Building a Great Soup

If your only experience with soup involves a can opener and a microwave, it’s time to take this wonderful and nutritious meal a little more seriously. Soups pack a nutritional punch and come in so many different varieties that there is sure to be one to tempt every palate—hot, cold, brothy, or filled with meat and vegetables. Ready to start simmering? Read this first.

There are myriad wonderful soup recipes. They range from thin broths—such as consommés—to full-bodied meals like Italian zuppa di fagioli (made with beans) or Russian-style borscht (made with beetroot or meat). They are filled with vegetables—as in Scottish Cock-a-leekie and Mexican pozole—and any number of other tasty ingredients.

This broad range can be roughly organized into four principal types of liquid soups: clear soups, broths, purées, and thickened soups. There are also soups that contain whole vegetables or pieces of meat that are more like thin stews. In all cases, a soup is really defined by your ability to eat it with a spoon. Beyond that, your only limitation is your imagination to create anything from a warming first course or a main course meal.

So, what’s the first step to making a really delicious soup? Chefs will tell you that all good soups begin with tasty broths—sometimes called stock or bouillon. These liquid extracts are ideally made from bones cooked very slowly to allow for leeching of nutrients found in the bone and the marrow into the surrounding liquid. Chicken and turkey bones are rich in collagen and produce a good jelly stock, whereas veal, ox, and beef bones take longer to provide a good stock but provide more immune- and blood-building nutrients because they have a larger marrow. You can also make vegetarian broths, which, while they won’t have the same jelly properties unless you include okra or agar (made from seaweed), are also nutritious and flavorful.

Ideally, you’ll have broth on hand at all times so that you can put together a soup quickly. To ensure that homemade broth is always at the ready, you can freeze small quantities in ½ cup measurements (in freezer bags or plasticware) or in ice cube trays. Commercial bouillon cubes are of course an option—they are easy to use and a quick alternate soup base—but keep in mind that they are very high in sodium (typically containing 1,200 milligrams or more per cube).

In addition to a great stock, many soups get added flavor and nutritional benefit from fresh herbs. You can add herbs to any stock recipe by including a bouquet garni—a bunch of herbs tied together in a muslin bag that is easily removed after cooking. A bay leaf is also a flavorful addition to broths and is particularly well suited to fish stock.

With a foundation of great stock and herbal flavor, you can add beans, vegetables, meat, or fish for a delicious and nutritious soup. When the protein has cooked completely, you can also add vegetables that cook quickly, such as leeks, mushrooms, or even frozen baby peas. Because you have already created a flavorful and nourishing stock, the soup will come together in a snap.

Beef (or Ox or Veal) Stock

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 pounds of beef with bones in (such as rib or long bones cut by the butcher into 3-inch pieces)
4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
12 peppercorns
Bouquet garni (dried thyme, rosemary, and oregano in a muslin bag)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan and quickly fry the bones to provide flavor. Cover the bones with the water, add the salt, and bring to a boil. Skim the froth off the top and discard; add the vegetables and the peppercorns. Boil slowly for 4 to 5 hours. Strain the liquid with a fine sieve and use immediately as a soup base. The bones may be used with fresh vegetables up to two more times and still provide healthful nutrients.

Chicken Stock

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
8 cups water
2 small carrots, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped

Place all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 2 hours, skimming the froth and the oil every 20 to 30 minutes; discard. Remove the meat and the vegetables and serve separately as a main dish with mashed potatoes, pasta, or rice. Strain the liquid broth to use as a base for other soups or clarified as chicken consommé.

Clarified Broth

Clarification of both chicken and beef stock is done after the broth is first passed through a cheesecloth or very fine sieve and all visible particles have been removed. Combine ¼ cup cold water with one egg white and crushed eggshell. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Strain again to produce a clear liquid, also called consommé.

Minestrone

This soup features black beans—which are an excellent source of dietary fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins—along with a host of other nutritious and flavorful vegetables. The combination of flavors and the hearty nature of this soup make it a wonderful winter meal.

1 medium onion, diced
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
5 carrots, diced
1 turnip, diced
1 parsnip, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
16-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
8-ounce can of black beans, rinsed
3 cups broth
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Sauté the onion, shallots, and garlic in olive oil until clear (2 to 3 minutes). Add the carrots, turnip, parsnip, and celery. Heat for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, beans, broth, and herbs. Cook over medium heat for 1 hour. Serve with hot crusty bread as a comforting appetizer or complete meal.

Notes: Excellent source of calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, and C. Good source of vitamin A.Nutritional information per serving: calories 250; protein 12 grams (g); carbohydrate 35 g; fat 8 g; dietary fiber 8 g; cholesterol 0

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