Resurrect Soup!
October 22, 2015 7:49 AM   Subscribe

My vegetable soup is bland - can it be resurrected with additional seasoning?

I tried to make a slow-cooker vegetable soup with leftover veggies from my fridge. After around 6 hours on high, the texture and consistency is fine, but the flavor is... less than fine. I'm storing the soup in the fridge now - but when I re-heat it, do you have suggestions to make it more flavorful? Here is the "recipe" (full disclosure: I didn't use a recipe)...

4 bell peppers
2 onions
1 can diced tomatoes
a container of vegetable stock
some leftover chicken stock
3 chopped carrots
white rice

Seasoning: Celery seed, oregano, basil, paprika, parsley, chives...

Online I saw a suggestion to add a little white vinegar and oil, and some parmesan--so I put in (at the end of cooking) about a tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar and 1/2 cup parm. The parm certainly helped - but it's still... not good...

Please help my soup! It looks delicious!
posted by Dressed to Kill to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Did you put any salt in it?
posted by something something at 7:50 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: For me, most soups can be saved with the help of chili powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper (or even some hot sauce). And in my vegetarian (but not vegan) days, a pile of cheese (e.g., shredded mature cheddar) in the bottom of the bowl.
posted by Halo in reverse at 7:51 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it's bland, it may be too diluted. Try ladling out as much broth as you can into a sauce pan, boil it down until it tastes stronger, and return it to the rest of the soup.
posted by lizbunny at 7:54 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

posted by erst at 7:56 AM on October 22, 2015 [12 favorites]

posted by like_neon at 7:59 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I read a great comment here once on a cooking thread about balancing out the three main 'flavours' in cooking - salt, fat/oil and acid/sweet.

You have a large amount of sweet acidity here from those tomatoes, and the vinegar which you probably didn't actually need. And fat from the cheese and oil. So I'd say DEFINITELY salt if you don't have it in there already. Then if it still seems lacking try a little more cheese, or perhaps some beans for that proteiny vibe that's similar to fat.

I'm sure this little nugget of info isn't gospel, but it changed the way I see flavours when putting together a dish and it's helped me a lot.
posted by greenish at 8:00 AM on October 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: P.S. If you go for my chili powder/paprika/cayenne pepper/cheese recommendation, then I further suggest serving the soup with some crushed tortilla chips over the top. Yum!
posted by Halo in reverse at 8:02 AM on October 22, 2015

posted by andrewcooke at 8:03 AM on October 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Agree with greenish. Looks like a lot of treble in need of some bass (umami). If it were my soup I would add a lot, I mean a LOT of sauteed mushrooms in butter and garlic. Or a bunch of blended white beans with pesto, garlic and parmesan. Something to give it depth and richness, and maybe just a little sweetness.

If it can be less vegetarian, French-style rosemary ham browned along with caramelized onions might be good too.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 8:07 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'd add about a teaspoon or two of Better than Boullion stock concentrate to the whole batch. Oh, and salt.

(The consensus here is right: usually when something is bland, 99.9999% of the time it's because there's not enough salt.)
posted by General Malaise at 8:07 AM on October 22, 2015

Best answer: Changing the texture so that the adjusted fat, salt and heat is distributed throughout the soup can help.

I usually blend my veggie soups (hand blender, then real blender to get super smooth -- make sure the soup has cooled a bit before you put it in the blender). Then I add 1/2 cup light cream, full fat milk or bechamel sauce, as much salt and pepper as needed, stir it all, and put chiffonaded green herbs on top of each freshly served bowl. (This week's carrot-tomato soup with fresh basil worked out very well.)
posted by maudlin at 8:07 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary.
posted by John Cohen at 8:19 AM on October 22, 2015

I looked at your recipe, and my taste buds started screaming out in distressed, enraged pain: "SALT! SALT! OH GOD, WHAT ABOUT THE SALT???"

So, I guess: Nthing the suggestion of salt.

I'm always amazed at how much salt can be sucked up into a soup. Especially if you're using low-sodium broths, it takes a lot of salt to get a soup tasty. Be bold, here. Be brave. Take a small bowlful and keep adding salt until it tastes right. Maybe even keep adding salt until it tastes too salty, so you can get some comparison between "just right" and "too salty." (That's why you test with a small bowlful, first!) If even the too salty soup still feels like it doesn't have enough flavor, then do the same thing with vinegar: add more to that little bowl until it's too vinegary, just to test out the options.

Remember: good soup belongs to the bold and the brave.
posted by meese at 8:27 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone! These tips are awesome. I did add some salt and pepper (about a tsp of salt and some fresh ground pepper). I will try to add some depth with umami, maybe throw some shredded cheddar (is there anything cheese CANNOT do?!?!), add some additional salt, and then blend until smooooooove. Thanks so much everyone!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:30 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Salt and garlic. Sautee the garlic first.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:30 AM on October 22, 2015

The parm certainly helped...

