Soup for Dummies
October 14, 2013 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I love soup but stink at making it from scratch. Hit me with your best recipes and tips for making soup!

Almost all of my attempts to make soup in the past have been failures-- it either turns out thin/watery, flavorless, or both. But lately I've been working on improving my cooking skills, and the colder weather has increased both my desire for soup and my willingness to give making it another shot. I'm looking for recipes that are straightforward, don't involve extensive prep work or more advanced cooking techniques (making stock from scratch, making a roux, etc), and are overall idiot-proof. I have a blender and a giant pot at my disposal.

I'm interested in pretty much any type of soup, although (savory) tomato soup is at the top of my list to try making. I love most variations on chicken noodle, Japanese soups like udon and miso, chowders, and soups with seafood. I dislike sweet soups and beans, anything other than that is fair game. No dietary restrictions.

In addition to recipes, I'm looking for general tips and techniques for making better soups. What can I do to keep thicker soups like chowder from turning into watery disappointments? What are the top 3-4 spices to keep around that are key in soup making, and which ones are more extraneous? Any and all help is appreciated. Thanks!
posted by fox problems to Food & Drink (47 answers total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any specific recipes for you, but I will give you one tip: a can or two of V-8 improves any tomato-based soup.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:54 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Chef John makes Tomato Bisque seems incredibly easy and straight forward to me. (do you know there are a bajillion people on youtube making cooking videos? Try searching for some of your favorite soups. )

if your soup is too watery: Your best option is to let it reduce down/simmer to boil off some of the water. You could add corn starch if you don't want to let it simmer.
posted by royalsong at 9:55 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

The potato-leek soup from the Joy of Cooking is very simple but great, and we make it all the time. Cut up 8 or so leeks, cut them into discs, sautee them until soft (but not brown). Add a potato, thinly sliced, and then add 8 cups of stock. Cook for, oh 30-40 minutes and then blend until smooth with an immersion blender. it's great, particularly with sesame seed bread.

We've made a lot of this carrot soup recently.

I highly recommend Better Than Bouillon concentrate if you're otherwise using canned broth in soups.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:58 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Making your own stock is easy and goes a long way towards making tastier soup. We do this all the time with chicken or turkey carcasses.

Throw all the bones and any attached meat in a pot and cover with a few quarts of water. We add a coarsely chopped onion, some carrots, celery, and garlic. Salt, pepper and maybe some sage. A lot depends on how the chicken was originally seasoned. Simmer for a good long while, then filter it through a colander to catch the big bits (and maybe cheesecloth to catch the small bits).

We put it in freezer bags 2 cups at a time. Lay the bags flat on a cookie sheet so they're nice and flat when they're frozen.

A technique we've found in one of our soup cookbooks is to pull a couple of cups of the stew/soup out, pulverize it in a blender or hand-mixer and then return it to the pot. It thickens things up nicely, but especially so if you've got beans or potatoes in there. Another trick is to use seasonal vegetables - roots in the winter, other things in the spring and summer.
posted by jquinby at 9:59 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm working on perfecting my crock pot chicken soup recipe, or at least soups with a chicken base. Here's what I've learned works well. It may not be 'proper', but I'm happy with it:

1. If making a stock from a cooked carcass, and there's still usable meat on the bones, take it off before cooking it down, and set it aside to add at the very end. Otherwise, the meat becomes wasted, or flavorless junk.

2. Add the veggies in different stages. Spinach and zucchini take a lot less time to cook than kale and potatoes. If you put them in all together, they become mushy and flavorless.

3. I sautee the onions and carrots in olive oil until the onions are translucent. I also added celery this time around, and that added flavor to the soup.

4. At the last stages of cooking, I had the lid partially off, so that the soup will thicken up somewhat, and the flavors intensify. Helps combat a bit of the wateriness that can plague soup.

5. The spices I use are: bay leaves, black pepper, and salt. Sometimes a pinch of spices. I don't add the salt until after the soup is concentrated down, because otherwise it can become way oversalted.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:59 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dirty secret: I almost never use stock.

