This turkey noodle soup is kind of... sweet.
December 7, 2013 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice on balancing out the sweet and savory flavors of homemade soup, without resorting to the evil of celery.

Most soup recipes start with sauteing carrots, onions and celery. I typically use a good quality (but not fruity tasting) olive oil. Unfortunately, no matter how little celery I use, it's all I can taste and it overwhelms all the other flavors in the dish. I have a similar problem with green bell peppers.

The problem is, if I leave out the celery the sweetness of the carrots and onions dominate. Given the option, I'd rather have slightly sweet than celery-flavored soup, but what I really want is a good balance of flavors.

Fellow celery haters, what do you use to balance out the sweet and savory for the base of your homemade soups?

It's entirely possible I'm just the pickiest person in the world. I'd still like to hear your alternatives to celery, though.

posted by Space Kitty to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried parsnips or a splash of vinegar or cooking sherry?
posted by SarahBellum at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2013

Bay leaves and parsley (stems especially) counteract the sweetness of carrots pretty effectively.
posted by neroli at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Michael Ruhlman on aromatics you like fennel? I think you are a kook for not wanting that celery hit in your soups, but I loathe fennel. So maybe...

I adore onions, but still feel shallots are worth their expense and bother to cut.

+1 vinegar -- also, wine.
posted by kmennie at 8:32 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also use parsnips and bay leaves.
Did you try celeriac (celery root)? It does not have the taste of celery stalks but gives a nice flavor to soups. Did you try switching leek for onions? You could also add some stock (cubes) or soy sauce.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:32 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Parsley. Or buy carrots with stems/leaves still attached and include those (they are edible and kind of bitter.)

I have no problem with celery, but I avoid peanuts or anything that includes more than a trace of them for the same reason you describe for celery.
posted by kagredon at 8:49 PM on December 7, 2013

Garlic? When I make soup (and I make a LOT of soup) I use the carrots-onions-celery base, but I always add a big ol' whack of garlic toward the end of the cooking (so it doesn't burn). I put garlic in pretty much everything but desserts.
posted by Aquifer at 8:49 PM on December 7, 2013

Yeah, I like the bay leaves idea. Maybe a wee bit of sage and some pepper. A few drops of Texas Pete. The bay leaves will really pay off if you can cook it slowly over the course of a day, or let it sit in the fridge overnight.
posted by Shoggoth at 9:24 PM on December 7, 2013

I would try a spoonful of vegemite if that was a problem for me, but I have easy access to it and, well, it's not a problem for me. The two trinities for flavour bases are carrots-onions-celery, and carrots-onions-peppers. Plus bay leaves, garlic and stock and - hang on, you are using stock, aren't you? You don't mention it. You should experiment with stock if you aren't currently using it, and you can make the stock taste however you like. Try adding some vegemite or Marmite or nutritional yeast or the water from soaking some dehydrated mushrooms or soy sauce as an absolute last resort.
posted by goo at 9:25 PM on December 7, 2013

Salt will bring out the savory. Try different types of onions - are white onions less sweet? Do you like mushrooms? Some chopped mushrooms in your mirepoix would add umami/ savory, and should help balance the sweetness.
posted by theora55 at 9:48 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I believe this is what parsley stems are for - amirite?!
posted by jbenben at 11:20 PM on December 7, 2013

OK, this is all super helpful.

I've already got plenty of garlic and salt in the current batch of soup, so I'll try bay leaves, parsley and a bit of wine if it still needs a little something.

According to theora55's link, my ratio for mirepoix is off. I haven't been using enough onion! If adding more onion doesn't sufficiently offset the celery, I'll play around with substituting parsnips/shallots/leeks/mushrooms instead. Sadly, I'm not a fan of either celeriac or fennel but I've got loads more options than I began with.

If all else fails, there's always sofrito, refogado and soffritto.

posted by Space Kitty at 11:32 PM on December 7, 2013

Add some tomato and garlic! Thyme will help offset the carrots too. Powdered dried mushrooms will add some unami.
posted by cat_link at 12:13 AM on December 8, 2013

If that doesn't work, you could twice-boil the celery, possibly. Prep your carrot and onion and celery. In a small saucepan, par-boil the celery until tender and discharged into the water. You can then strain it, and add it to the other ingredients and sautee-- you may need to sautee the carrots and onions for a little first, because the celery will be softer than them. It should have less of an celery edge; the water should have taken away some of the strength.

I haven't actually tried this, though, but it's an idea!

You may also wanna try using zucchini; that may work.
posted by Dimes at 2:00 AM on December 8, 2013

Parsnips, again.
posted by kestrel251 at 4:45 AM on December 8, 2013

While I don't mind celery, I prefer leeks over onions when making soup for their mellow, less-sweet quality (I use the white and light green parts and save the dark green for stock. Parsnips, I find to be sweeter than carrots; what you might really enjoy here is parsley root, if you can find it. Nthing thyme and bay leaf as well.
posted by STFUDonnie at 6:34 AM on December 8, 2013

I also detest celery. My chicken soup has onions, garlic, leeks, spinach and a good hit of fresh lemon or lime juice. Although I like carrots and put them in other soups I find they're too sweet as an addition to this soup, so I would advise you to leave them out of yours as an experiment and see if that helps.
posted by zadcat at 6:52 AM on December 8, 2013

Sometimes, I don't have celery or celeriac when I start cooking, so I just go ahead without it. I almost always add a glass of wine to the mirepoix after sautéing but before adding stock. Let all alcohol evaporate before you continue. Then add garlic, white pepper, and bay leaf (and tomato paste, if relevant). Then stock, then other herbs only after skimming. If it is still too sweet (which it may be) I add a little balsamic vinegar with the salt, 10-15 minutes before serving.

If you have a choice where you live, there is such a thing as cooking carrots, which are more bitter than the normal ones, and really good for soups.

I hate bell peppers, but I do like a very finely chopped red one in my minestrone sometimes, it goes in with the mirepoix.

In our family, there is a disagreement about bacon: half like it chopped up in tiny squares with the mirepoix, the other half finds it too overwhelming.

nthing parsley stalks and parsley root, but this only happens to me if I start cooking without having shopped first, and then I would rarely have good parsley stalks or parsley roots.
posted by mumimor at 6:58 AM on December 8, 2013

Why not just leave out the carrots? That's where the sweetness is coming from. Use anything else you want.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:57 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Possibly nutty thought: dill? My mom puts a big bunch of dill into chicken soup at the end of cooking; it is delicious and very savory.

Otherwise I agree with white vinegar; parsley, salt, and bay.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:51 AM on December 8, 2013

Maybe looking at the different varieties of mirepoix will give you some ideas.
posted by Brent Parker at 9:15 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hooray for a fellow celery-hater! Yay! No one ever understands my deep, deep loathing of it. They all say, "it doesn't taste like anything" which is SO WRONG.

To answer your, dunno. I just don't cook with celery. But then I don't like cooked carrots either, and barely tolerate onion. So...I might be pickier.
posted by pyjammy at 7:07 PM on December 8, 2013

I usually finish a soup with an acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and some sort of chopped garlic and herbs paste. Add until the flavor seems balanced.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:54 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bay leaf, parsley and garlic for the win! Thanks everybody, my soup just leveled up. (I never considered parsley to be anything more than a garnish. HOW WRONG I WAS.)
posted by Space Kitty at 7:35 PM on January 1

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