Parmesan is high in glutamates, the umami Orange Dinosaur Slide alluded to, so it sounds to me like more of that sort of thing might help; that includes Worchestershire sauce, tomato paste, boullion cubes/concentrates, or even straight MSG as is found in Accent flavor enhancer (I know people can get contentious about MSG, but you would be surprised how many restaurants use it liberally. Not just Asian restaurants, either.) Adding garlic never hurts either. Finally, now that the soup has sat awhile you may want to re-assess it; most of my soups and stews and such have much better flavor after a night in the fridge.
posted by TedW at 8:31 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Slow-cookers mute the hell out of flavors, and most green herbs (with the exception of bay leaf) shouldn't be cooked at length, rather added at the very last. Aside from the salt, I'd give it a good squirt of sriracha (or similar chili/garlic sauce/paste) and a fresh round of the same herbs you cooked with.

Additionally you can serve with lime, lemon, orange, or yuzu wedges to brighten it up.

For umami, a very little bit of soy sauce or fish sauce can go a long way.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:31 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Salt, like everyone else suggested. But also some bay leaf would be good.

But what you really need is a good source of umami flavor. A quick shortcut would be 1/8th-1/4th teaspoon of MSG, but if that makes you cringe, I'd throw in a tablespoon or two of soy sauce, and that will give you some heartiness.

Another thing you need is mouthfeel. Since it's got chicken stock, you're not shooting for vegetarian, so a good trick for mouthfeel is a little gelatin powder. An envelope of unflavored gelatin is good for about a 4-6 cups of soup to give it a nice smooth mouthfeel. If you want to go vegetarian/vegan, you could make a stock with kombu.
posted by dis_integration at 8:32 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Things I always add to soups for depth of flavor are Worchestershire sauce and fish sauce. They really help I find and don't taste fishy at all, particularly in dashes quantity.
posted by Carillon at 9:15 AM on October 22, 2015

Sometimes I have trouble getting flavor in slow cookers if I don't sautee the veggies at appropriate heat on the stove first.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:40 AM on October 22, 2015

It needs more salt than you think. And pepper.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:47 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

about a tsp of salt

This is not enough, especially if the broth happens to be low/no sodium. There's a reason the root word of salary is salt.
posted by PMdixon at 9:59 AM on October 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

Seasoning: Celery seed, oregano, basil, paprika, parsley, chives...

Only the celery and the paprika are going to survive a trip through a slow cooker, and even then they won't add much to the final flavour. Basil especially should only be ever added at the very end, while the soup is hot, just prior to service. In short, you've cooked away a lot of your flavour elements. Herbs of all kinds are really vulnerable to long heat. This is a common problem with slowcooker recipes in particular, and needs a bit of care to correct.

Try this: chiffonade a few leaves of basil and add them to some of the hot broth. This will completely change the taste profile. Chives and parsely the same. Pho places serve fresh basil at the plate for a reason.

Adding all three, btw, is not a choice I would make. Pick one (or two) of those flavours and amplify it. Too much and the tastes get confused. You can't wear three hats, and neither should your soup.

Soups also benefit greatly from a slight acidifcation. Lemon, vinegar are two of the most common. Vinegar also adds a bit of sodium, so you can dial back the added salt. Tomatos can be enough on their own, but you've not added very much, it seems. Lime is a bit more moderate than lemon and might work better with what you've already got.

An alternative brightener, rather than acid, is heat, and that can work very well with the tomatos and bazil. Try a dash of a simple hot sauce, like Tobasco or Franks, into a tablespoon of the soup and see what you think. Note that these are vinegar-based too.

Salt: don't be scared of it. 1 t isn't going to make much difference in a gallon or more of soup. You likely want 3 or even 6 times that. Do it slowly in a small amount until the taste is right. You generally want to add salt at the end anyway, so this is the way to handle it.
posted by bonehead at 11:24 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

A tsp of salt isn't even close to enough for a pot of soup. For a pot of soup, I'd probably add a minimum of 6+ tsps of salt. Don't be afraid of salt, it makes other flavors bloom.
posted by quince at 11:28 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

MSG and lots more salt.

Salt isn't bad for you.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:35 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Black beans, soy sauce, tabasco, lemon juice. Don't drain the beans.
posted by Oyéah at 11:41 AM on October 22, 2015

Along the same lines as many of the suggestions above, miso would provide both saltiness and depth of flavor. Or you could just add tomato paste, butter, and salt, and decide that you meant to make tomato soup all along.

Next time, save the slow cooker for meat and bone broths. I've never made a vegetable soup that benefited from cooking for more than half an hour.
posted by aws17576 at 6:01 PM on October 22, 2015

My grandmother tends to overdo the salt, so when we agreed that she would put little to no salt in the soups she makes for me and I'll season according to my taste.

I found by experimentation that apple cider vinegar is a really good way to pep up bland soups (usually clear ones). About a teaspoon per bowl of soup gives the soup a lovely tang, hardly any sourness at all. I double that if I want to get the acidity.
posted by Alnedra at 1:53 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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