It may seem intimidating at first, but making soup at home is one of the easiest ways to incorporate lots of flavorful, nutritious ingredients into one satisfying meal. If you’ve got a few hearty vegetables, a package of meat or legumes, and some fragrant aromatics lying around, you’ve got just about everything you need to make soup from scratch — all you need are some simple, tried-and-true instructions to know where to begin.
We’ve assembled this guide to making soup (and stew!) to teach you everything you need to know about making a steaming, simmering pot of chicken noodle or a vegan lentil soup for dinner tonight. From the broth that starts it all to smart tips that may come in handy for fixing common soup-making mistakes, here’s your complete guide to all things soup.
Wondering what the difference is between broths and stocks? While they both provide the base for any soup, stew, or chili, there are some key differences.
This one is a bit simpler: A soup is thinner and contains more liquid, typically with smaller, diced pieces of vegetables and meat. A stew, on the other hand, is made with less liquid and typically contains larger pieces of meat and veggies.
From creamy bisques and chowders to clear soups like chicken noodle, here are a few of the most common types of soups you should know.
Clear or broth soups. Broth-based soups, like chicken noodle soup and minestrone, are made with a broth base that isn’t mixed with any creams or milks or pureed with other ingredients. They’re typically fairly thin, but contain tasty bites of meat, veggies, and sometimes pasta or grains.
Cream soups. Cream soups, like cream of mushroom or creamy tomato, are made with a broth blended with cream or milk, plus any additional veggies and seasonings.
Chowders. Chowders originate in New England, and are traditionally made with shellfish (à la clam chowder), but can also be made with vegetables (à la corn chowder). These soups are very thick and creamy, often with a deep flavor that comes from clam or other seafood juices.
Bisques. A bisque is similar to a chowder, as it’s a cream-based soup that often contains shellfish. In traditional recipes, the shellfish shells are finely ground and used to thicken the soup, though more modern mushroom bisques and other vegetable bisques do not contain shellfish.
Pureed soups. Pureed soups, such as potato leek or split pea, are made by boiling vegetables in a broth, then pureeing the finished product to create a thick, blended soup.
Gazpacho. A gazpacho is a cold soup that originates in Spain. It contains a tomato base with chopped cucumbers, onions, and peppers for a bright, zesty flavor.
Chili. A chili is a thick, spicy, bean-based soup that originated in northern Mexico. Many versions often also contain ground meat.
To thicken a too-thin soup, add cream or yogurt. If your soup is vegan, try blending it slightly with an immersion blender. You may also add rice to soak up some of the extra broth.
If your stew or soup has gotten too thick, add more broth if you have it; if not, water will work, though you may need to add more seasonings to avoid diluting the flavor.
If your soup isn’t too thin already, you can always add water or cream to dilute the salty broth. If you’re worried about it becoming too thin, try adding rice or potatoes to soak up the salty broth.
Soup too bland? Add more salt and pepper to taste, or experiment with herbs and spices, making sure to taste-test along the way to avoid over-seasoning. You may also try allowing the soup to simmer for longer, as this will allow the ingredients to release more flavor.
In most cases, an immersion blender is key for blending or pureeing soup. If you don’t have one, you can also carefully ladle the soup into a high-speed blender and blend on low.
You’ll typically always brown or sear your meat before adding it to your soup, then add it to the soup toward the end of the cooking process, allowing it to warm through.
While you can add raw vegetables to your soup, most recipes will call for the vegetables to be “browned” before adding. This just means adding fat (such as oil or butter) to the bottom of a heavy-bottomed soup pot, then heating the vegetables and aromatics for about 5 minutes to soften.
While your recipe may call for you to bring the soup to a boil initially, you’ll likely never want to boil a soup for the entire cooking process. Instead, allow the soup to reach a gentle simmer, which is just below the boiling point (look for gentle movements in the liquid, not rapid bubbles).
For pasta, add the noodles according to time on the package (for example, if it says to cook for 7 minutes, add the noodles 7 minutes before the soup is finished). Add white rice about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking process, and add brown rice about 30-35 minutes before the end (keep in mind that rice soaks up extra liquid, so you may need to add more broth).
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