If I am making a meat-based soup, I brown the meat in the bottom of the pot, then pull it out and brown the onions and then the garlic in all that yummy meat fat. Then I add the rest of the veggies (cabbage or carrots or whatever), if there are any, cook as needed, then add lots of water and dump the meat back in. Make sure you use enough salt and seasoning! Cover, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for as long as you care to wait. If it doesn't taste right, let it cook some more.

I usually have the opposite problem: my soups turn into stews. I think I need a bigger pot.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:01 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My soup breakthrough was potato and leek, because it's really so easy: leeks in the pan, cook 'till soft, potatoes in the pan, cover with water and add a stock cube or two, cook, blend. If you add a lot of potatoes it definitely won't be watery -- the last time I made it, it was basically solid when cold!
posted by katrielalex at 10:01 AM on October 14, 2013

I have a cramped galley with limited storage and a weak propane stove, so every soup I make ends up including Better than Boullion and corn starch whisked in wine.
posted by Kakkerlak at 10:01 AM on October 14, 2013

more advanced cooking techniques (making stock from scratch

Then you're handicapping yourself from the start. This is the number one best, easiest thing you can do to improve your soup. And if you use a pressure cooker (they're cheap these days) it takes all of an hour.
posted by supercres at 10:01 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thick, creamy soups should use thick cream. Potatoes add a starchy component to chowders. So does corn.

I don't like any soup thickened with roux/flour. Yuk.

Split pea soup is yummy, and the water/pea ratio is on the bag. I sautee mirpoix and leaks, then throw in some ham and cook it in the crock pot. It thickens right up (after about 4 or sor hours) and it's just the thing on cool fall eveings or snowy winter days. A shot of sherry makes it elegant. In my family it's frequently served with egg salad on pumpernickel. But we're weird.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:02 AM on October 14, 2013

Oh! Make sure you're using enough glutamates. Anchovies (you can't taste them at the end), Marmite, or yes, even MSG powder. That's how you get it to taste "meaty".
posted by supercres at 10:02 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh - and for easy storage of stock:

If I have extra, or I'm only making stock, I reduce it down to 1/3 to 1/4th of it's original volume. Then, I freeze it in ice cube trays, and then transfer to zip lock bags when they're frozen. Saves a lot of room in the freezer!

I also keep a bag in the freezer of vegetable scraps - celery bits, the green part of leeks, onion skins - for stock making.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:02 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who has a sort of generic mix and match recipe that you can use to make many sorts of soup. The general recipe is here. My favorite soups are bean-y so I may not be much help in this regard. I find that a lot of times the trick is making sure a soup is

- salty/spicy enough - most people don't have enough spice/salt in home made soups
- has good mouthfeel (i.e. usually has some sort of thickener or fat/oil in it)
- is "interesting" meaning it has a variety of tastes that go well together.

So, sauteeing veggies in oil instead of dropping them in, making sure there is something to give the soup "heft" (potatoes, squash, walnuts) and not shying away from blended soups. A lot of times I'll just blend part of the soup and leave the veggies chunky in the rest of it so that it's got both a non-watery aspect as well as good flavorful chunks of stuff.
posted by jessamyn at 10:05 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also - here's my crock pot chicken stock recipe:

