The following information, recipes and photography were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com.
A wall of gray, misty fall rain kept me from going to the grocery store last week. So, I decided instead to forage for ingredients “in house” for our supper. A short rummage in the potato bin unearthed a few sweet and white potatoes along with an onion. I had some broth in the freezer and the sage in my herb garden still looked pretty good. And that, my friends, is how we came to dine on a delicious sweet potato chowder.
Chances are, you have most of the ingredients in your pantry to make soup as well. Homemade soup is not just another meal; it’s comfort in a bowl, love on a spoon, satisfaction simmering on the stove. Nothing makes a house feel more like home than a pot of freshly made soup, and all this goodness comes together so easily. Whether you make it all from scratch, starting from the stock up, or you purchase stock and a few other ingredients for a quick and easy meal, soup will never fail you.
While writing the cookbook 300 Sensational Soups with my dear friend Meredith Deeds, we developed and cooked more than 300 different soups. Along the way, we figured out a thing or two about how to make the best soup and with fall coming on strong, some soup-making basics might be in order.
Simple Tips for Making Soup
- Start with good stock or broth. There are many to choose from, but one of my favorites is Heinen’s culinary stock. The flavor is good, not too salty, and if I don’t make my own stock, it’s the next best thing.
- Don’t forget the staples. Always have onions, carrots, celery, garlic, lemon, lime, stock or broth, canned beans, canned tomatoes, dried pasta and a fresh herb like parsley on hand and you can always make soup.
- Think about ingredients that you can sub out and into soups. There are very few rules and as long as you think about how long it will take to make a vegetable tender, go for it and try something you have on hand or that looks really good at the store. It’s easy to turn potato soup into broccoli soup or to add different types of canned beans or meats. If you can boil it, chances are it will be good in soup.
- Soup can go from good to sublime with the addition of salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, acid and fat.
- Taste frequently. Soup changes as it cooks, so add a little salt at the beginning to get things going and then taste every now and then to adjust. When the soup is done, taste it critically and adjust with more salt, pepper, acid, spice or fat (see below.)
Essential Soup Additions
- Salt should be kosher or sea salt and pepper freshly ground.
- Keep a whole nutmeg and a grater close to the stove so you can grate it fresh. It adds spice and a warm nutty note, which makes a huge difference in soups that contain dairy or greens.
- A touch of cayenne or chili flake, not so much that you make the dish hot, but just a dash, will add interest.
- The acid can be in the form of lemon juice, sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, wine, etc. It doesn’t take a lot, just a teaspoon or so, but acid really helps to elevate or bring up the flavors at the end of cooking.
- Fat helps to carry flavors, so a touch of heavy cream, butter or olive oil at the end makes the flavor of the basic ingredients loom large whether it’s butternut squash, potato, carrot, broccoli, or even asparagus. Remember: taste, taste, taste. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.
Worldly Soup Recipes
Soup is embraced by every culture and some of the most interesting soups are international, iconic soups loved and simmered for centuries. African Peanut Soup is a case in point. Peanut butter sounds like a strange ingredient to base a soup on, but believe me, it works. This mouthwatering soup tastes nothing like a PB& J, rather its blend of curry spices, ground turkey, sweet potato and fresh ginger gives it a uniquely complex flavor that will have you making it again and again.
Brazilian Black Bean Soup is a party in a bowl. Full of delicious black beans, ham, sausage and chicken, this soup is like a street parade of robust flavor with vegetables, spices, orange and cilantro. Make this soup on a cold rainy day and see the smiles around your table.
Spicy Thai Chicken Noodle Soup is one of those soups that I call “crave-worthy”. When you crave this coconutty, limey, gingery soup, you’ll learn that it cooks up faster than you could get takeout and need I say that it’s SO much better than any soup from a restaurant. One of the best things about homemade soup is that you can make it to suit your own tastes. I like my Thai soup on the limy side and if you want more coconut, you can always add another can. I think it’s perfect just the way it is. Mushrooms, chicken, noodles and lots of broth is the way to enjoy this perfect bowl of comfort.
Finally, to the Sweet Potato Chowder with Fried Sage Butter that I was talking about a while ago. The sweet potatoes were so velvety smooth and sweet it wasn’t hard to make the soup taste fabulous. I just adore sage when it is fried in a little butter and it makes for a lovely garnish as well. As for the remaining sage-flavored browned butter, it’s so simple yet delicious. It would be a crime not to drizzle it over this plush chowder.
What will a rummage reveal in your pantry and fridge? These soups could easily morph into something different by subbing in broccoli, carrot, butternut squash or just plain old potato to make the soup of the day. Stay in. Be creative. Cook. Eat. You’ll be glad you did.