Despite our warm autumn, October still marks the beginning of soup season for me. Soup is my go-to meal when evenings are filled with activities. I can let it simmer on the stove and people can help themselves as they are coming and going. I don’t have to babysit it. Soup is a complete meal in a mug. It can sit in the fridge while its flavors deepen, and then be reheated for dinner a few days later. It can be thrown in a thermos for lunch. I can make a double batch and throw half in the freezer for a soup day in the future.
Various people have told me that making soup intimidates them. I am here to calm your soup-making jitters. Once you know a few soup basics, you too will realize what a boon soup can be for our busy lives.
THE SOUP BASE: Almost every soup begins with a similar combination of onions, garlic, leeks, carrots and/or celery. I usually make a mirepoix base for my soup. Mirepoix is a simple diced mixture of onion, 2 carrots and 2 celery stalks sautéed in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for 8-10 minutes.
THE BROTH: Yes, everyone will tell you that homemade is best, and I’m sure it is, but I use store bought. I usually use a quart or two of chicken broth and dilute with water if I want more liquid. I like the organic broths by Pacific Foods and Imagine Natural Creations.
ADD-INS: Once you have a base and a broth, add veggies and meat and let simmer for at least 30 minutes. A can of tomatoes and/or an inch of Parmesan cheese rind (remove before serving) can help deepen the flavors when simmering time is limited.
Below are three soup combinations that my family loves.
Combination #1: Ham and White Bean
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, pinch of salt and pepper, 2 cans (drained and rinsed) white beans, and 2 cups of diced ham. Top servings with grated Parmesan cheese.
Combination #2: Creamy Tomato
Two 28 oz cans diced tomatoes, pinch of salt, and pinch of cayenne pepper. Before serving, “puree” soup with a hand-held immersion blender. Whisk in a quarter cup of sour cream. Top servings with grated cheddar cheese.
Combination #3: Vegetable
Any combination of diced potatoes, green beans, zucchini, peas, spinach, kale, cabbage, a can of diced tomatoes, a handful of pasta, a can of beans, salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence (or substitute for an Italian herb blend or a combination of fresh oregano and basil). Top servings with grated Parmesan cheese.