1. Put a chicken carcass in the crock pot. I use a cooked one, generally from my rotisserie chickens.

2. Add some veggies, like carrots, celery, onion skins, leek tops, what have you. I also add cracked black pepper.

3. Add enough water to cover all of this.

4. Simmer on low for 24 hours or so.

5. Strain, and discard the solids. Then, either use the stock right then, or freeze for later use.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:05 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Never add any dairy product until the very end of cooking, because it tends to get grainy and add a weird appearance/texture if it boils.
If your recipe has egg in it, follow those directions exactly.
If your recipe has noodles in it add those at the very end, or they'll be really mushy (which is fine if you like mushy noodles I guess). I often store my Chicken-noodle soup just as chicken soup and add the noodles when I reheat it.
If your soup looks thin, add a spoonful of dehydrated potato (mashed potato flakes)
Things to consider adding when the flavor doesn't seem right: salt (more salt often changes the flavor in directions other than obvious "salty"), black pepper, thyme (my favorite soup herb), red curry paste (if it's not an herb kind of soup), lemon juice (just a bit, makes the flavors brighter), wine or apple cider for a bit of sour/sweet. These are all things that just a little bit can change the flavor quite a bit, but you don't want to add enough that you can necessarily identify them as an ingredient, it just changes the background flavor. Ladle out a little bit of soup into a bowl (half-cup or less) and add a few drops of lemon or a shake of salt, and taste it. Experiment in small volumes before dosing the whole pot.
posted by aimedwander at 10:16 AM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

I make good soups and I almost never make my own stock.

One thing you can do if you're not great at improvising soups (yet) is: use good recipes and follow them exactly. is an excellent website for all kinds of recipes.

I make my mother's onion soup like this:

Saute maybe 6-8 medium sliced onions in about a tablespoon of butter until they are golden. Add about a quart of beef bouillion (canned is fine). Add about a tablespoon of ketchup, maybe a teaspoon of Worchestershire sauce, and a tiny bit of hot pepper if you like. Simmer on stove for about 45 minutes to an hour. Then the very important part: put it in the refrigerator, and eat it the next day.

(I find this is true of a lot of soups, just like stews: much better the next day).

You could also look up Jane Brody's (The New York Times science writer) carrot soup. It's excellent.
posted by DMelanogaster at 10:16 AM on October 14, 2013

Seconding Better Than Bouillon - it is consistently highly ranked in taste tests (especially the chicken one - I find that the "low sodium" one isn't very good; if you're trying to lower the sodium just use less of the regular chicken kind). They also make vegetarian, seafood, and beef bases if you are looking for those.

This is a shameless self-link, but this is one of my favorite, most consistently successful soup recipes. It's a creamy coconut-milk based squash soup [link goes to my food blog].

I also like this tortilla soup recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt on Serious Eats [not a self-link]. If you're into East Asian soups, he has lots of other recipes for those on the site (ramen, pho, udon soups, and some others). Really, anything by Kenji is just about a guaranteed slam dunk.
posted by rossination at 10:16 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I make a nice coconut-milk fish chowder, and it's really easy. I brown onions and garlic in a dutch oven, then I add 1 can of coconut milk and a couple of cups of chicken stock (powdered buillion is delicious, or homemade stock, whatev), then I throw in green peppers, black pepper, a few slices of fresh ginger and let it cook for a bit. Then I'll take some of those thick cod fillets and lay them on top, pop the lid on, and let the whole thing cook on med-low for maybe 6-10 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Break up the fish to stir it in and you are good to go. A squeeze of lemon juice does not ever hurt, either.

Also, I do a nice leek/dill/chicken soup...cut the leeks into coins and brown them in a cast iron pan so that the edges are blackened somewhat, throw those in a pot with broth and cut up chicken and cut up dill and maybe add some rice.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

My soups kicked it up a notch when I picked up a copy of the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook - it's just soups and salads, and a staggering variety of each. After a year of cooking from that, I suddenly had the epiphany that "wait....a lot of these soups are just the same recipe with different ingredients." That kind of took me up to a new level.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My favorite stupidly-easy soup recipe:

2 cans pumpkin puree (plain, not the sweetened kind)
1 can coconut milk
2 cans chicken broth (or boullion cubes and water, or homemade stock - always interchangeable)
spoonful red curry paste (or a mix of cumin, spicy paprika, possibly ginger)
spoonful of honey (to taste)
posted by aimedwander at 10:22 AM on October 14, 2013 [19 favorites]

