 1/2 hours. You can also make a stock in your crock pot or instapot. Do not add salt and avoid store bought stocks with added salt.

Balance the colors and size of ingredients

Next, choose your soup ingredients. We eat with our eyes first! How do your ingredients look together? How are the colors balanced? Cut each ingredient uniformly and consistently for best results. Consider the size of the ingredients compared to the size of the spoon. Keep ingredients to 1/2 inch or smaller if you want to be able to bite into multiple ingredients at once.

 Tip: Chop featured ingredients small and even to give your soup a medley of flavor in every spoonful. 

Flavor and Texture: How will your flavors taste together? Taste a bite of one ingredient then immediately smell a different ingredient. Do your senses say they go together? If your brain doesn’t say, “Ooh, that’s good,” then try something else. Need more help putting flavors together? I often use my Vegetarian Flavor Bible to help me find interesting combinations. For example, if I have asparagus I want to use then I look up “asparagus” in the book to find ideas on what else to add. This book is a fantastic resource.

Also consider texture. How will your soup feel in your mouth? Do you want a creamy element, a crunchy? Potatoes or squash will add creaminess as well as using a roux or nutmilks. To add crunch use ingredients such as celery, corn or water chestnuts.

Freshness and nutrition are flavor’s best friends

Quality and Nutrition: Use fresh, ripe, in-season, and local produce for best results. Choosing a variety of colors will provide nutritional balance as well as visual. One way to understand this is that the color is the nutrition. Lycopene in tomatoes gives them the red color. Beta-carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes makes them orange. Purple and blue are the antioxidants. Knowing this can also help you choose the healthiest varieties of plant food. Choose red cabbage over green. Red onions over white. Sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes. And yellow corn is healthier than white corn. More vibrant color often equals higher nutrition with a few exceptions such a cauliflower which is incredibly healthy. However, orange and purple cauliflower are healthier still!

Choose odd numbers and even proportions

Amount: A good general rule of thumb is to choose an odd number of ingredients, 3, 5 or 7. Use equal portions of each ingredient unless you want the soup to have a primary element. For example, are you making a vegetable soup with potatoes, carrots, onions, celery and corn or are you making a potato soup with carrots, onions, celery and corn to add depth. In the first example you would have equal amounts of all five ingredients and in the second you would have more potato.

Time and Convenience: In a hurry, what canned or frozen ingredients can you use? Canned tomatoes almost always work well and are nutritionally superior to their fresh counterparts. Frozen corn, peas or edamame work well in many instances. Stock can be made ahead of time and frozen in portions.

Follow tradition, explore sensations

Now to add seasonings. This can be approached a few ways.

Option one: use the taste/smell test again. Add a seasoning to your soup. Taste the soup then smell the next seasoning you are considering. Your brain will tell you if they go together. For example, you add rosemary to your potato soup then smell fennel, marjoram or thyme to decide if any of the flavors go well together. After a bit of practice this will become second nature. This is another time the Vegetarian Flavor Bible can come in handy. Look up an ingredient in your soup to look for compatible spices or look up a spice to see other recommended spices. Use the taste/smell test to confirm what the book suggests.

Option two: Unsure of where to start? Sometimes starting with a flavor profile can help. You can choose a flavor profile such as Thai or Mexican and use seasonings within that flavor profile. Here is a helpful spice chart to help you.

Make it clear, smooth, or rich and hearty

Decide on a method: Do you want a soup with a clear broth such as Minestone? Or are you more in the mood for something smooth and creamy such as a Pureed Zucchini Soup which tastes best when all blended together? Check out this Zucchini Soup Recipe for an example of a pureed soup. Don’t hesitate to make the recipe all your own by tweeking and changing the ingredients! After all that’s where making a great soup without a recipe begins!

Another option is a thick and creamy soup such as Cream of Broccoli which often uses a roux or starchy vegetables to thicken. After the vegetables in their broth are cooked until tender either: Add a roux of equal parts melted buttery spread (such as Earth Balance) and flour (rice flour works best) to the pot then cook for a few more minutes. Or remove 1/3 to 2/3’s of the soup and blend then add back in to the soup.

Get your vegetable sharp vegetable knife and a large pot along with these tips and tools and you are ready to begin making dinner! Be sure to post your creations in the comments so we can all see what tasty meals you are making!