Soups are nourishing, economical, and easy to make. And — whether you're using fresh produce or this week's leftovers — spices can make any soup sensational, too!
Ask someone about his or her favorite food when the temperatures drop and the flurries threaten to fly, and chances are good that a lot of them are going to say soup. When you're chilled to the bone (and if you live in a snowy climate, you know what that phrase means), there's nothing like a bowl of hot soup to warm the body and spirit. Ditto any time you're feeling under the weather. In fact, the first restaurants — located in Paris — were so called because they sold hearty soups to restaurer (restore) patrons.
A pot of soup or stew simmering on top of the stove brings a steamy warmth to the kitchen, disperses delicious aromas throughout the house, and provides a splash of color to a season that can often get a little dreary.
Many of us include soups in our weekly menus, with recipes reflecting personal tastes and preferences, nutritional values, and even family culture and heritage. We all have our favorites, but when it comes to these stovetop concoctions, there's great advice to be followed in the classic children's French folktale, "Stone Soup." In this story, a hungry traveler tells a village of peasants (who have related that there is nothing to eat) that he will make a delicious soup from nothing but stones and share it with them. Water is added to a kettle with a stone, and then, one by one, the villagers make seemingly insignificant contributions — a carrot, a little meat, and other ingredients — in response to the traveler's comments that the items will make this Stone Soup the best ever. In the end, of course, they all share a delicious pot of soup. There are two great lessons about cooking soup to take from this story: one, that when it comes to soup-making, anything goes—and two, soup always seems to taste better when enjoyed with others.
But we're not only talking a delicious potpourri of leftovers on a cold night. There's a soup for every occasion and every taste. Whether it's a light consommé served as the first course of a special meal, a refreshing fruit soup on a warm afternoon, or a hearty stew in the midst of a snowstorm, soup fits the bill. And when you make your own soup you can customize—chunky or smooth, spicy or mild, light on onions, heavy on garlic, hot or cold, and, of course, seasoned to perfection.
Soups offer a tasty meal packed with nutrition for all members of the family. For the younger set, vegetables are often more palatable in soup or stew than when served by themselves on a dinner plate. Soups are also easy to concoct for special diets, such as vegetarians or vegans, or those watching their salt intake. Decreasing—or even eliminating — salt is easy with the help of herbs and spices.
Soup's wealth of nutrition and flavor comes without a lot of expense, too. A beef roast that would typically feed the family for one or two meals can be stretched to provide several meals when used as an ingredient in soup. The grains, beans, pasta and vegetables in your soup recipes are relatively inexpensive ingredients that help you create healthy meals, even on a tight budget. And, of course, soup is the perfect solution for myriad leftovers, such as turkey, cooked rice, and any assortment of vegetables.
Be sure to make more than you'll need, while you're at it, and freeze the rest for a quick meal at a later date. First chill the soup in the refrigerator, and then place in freezer containers. (Because liquids expand when they freeze, you'll want to leave about 1/4-inch headspace at the top.) Though many will last a few months, most soups are best when served within a month of freezing. When ready to serve, thaw soup in the refrigerator and then reheat. If your cream soup has separated during freezing, simply whisk after defrosting.
More Great Soups from Nava Atlas
In addition to the soups recommended in this article and the rest of our extensive collection of soup and chili recipes, we are also featuring three delicious vegan soups from Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons by popular vegetarian cookbook author Nava Atlas. These recipes show how delicious dairy-free soups can be! Try Nava's Curried Red Lentil Soup, Moroccan-Style Vegetable Stew, or Taco Soup tonight.
With so many culinary influences from around the world, it's no wonder we have such a wide glossary of terms when it comes to soup. What are the differences between soup and stew, broth and bisque, purée and potage?
Basically, soup is a combination of foods (meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, etc.) that are cooked in water or broth. By definition, soups contain more liquid than stews contain. While a stew may feature the same basic ingredients as a soup, it differs in that it's usually cooked in a covered pot for a much longer period of time and at a lower, simmering temperature. In stew, the cooking liquid and the natural juices of the other foods are combined during the boiling-down process, and a thicker end product is the result.