Not a recipe but a suggestion. No matter what kind of soup I'm making, and before any noodles or rice go in, I very briefly use my immersion blender to very minimally blend the stock, veggies, whatever. This thickens any soup nicely without the addition of lots of cream, thickeners, etc.
posted by Elsie at 10:22 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since turkey-roasting Is around the corner:

the carcass of a roast turkey, broken into large pieces
about 4 1/2 quarts (18 cups) plus 1/3 cup water
4 garlic cloves
three 1-inch cubes of peeled fresh gingerroot
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 large boiling potatoes (about 1 pound total)
4 cups chopped onion
3 carrots, sliced
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (available at Asian markets,
specialty foods shops, and some supermarkets)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice, or to taste
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh coriander plus coriander sprigs for garnish
In a large kettle or stockpot combine the carcass with 4 1/2 quarts of the water, or enough to cover it, and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 3 hours. Strain the stock through a large sieve into a large bowl, return it to the kettle, and boil it until it is reduced to about 10 cups.
In a blender purée the garlic and the gingerroot with the remaining 1/3 cup water. In a heavy kettle heat the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking and in it cook the purée, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the liquid is evaporated. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes longer. Add the potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes, the onion, the carrots, and 5 cups of the stock and simmer the mixture, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. In the blender purée the mixture it batches until it is smooth, transfering it as it is puréed to another large kettle. Stir in the remaining stock, the coconut milk, the lime juice, and salt to taste, simmer the soup for 10 minutes, and stir in the chopped coriander. The soup may be made 2 days in advance, cooled completely, uncovered, and kept covered and chilled. The soup keeps, covered and frozen, for 2 months. Serve the soup garnished with coriander sprigs.
Makes about 14 cups, serving 10.

November 1992
posted by path at 10:24 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

This African Peanut Soup is so good, almost impossible to screw up (I've done something wrong almost every time and it still turns out delicious), and freezes really well. I leave out the chicken and add extra veggies, and use veg broth.
posted by Fig at 10:27 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mussos told me that the secret to their cream of tomato soup was chicken stock in equivalent amounts to the tomatoes and tomato juice.
posted by brujita at 10:28 AM on October 14, 2013

This is the magical soup equation, courtesy of Jessamyn, that I have used over and over and over.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:46 AM on October 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

If it's seasoned correctly, even a pot of hot water won't taste that bad. That would be my first thing to check. It's easy to mess this up because the amount of salt required to season a big pot of soup might seem like too much in the the hand, especially if starchy vegetables are present.
posted by ftm at 10:50 AM on October 14, 2013

Onion and celery is what makes soup tastes soup-y to me (disclaimer: I am a lifelong vegetarian). Chop, saute in generous wodge of butter, add white wine if you have a little bit idling in the fridge, add stock, add whatever you like, and it is whatever-you-like soup, pureed or left alone. Most of my soupmaking follows that idea, with a good dash of heavy cream at the end if it's 'cream of,' and everybody I serve soup to thrills to these minimalist soups. Carrot always turns out well -- onion and celery sauteed, then stock, simmer until the carrots are soft; stick in an immersion blender, stir in cream, done.

White rice is a fairly unnoticeable (when blended) thickener in a soup like that simple carrot one.

The Cook's Illustrated cream of tomato soup is fussy but a useful starting point. The corn chowder is maybe too rich -- I find CI skews towards very American, "Cheesecake Factory" creamy white salty sweet tastes -- but it is, again, a useful starting point. Their recipes usually produce a decent product even if it is not exactly to one's taste, which means making one will give you a sound place from which to alter things to your liking.

Good savoury add-in: nutritional yeast

Don't be afraid of MSG. Or lots of butter and oil, or salt, or a sweetener (maple syrup and brown sugar add a nice dimension, but plain white sugar works too). These things are around to make food taste good; take advantage.
posted by kmennie at 10:52 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your soups are thin and watery, have you bound them yet?

Try this: smush together 2T soft butter and 1T flour; slowly add about a cup of liquid from the hot soup, then put that all into the soup while it simmers a final fifteen minutes or so. This works so nicely on things like split pea, lentil, gumbo, or the nice oxtail I made just yesterday. (Brown the smushed mixture first, if you'd like a slightly deeper flavor.)

