Soup-Making Tips

Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay share soup-making tips to make your soup recipes shine, includes herbs to add to soups, soup starters and recipes for soup stock.
By Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay
November/December 2006
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The seeds of the parsley family (such as caraway, coriander, cumin and fennel) play an important role in soups and stews.
PHOTO: MCCORMICK & COMPANY


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These soup-making tips will heighten the flavor in your favorite soup recipes. 

Try these favorite recipes and get ready for a good dose of 21st-century comfort food that’s guaranteed to chase away the cold-weather blues.

A few soup-making tips make all the difference in soup recipes. The more delicate spearmint, dill and lemon thyme give a lift to spinach or carrot soups that taste good all year long, but at least one or two pungently flavored herbs can balance strong root vegetables or greens such as kale and hold up to meats, especially smoked ham or sausage.

In addition to our favorite Mediterranean leafy herbs, the seeds of the parsley family (such as caraway, coriander, cumin and fennel) play an important role in soups and stews. Used either whole or ground, herbal seeds provide an intense and complex flavor that you don’t get from the foliage alone. Try toasting the seeds in a dry skillet before grinding them for a rich, nutty flavor. Sweet spices such as cinnamon, clove and allspice add another layer of flavor, particularly to meat dishes or curried vegetables.

In addition, many other ingredients act as seasonings: citrus peels and juice brighten and lift flavors; aromatic vegetables such as onions, celery and mushrooms add rich flavor, especially when browned first; fats such as butter or olive oil and strong cheeses provide richness and texture; nuts of all types act as thickeners; sweeteners such as honey and brown sugar are used to mellow tart ingredients; and don’t forget chiles — in their endless variety of colors, shapes and flavors — to give a little kick to any dish. All play a part in creating what our mouths and noses perceive as the final taste.

Soup Starter Recipes

To prepare super flavorful soups, and many other dishes for that matter, most recipes begin by making stock or broth (terms used interchangeably by cooks). We have a vegetable stock recipe on page 79 of this issue, but we also like to use a chicken or turkey base, and our method is so simple, you don’t need a recipe. We use no vegetables or seasonings, only meaty bones covered with about 2 inches of cold water; chicken backs or turkey wings are our first choice. No onion, celery or carrot, no herbs and no salt. Granted, those ingredients, along with meat and bones, will result in a well-flavored broth, but we prefer to keep on hand this versatile, neutral-flavored stock to which we can later add seasonings and vegetables.

A neutral-flavored, mild poultry stock is useful for other meat dishes too, especially pork, veal and seafood. It must be used within two to three days or frozen. Fat should be skimmed away from cooled broth before using or freezing. We also occasionally make beef or veal stock for specific recipes, using the time-honored method of browning the bones with aromatic vegetables, but we find fewer uses for this type of stock in our kitchen.

For a guide to seasoning stock for flavorful soup, refer to the chart on page 79 of this issue. Generally, for 10 to 12 cups of soup, use 3 to 4 tablespoons of chopped, fresh herbs (one-third to one-half less for dried); this can be a single flavor, but we prefer a mixture of mild and robust herbs. Or for easy preparation, simply drop 10 to 12 sprigs of fresh herbs into the cooking liquids (4 to 6 inches long with woody stems removed). The leaves will drop off as they cook, then the stems can be removed with tongs or a slotted spoon before serving. Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of ground herbal seeds such as coriander, cumin or fennel, or sweet ground spices such as allspice, cinnamon or clove. With salt and pepper and the aromatic vegetables in these hearty dishes, you will create a flavorful, filling meal.

It’s impossible to make a mistake as long as you use a light touch and don’t overpower the dish. That is one advantage of using fresh herbs; it’s easier to overuse dried herbs.


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