Soups are generally classified as clear soups or thick soups. Clear soups include broth (also sometimes called stock or bouillon), which is made by simmering meat, fish, grains, or vegetables in water and then skimming off the fat and straining out the ingredients. Broth can be enjoyed on its own, or as the base for other soups, sauces, or gravies. Consommé is a more refined broth that is clarified through additional strainings and cooked down for a more concentrated flavor.
Stocks are defined by their color. White stock is made from poultry, veal, or fish, while brown stock comes from beef, beef bones, or a combination of beef and veal. While the terms broth and stock are often used interchangeably, some cooks claim that stock is actually made from just water and bones.
Thick soups include cream soups, purées, and bisques. Cream soups rely on a combination of milk (or cream) and flour for the base, while a purée is thickened with pulp or starch, typically from a vegetable source. A thick soup made with puréed shellfish and milk or cream is called bisque.
And potage? Apparently, it was a staple in the peasant diet in Medieval and Early Modern Europe and consisted of meat and vegetables that were boiled in water until they formed a thick soup. Hmmm. Sounds like stew to us!
Herbs and spices are essential to the art of soup making. In some soups, they're the central theme — but generally, they serve to enhance and complement the other ingredients. Frontier offers a full selection of soup seasonings, including:
- Basil: Good with tomato-base soups and many vegetables.
- Bay Leaf: Used in stews and with beans and vegetables. Remove the leaves before serving.
- Cayenne: Adds spicy hotness and may be used in place of black pepper.
- Celery Seed: A strong, distinctive flavor, to be used sparingly. Whole seeds should be cooked for at least an hour, while ground seed may be added towards the end of cooking.
- Chervil: A pungent addition to many thin soups, sometimes substituted for parsley.
- Chili Powder: Most often found in chili but also delicious in other soups.
- Chipotle powder: Adds heat and a touch of smoky flavor to Mexican style soups, bean soups or corn chowder.
- Cumin: Good in vegetable soups, chili, and other bean soups, as well as Mexican and Indian soups.
- Curry: A delicious addition to soups containing grains, vegetables, lentils, or split peas.
- Dill: Fragrant and delicious in potato or onion soups. Dill weed is best added near the end of cooking, while dill seed needs to cook for a long period and is best used ground.
- Fennel: Used sparingly, fennel's strong taste adds a delightful and distinctive touch to squash soup and beef stew.
- Garlic: Garlic adds instant flavor to almost any soup. It is available in a variety of forms—fresh, powdered, granulated, and flaked. Granulated is easy to measure and dissolves nicely if allowed to cook a few minutes before serving. Powdered garlic is less strong than granulated.
- Marjoram: Flavorful in minestrone, onion, chicken, and potato soups.
- Onion: Many soups start with the sautéing of onions, and for good reason! Onion is available in the same forms as garlic.
- Parsley: Parsley may be added to almost any soup. It adds lovely color and a refreshing taste. While fresh parsley is sometimes tough in soups, dried parsley is consistently tasty, easy to measure, colorful, and delicate.
- Rosemary: The clean, strong flavor of rosemary perks up vegetable or chicken soups. (Use it with a light touch.)
- Sea Salt: Salt soups sparingly. Use it to coax out other flavors rather than dominate your dish. Sea salt contains trace minerals and is free of additives sometimes found in table salt.
- Thyme: Release the distinctive flavor and aroma of thyme by crushing it between your fingers as you sprinkle it in vegetable and rice soups.
You can also use dulse flakes (right out of the bag or toasted) in soups—especially Asian-style ones—to enhance flavor, boost nutrition and provide salt.
Soups are a great place to experiment with spices. There are no hard and fast rules about what seasonings to use in what soups, but if you're feeling the need for some direction, here's a good place to start—the following list gives you some suggestions for using the spices described above and some others commonly used in soups:
- Bean soups: cumin, garlic, onions, parsley, sage, savory, thyme
- Beef, chicken and turkey soups: allspice, basil, bay leaf, cinnamon, curry powder, dill, garlic, ginger, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, onions, paprika, parsley, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, thyme
- Fruit soups: anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, mint, nutmeg, rosemary
- Seafood soups: basil, chives, curry powder, dill, garlic, ginger, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
- Tomato soups: basil, bay leaf, chives, garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
- Vegetable soups: basil, caraway, cayenne, chives, dill, garlic, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, savory, tarragon, thyme
And don't forget soup-enhancing seasonings at the table — vegetarian soy Bac'Uns make great additions at the table to sprinkle on a bowl of potato, bean or creamy soups. And try toasted sesame seeds on Asian or vegetable soups.