Making stock is really easy, and if you eat meat anyway, it's cheap as in free. We have a Ziploc in the freezer labeled "Futurestock," and I throw bones in it until it's full. Then, I just throw it in a pot of water and let it hang out simmering on the back of the stove; always with an onion, and celery if I have some. Once it's done (eh, 2 hours?), strain it, cool it, freeze it. The little "snack size" 8-oz rectangular containers that Ziploc or Glad or whoever make are great for this: it's a useful measurement, plus it stacks well (particularly if you put them on end [once frozen!] in one of these bins).

Once you've made it a few times, you will curse and gnash your teeth in the market at the $3.50+ they get for a sorry quart!

From there, it's easy to level up: round out those bones with a carrot, a sprig of thyme, a clove of garlic, and a few peppercorns. Bones raw? roast them first, why not. No bones at all? go to your local Asian grocery and get a thing of chicken feet from their freezer: your stock will be so unctuous!

posted by mimi at 10:53 AM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Bourdain's mushroom soup recipe is my pick for the best effort-to-deliciousness ratio, especially if you've got a stick blender. Sweat some onions and mushrooms, toss in the rest of the ingredients, go watch some TV for a bit, blend, season, serve.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:12 AM on October 14, 2013

This mushroom soup is incredibly yummy and simple. I ended up making it three times the first week I tried it. My friends love it. Highly, highly recommended.
posted by zoetrope at 11:19 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I always lean toward easy like spinifex23 and the crockpot recipe. And I'm cheap and lazy so the idea of making my own stock and then throwing away all the vegetables appalls me. Mr Origami shakes his head at this, but he also prefers to make those recipes that require him to first prepare three other recipes. And yet he seems to always love my soup.

So, varying on spinifex23's approach:
I don't always use a crockpot; it may be a simmering stockpot.
I may take a small bit of time to first saute in olive oil some onions and thinly sliced celery and carrot because it really does seem to enhance the flavor.
I rarely use water. Instead I typically dump in a large can of diced tomatoes (just plain ol' tomatoes; the nasty stewed kind with corn syrup is dead to me--whose brilliant idea was that anyway?) plus a box of chicken stock. And this is the basis for most of my quick soups.
Then I add whatever veggies I have on hand, with the longer-cooking ones first (potatoes, larger carrot and celery chunks, cauliflower), and then others like bell pepper and zucchini. I may toss in an entire can of corn toward the end, so the crunch remains. And maybe some chopped fresh spinach if I have some on hand.

My go-to spices: bay leaf, salt, pepper, thyme.

When I serve, I may ladle it into hot bowls that already contain shredded chicken and rice or pasta. Or you could even convert it to a quick seafood chowder by tossing in a can of clam juice and poaching a piece of fish in it. All variations on the same theme. It's a great way to use up leftovers. Some might call this "refrigerator soup." And sure I follow a soup recipe on occasion, but I like that I can always whip together an easy tasty soup without one.

It's a very low pressure approach. Give it a try!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:25 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I make a lot of soups. For turkey or chicken I make the easy stock taking the carcass, simmering it with celery tops and an onion or two sliced in half, skin and all (gives the stock a beautiful color).

For vegetable and cream soups I start by sauteing onions and celery in lots of butter and then adding as much flour as can be soaked up. Then add vegetable stock. An easy cream soup is Cream of Cauliflower. Cook a big head of cauliflower, save the liquid for stock, Process most of the cauliflower and keep some cooked florets to add back. Saute celery and onion in butter, add flour to bind, add stock and pureed cauliflower. Season to taste and add back florets. Yum.
posted by readery at 11:42 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

For creamy soups, an immersion blender is awesome.

Stupidly Easy Cauliflower Soup of Many Variations

12 -16 oz. bag of frozen cauliflower
~2 tsp. Better Than Boullion beef or chicken (add salt if low sodium)
1 to 1.5 cups of hot water
(a cup of precooked chicken, or large can of chicken in broth)
(onion, if you want it, or anything else that needs some cooking)

Put on the stove in a tall pot on medium heat, let come to simmer then reduce heat, cook covered for 8 to 10 minutes.

