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Secrets to Perfect Homemade Soups

Soups and stews are a hallmark comfort food for people in all walks of life. There is virtually no other food that showcases the ever-changing seasons and cultural advances in social etiquette and industrialism like soup.  Creating great soup seems like a daunting task of preparation, perspiration and perfection.  Seeking to live up to the standards of the generations before us is not an easy assignment until we fully understand what makes the ‘soup of old’ great.  So let us unravel the mystery of the perfect soup.


Starting with the Bare Basics

The base of traditional soups stems from great broths, creams and thickening agents.  Without these vital ingredients the overall flavor and cornerstone of the meal is lost.  Creating perfect stocks, broth, and bouillons begins with good bones, aromatics, and a long simmer time.  Stocks are comprised of aromatics of additional vegetables, herbs and spices to give balance and substance to the liquid.  Brown stock is achieved by browning bones, vegetables, and other ingredients before they’re cooked in a liquid.   Some people use salt when making stock to add depth to the entire flavor.  To prevent ruining the soup, it is probably best to wait until nearly finished to incorporate salt.


Cream based soups begin with a quality cream that is heated slowly during the simmering process. Because milk solids burn easily, you will note a scotched taste throughout the entire product if you heat the cream too quickly, even when you catch it right away.  If you are beginning to cook creamed based soups, try using a double-boiler to evenly heat the soup without direct heat. 


Thickening agents are also important when making soup and most recipes call for starches, emulsions, purees or additional heating to thicken them properly.  These methods and ingredients will give structure, palatability and texture to your soup.  Starting will the fundamental building blocks of great soup will help you to build a foundation for finding the best recipe for you.


Let Personal Preferences Guide You

As you begin looking at soup recipes, select ones that fit your taste, time availability, and creativity. If you don’t want to adventure into making your own stock, choose a recipe that calls for pre-made stocks or purees.  Focusing on other aspects of the soup (vegetable cuts and preparing the garnishes like dumplings or noodles) will help you to feel more confident in your soup-making abilities right away.


You should also be guided to the perfect recipe by what fruits, vegetables and herbs are in season. Making a chilled fruit soup during the winter might sound great, but be assured that it will be expensive and you may not be able to find all the necessary ingredients.


Allow enough time to make your soup.  Most soups require a long simmering process that shouldn't be rushed.  Select recipes that give you an approximate preparation time.  Always give yourself more time than you need to allow for preparation at your own speed.  If you are a beginner, it is good to know how long cutting vegetables or picking herbs really takes.  As your skill set increases, you will be able to breeze through the preparation items and get on to the cooking!


Lastly, don’t skimp on the garnishes. Garnishes should complement or contrast the mood/theme of your dish, not over power it. All garnishes should be edible and pleasing in taste. You may see a display in a magazine that looks great, but you need to consider if it will enhance the taste of the soup. Assume that your guests will be eating everything on their plates.  Many recipes have built in garnishes such as dumpling, croutons, noodles, or leek haystacks.  Choose one or more garnishes that are within your growing skill-level or time allotment.  Factor in additional time to prepare the right garnishes as well as the overall presentation. All of these tips will help you ensure that you will select the best recipe for you during any season, amount of time, and level of creativity.


Serving a Memorable Soup with Flair

A great garnish lends texture, height and eye appeal to your finished soup. Take this principal a step further by adding these same principals to your presentation.  Let the theme of the main dish be the driving concept for your entire menu.  If you’re serving a bright soup like Gazpacho, incorporate the colors, shapes and cultural notes to your overall theme. Creating a Southwest inspired ambiance, with colors of greens, reds, and yellows, is a great touch. You can also serve seasoned tortillas for dipping, lightly refreshing drinks, and desserts that are inspired by the Southwest as well.  Make the intangibles tangible by adding music, costumes, and traditional entertainment to your meal.  These small touches, stemming from the soup you have just prepared, create a memorable meal that is worth sharing with family and friends.


Sharing a great soup with others is a great way to introduce someone to the joys of cooking.  Understanding the basic principles of its form and function can help you choose the right recipe for you.  Also, creating a great mood, theme and energy around your dish can help you tie in other great ways to create memories with family and friends.