Frontier also offers several spice blends, each with its own unique flavor. Blends most suitable for soups include All-Seasons Salt, Celery Salt, Garlic Salt, Herbal Seasoning (no salt), Italian Seasoning, Mexican Seasoning and Onion Salt.
Of course, all-purpose and ethnic blends like Italian Seasoning are always good bets, too.
Dinner in Minutes
Nothing beats the ease and simplicity of Frontier dried soup mixes, broth powders, dehydrated vegetables, and prepared blended seasonings to get a pot of soup on and off the stove in just minutes. By keeping a few key Frontier ingredients on hand, you can create soups that meet a variety of mealtime needs. Below are some ingredients to consider, as well as some tips for successful soup cookery.
Frontier's product line includes a wide variety of broth powders (beef-flavored, chicken-flavored, vegetable, and low-sodium vegetable) that can serve as the foundation for any number of quick and delicious soups. Start with one teaspoon of broth per cup of water, and increase the amount for a stronger-flavored stock. When your recipe calls for a base such as water, or chicken, beef or potato broth, these will substitute perfectly.
To make a quick and easy soup base for hearty bean or Mexican-type soups, just add water or broth to Frontier Pinto Bean Flakes or Black Bean Flakes. Or use Refried Pinto Bean Mix or Fiesta Black Bean Mix to get a head start on your soup seasonings.
Dried vegetables are perfect for soup-making. Onion and garlic flakes, celery flakes, and diced carrots are perhaps the most commonly used, but others well worth trying are green beans, bell peppers, mushrooms, cabbage, corn, peas, potatoes, spinach flakes, tomato flakes, and a variety of dried chiles. Frontier also offers three special dried soup blends, including Soup Vegetables, Hearty Stew Vegetables, and Deluxe Soup Vegetables, all of which provide a nice shortcut when time is limited.
It's easy to cook with dried vegetables — just keep in mind that one-half cup of dried vegetables equates to one cup of fresh. Allow the dried vegetables to reconstitute in your stock before adding sweeteners, salt, or spices, as these additions will hinder the absorption process.
Fixing the "Oh, no!"
Even the most experienced cooks sometimes ruin a soup. (Little interruptions and distractions may mean that the soup pot isn't watched as closely as it should be!) Thick soups, particularly the creamy varieties, are more prone to stovetop disaster than broth-based varieties. If the smoke alarm is wailing, it's probably best to just go ahead and order pizza—but if you catch it in time, your meal can often be salvaged. Here's how:
If the soup has started to burn, immediately transfer it to another soup pot. Keep whatever pours out freely; do not try to rescue ingredients that don't voluntarily leave the bottom of the original pot. If the soup you've salvaged has a distinct burnt flavor, you can try disguising it by adding another smoky-flavored ingredient, like bacon or ham; adding chunks of potatoes to absorb some of the burnt taste (remove the potatoes before serving); or by using small amounts of different seasonings to mask the flavor. When it's time to clean that burned pot, scrape out what you can, then sprinkle the bottom of the pot with baking soda. Add an inch or so of water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat remove the pot from the burner and let soak. Clean-up will be much easier.
Too much salt? Try the potato rescue again. Peel a potato, cut it into large chunks, and toss it in. The potato, which should be removed before serving, will absorb much of the salt. Dairy products such as milk or yogurt will also help reduce the salty flavor. If you've added too much of something else, adding more broth or other liquid should help tame the flavor.
Soup too watery? Depending on the soup and your tastes, add bean flakes (pinto bean or black bean) seasonings (onion, parsley or celery flakes), dried vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, tomato or spinach) or vegetable powders (beet, tomato, carrot and spinach) to help thicken it.
Soup making is an accessible art, whether you're crafting the dish with leftovers and seasonings or purchasing just-the-right ingredients for a particular recipe. A few tips:
- For a sure-thing shortcut when your recipe calls for broth, use a broth powder as your base. Chicken-, beef-, or vegetable-flavored broth powders provide instant soup starters. Just dissolve in water and soup's on!