Cream, about 1/2 a cup, (even Media Crema canned cream works) or
4 oz cream cheese and a bit of hot water, or
Sour cream, 1/2 cup (not as good by itself)
Herbs and spices (italian blend of herbs is good for white cheese, hot sauce is good with cheddar)

Turn the heat down to low or off, use immersion blender to process until all chunks are gone, should be a bit frothy on top. Remove blender. Heat until hot again if necessary.

About 2 cups of shredded cheese, whatever kinds.

Stir until melted. Soup is done. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
posted by monopas at 12:22 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ridiculously easy "cream" of asparagus soup.

My family fights over this.
posted by kuanes at 12:50 PM on October 14, 2013

I have a basic blended soup recipe:
Make a roux with
1 Tb butter or olive oil
1 Tb flour
saute together, over med-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden, @ 5 mins.

Cook several cups broccoli/spinach/chard/cauliflower/mushrooms/butternut or other winter squash(choose 1 until you feel more adventurous),

saute chopped onions/garlic/shallots in olive oil/butter

Add (more or less - 1 can, 1 box) chicken broth/stock to the roux, slowly, whisking to prevent lumpening,
add cooked veg, blend thoroughly. (I finally got a stick blender - works great.)
serve warm

Add curry/thyme/rosemary/poultry seasoning/sage/ chili powder/turmeric/salt/pepper, etc. for extra interest. I make curried squash soup, and serve it with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of cilantro.

variations I have made:
Spinach soup with some cream blended in, topped with bacon.
Cauliflower, sour cream, topped with cooked sausage bits.
Leftover broccoli, creamed onions, turkey broth was excellent.
You can take this in any direction you like.
posted by theora55 at 1:12 PM on October 14, 2013

So when you say your soups are "watery," that could mean a lot of different things:
  • The mouthfeel is wrong — it's not viscous enough. (Solution: thicken with pureed veggies or roux or some other starch, or enrich with eggs or cream or sour cream, or use a stock with lots and lots of collagen from bones and cartilage, or reduce your stock by letting a substantial amount of it evaporate.)
  • It's not flavorful enough. This itself could happen for lots of reasons:
    • Not enough of the primary ingredient that the soup is supposed to taste like. (Solution: more of that ingredient, and make sure it's high quality. In particular, as others have mentioned, if you want chunks of meat in your soup, they should be fresh meat, and not meat from the carcass that you used to make stock. Meat that's been used for stock has had all its flavor extracted and should be tossed.)
    • Not enough salt — this can mask the flavor of your primary ingredients, making meat taste less meaty and veggies taste less veggie-y and so on. (Solution: salt!)
    • Not enough glutamates, which again can mask other flavors. (Solution: Sazon Goya or MSG or more meat or anchovies or mushrooms or onions or tomatoes or beer or etcetera...)
    • Not enough acid, which can mask other flavors or make them seem "dull" rather than bright. (Solution: tomatoes or wine or vinegar a squeeze of lemon or lime juice before serving.)
    • Imbalanced flavors. Often in soup this means too little of the "dark"/"browned" flavor which is to soup as the bassline is to music. (Solution: brown your meat, or caramelize your onions, or add dark beer to the broth, or use a dark roux.)
  • It's not "filling" or "satisfying" or "substantial" enough. (Solution: To be blunt — more calories. Lots of the other techniques people have mentioned here will have this as a side effect.)
  • It's got muddy flavors rather than distinct ones: for instance, instead of beef-flavored-broth and carrot-flavored-carrots, everything tastes the same, like a vague indistinct mixture of beef and carrot. (Solution: add some of your veggies, and maybe even some of your meat, towards the very end of the cooking time, allowing just enough time for them to cook through. If you do this with meat, it needs to be a cut that's tender and flavorful enough for uses other than soup.)
  • It's just got too many liquids and not enough solids. (Solution: use less liquid! As computech_apolloniajames points out, you don't necessarily have to add any liquid, especially if you've got wet veggies like tomatoes/eggplant/zucchini in there.)
  • It's a creamy soup that has broken or curdled. Often the cause here is boiling it too aggressively after you add egg or a dairy ingredient, or getting sloppy in adding liquid ingredients to a roux. (Solution: watch your technique!)

posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 1:19 PM on October 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

Go to either Sam's Club or B.J.s and get yourself -depending on what type of soup you want to make-a jar of beef base or chicken base. Use that, and I bet even the recipes you have made before will make you much happier.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:36 PM on October 14, 2013

Oh! Make sure you're using enough glutamates. Anchovies (you can't taste them at the end), Marmite, or yes, even MSG powder. That's how you get it to taste "meaty".

Yes! This is really key. Some other suggestions:

- Bragg's liquid aminos
- Soy/fish sauce (someone once suggested I add a dash of soy sauce to a traditional Jewish chicken soup I was making, and it sounded crazy but they were right!)
- Roasted mushrooms chopped up fine (or sautee them with the meat if you're using any)
- Tomato paste
- Any sort of concentrated broth (others have mentioned better than bouillon, I also like the Trader Joe's chicken broth packets - Swanson's makes some too)
- The aforementioned Goya sazon is great for any sort of Latin soup.

Some of these are salty and/or add a kick of distinctive flavors that may or may not go with what you're cooking, so be careful at first.

Oh, and sauteeing your base (mirepoix, meat) in butter first never hurt.
posted by lunasol at 1:57 PM on October 14, 2013

I made soup pretty often for a while, and my "secret" ingredient is a Knorr chipotle cube.
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 5:20 PM on October 14, 2013

Oh! Make sure you're using enough glutamates. Anchovies (you can't taste them at the end), Marmite, or yes, even MSG powder. That's how you get it to taste "meaty".

I love that kind of secret ingredient thing. Lately I've been using a sly anchovy or two in all kinds of recipes, including soups. Another current favourite is a dash of Worcestershire sauce, especially in anything based on tomato, or using beef. Blachan is something else I mean to try (dry shrimp paste, not dissimilar to fish sauce).

As others have mentioned, a stick blender is very useful for soups: either to smoosh the entire thing up (eg potato & leek) or else just remove a couple of cupfuls, blend them, and then return to the pot.

I'm a big fan of adding things at serving time. A lentil soup Turkish style is delicious, with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a sprinkling of dried mint. With a lot of Asian soups people just add their own mix of things to taste, like fish sauce, soy, fresh mint and/or basil leaves, beansprouts, chilli, and so on. Or else sautee some old bread into croutons & scatter on top. Grated parmesan where appropriate. Have some tabasco & chipotle sauces handy. Yoghurt & sour cream are often my go-tos whenever they fit well with the flavours - you can either stir them through for a thicker soup, or scoop spoons half filled with soup, half with the dairy stuff for a nice hot/cold contrast.

Watery broths can be thickened also with those barley-based soup mixes (including green & yellow split peas, lentils etc) or else orza (rice shaped pasta) or Israeli couscous (tiny ball bearing shaped pasta).
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:18 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My favorite soup tricks:
1. Add a knob of butter just before serving, and as soon as the butter has melted and been stirred in spoon the soup into bowls. This is referred to in fancy cookbooks as "finishing" and is usually used for sauces but also works great for adding a little something special to nearly any soup. Olive oil works too but doesn't go with quite as a wide a variety of flavors.
2. Shallots. They're delicious, and and you can buy them at Asian groceries very inexpensively. Butter, shallots and salt are the three main reasons restaurant food tastes better than food at home and you can easily steal their tricks.
3. Sometimes a soup needs contrast more than creaminess, in which case don't add butter but squeeze a little lemon juice in at the end. You won't taste lemon, but it alters the pH enough to bring out other flavors.
4. In extreme cases of blandness, I throw a heap of chopped herbs in at the last minute and stir.
5. You're putting Old Bay in your chowder, right?
posted by cali at 9:47 PM on October 14, 2013

Here's my easy, staple soup recipe:

If it's too thin, I'll throw in a handful of rice to thicken it up. If it needs more fluid, I use chicken broth or boullion even though it has hamburger in it because I don't care for the taste of beef broth or boullion.
posted by JaneL at 10:57 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

From Modernist Cuisine, how to make stock in one hour instead of eight:
Pulse the ingredients (typically, carrot, onion and celery) in a food processor until very finely diced; remove vegetables, add boneless chicken pieces and puree. Chop chicken wings into tiny pieces. Brown all the chicken, then add vegetables and cover with water. Simmer for an hour. The stock will attain the same flavor it would have taken 8 hours with large chunks.

Why this works: "Fick's first law of diffusivity" is at work. This principal indicates that flavor molecules have a shorter distance to travel if the pieces of food are smaller, and thus will be extracted more quickly.
The Serious Eats Food Lab applies similar principles to their 1-hour Pho.
posted by AceRock at 4:28 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

For easy and yummy and varied, I love the recipes from The New Covent Garden Soup Company in the UK. I have three of their recipe books, but looks like they have a selection of recipes online too. I don't know if they're as reliable as those in the books.

I am a competent cook, but I never bother making stock any more. Sorry, but I really don't think it makes that much of a difference. On the other hand, home-made bread is well worth it!
posted by kadia_a at 3:11 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

As usual, late to the party, but this was published the 16th; so...
posted by JABof72 at 11:26 AM on October 18, 2013

vegetarian split pea soup recipe. It's a hit every time.

* 3 cups dried split peas
* 10 cups water
* 1 bay leaf
* 2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp mustard seed
* 2 cups minced onion
* 4 medium minced garlic clove
* 3 stalks celery minced
* 2 medium carrots sliced
* 1 potato diced
* 1 parsnip diced
* black pepper
* 4 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, to taste

* sesame oil (mandatory)
* fresh diced tomato (optional)
* minced parsley (optional)

1. Place first 6 ingredients in a large pot.

2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent split peas from sticking to bottom of pot.

3. While pot is simmering; sauté onions, garlic, celery, carrots and potato and parsnip in large pan

4. Add veggies to soup. Partially cover and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.(You may need to add extra water at this point).

5. Blend with handheld blender until mostly smooth.

6. Season to taste with pepper and vinegar.

7. Serve with a drizzle of sesame oil, diced tomato and minced parsley.

serves 8
posted by amitai at 5:04 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

One tip I didn't see above: if you buy whole chunks of Parmesan or Romano instead of the pre-shredded stuff, save the rinds in the freezer and drop them in soup while they're simmering. Adds tons of flavour.

Speaking is which, here's a recipe that does well with that.

Italian Wedding Soup

1 pckg meatloaf mix
1/2 grated parmesean
1 Slice white bread
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 egg yolk

1 head escarole (can sub kale or Swiss chard, spinach is too soft)
2 quarts chicken stock
3 large carrots
1 large onion
1 cup tubbetini or other small pasta
Olive oil, salt, pepper

For the meatballs:
1. Tear up the bread into small pieces, size of a pencil eraser or less. Put in large mixing bowl and add milk, seasoning, and stir until bread soaks up milk
2. Add in meatloaf mix, egg yolk, salt, pepper and Parmesan. Thoroughly combine, then turn into small balls, about one tblsp of mix per ball.
3. Brown meatballs under the broiler for about 4 min per side. Set aside.

For soup:

1. Cut carrots in half lengthwise and thinly slice. Quarter onion and thinly slice. Thoroughly wash escarole and chop.
2. Heat some olive oil in bottom of a stock pot over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and a pinch of salt and sautée until onions are translucent. Add escarole. When escarole begins to wilt, add chicken stock and bring the pot to a boil.
3. Turn the pot down to a simmer. Add the meatballs and their juices, the tubbetini, and a rind of Parmesan, if you have one. Simmer gently for about half an hour until pasta and meatballs cooked through. Serve with additional grated Parmesan to sprinkle on top.
posted by Diablevert at 8:55 AM on October 21, 2013

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