- Garnish soups with seasoned croutons, a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, nuts, tortillas, chives, parsley or dumplings.
- Consider seasoning canned soups for a heartier, almost-homemade effect. Add spices like thyme, basil, and marjoram to plain tomato soup, for example. Or add Italian Seasoning to a bland, canned minestrone.
- If you're serving soup as a main dish, prepare about 2 cups per person.
- Whenever possible, prepare soups ahead to allow the flavors to meld.
- To prevent curdling of cream soups, don't overheat. Too much salt or acid in the soup can also cause curdling.
- To reduce the fat in homemade soups, make the soup a day ahead of time, then chill in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top, and you can simply scrape it off and discard it.
- Cut vegetables uniformly for your soups; this will insure that they cook evenly.
The best summer meals provide a breezy disposition as the temperatures start to climb. Many of us enjoy grilling and dining outside — both welcome ways to beat the heat and enjoy the season.
Serve with Style!
Show your creativity not just in your summer soup flavor combinations, but also in how you serve them.
- Use bowls in hues that play off the color or flavor of your soup. An avocado soup looks beautiful in a crisp white bowl. A smooth tomato soup is fun in a bright green vessel. Be sure to chill the bowl along with the soup before serving.
- Use your barware — martini or wine glasses are festive for a first course of cold soup. Chill the glasses before adding the soup to keep them at their coldest.
- Serve fruit soups made with melon in the carved out melon itself, after chilling it.
- Garnish soups with cheese, chopped fruit, berries, dollops of yogurt or sour cream, shaved chocolate, cilantro, lime wedges, tomato wedges, fresh mint — whatever tastes great and adds a pop of color.
There’s another summer treat that may not come as quickly to mind — a summer soup. If you’ve ever enjoyed a cool, smooth, minty or fruity soup on a sweltering afternoon, then you know this can be a satisfying and easy summer meal. If not, we’d like to introduce you to some delicious summer fare. (A summer soup made with the bounty from your local farmers market or food co-op is a great way to eat healthy and support local growers, too.)
Whether you’re using fruits, vegetables, or a combination of both, you’re likely to come across some interesting flavors you haven’t experienced before. Flavoring your summer soups with an array of spices will add to the diversity of choices, too.
Even though most summer soups are served cold or chilled, most must start out being cooked on the stove. When you can, you might want to do any of the necessary cooking in the cooler morning hours, so you won't be heating up the kitchen right before mealtime. This strategy will give your soup plenty of time to chill. That way you won’t be heating up the kitchen right before mealtime and your soup will have plenty of time to chill before dinner. Make plenty — chilled soups from dinner make an easy and quick next day’s lunch, too.
Cold soups need to chill at least two hours to taste their best at serving time. If you need to chill your soup quickly, place it over ice to cut down a bit on refrigeration time.
Fruit soups are a refreshing way to start or end a summer meal. Berry soups are often a combination of sweet and tart flavors. Tartness is important, since some of the flavor may fade while the soup cools. Buttermilk or yogurt are often used to add a smooth tartness.
Fresh lemon juice is often used to bring out the flavors of the fruit, but be careful when using lemon — too much can turn your soup an unappealing brown. Color is an important aspect of these cool, lively dishes.
Fruit soups are fun to garnish in creative ways, with whole berries, sliced fruit or a bit of sour cream. Soups served this way are visual treats!
Cool summer vegetable soups are a nice variation from serving a salad. They can also be a hearty meal by themselves. Unlike the desired smoothness of a fruit soup, summer vegetable soups are often rich and full of texture. For additional texture, add beans, rice, or bread to the mix.
Again, there’s nothing like a summer farmers market to offer you an array of vegetables for creating soups: spinach, avocados, cucumber, tomatoes, beets, carrots, corn and asparagus, for example. Any of these creatively combined with herbs and spices in a summer soup will revive your weary taste buds after a long summer day.
Remember, when cooled, some of the flavors of your vegetables may fade, so you need to start with the freshest ingredients you can. Newly picked vegetables will give you the most satisfying results.
For more soup recipes, visit our soup recipe page.