How to: Invent Your Own Soup

I recently found out that this guy whose kids I know owns a patent on a medical something or other, and I was very surprised and impressed. Scientists are surprising and impressive people. With this lofty goal in mind, I’d say probably the quickest route into science is to invent your own soup.

Most soups have the following components: vegetables, liquid, starch and protein. For example, chicken noodle soup has onions, celery and carrots (vegetables); chicken broth (liquid); noodles (starch); and protein (chicken). There are also specialty soups such as French onion, Thai soups that use coconut milk like this shrimp curry, and pureed soups such as pumpkin or cauliflower. The tips below apply mainly to the first formula and hold plenty of inspiration for a flavorful, shareable, meals-all-week-able, freezable soup made with only your favorite ingredients. Go forth and invent, young soup scientists!

**How to Invent Your Own Soup**

Know your veggies. Carrots, celery and onions add a base flavor to almost all soups, so if you’re not completely averse, definitely include them. Other vegetables that work well are broccoli, any variety of pepper, yellow squash, zucchini, peas and hearty greens like kale, since they can stand up to simmering in liquid for awhile. You’ll want to saute all veggies in butter or oil til they’re tender but not mushy before adding broth.

Season well. You don’t need to have an array of exotic spices to enhance that bland old broth. I use thyme for a standard chicken noodle type deal. For more ethnic spins just think of the basic spices of  that cuisine: garlic, basil and oregano for Italian; garlic, ginger and soy sauce for Asian; and garlic, cumin and cayenne pepper for Mexican. You can experiment with the amounts of each spice and can adjust at the end of cooking. Don’t forget salt and pepper!

Seek starch in the pantry. Especially as the temperature drops, you’ll probably want to avoid a special trip to the store for penne pasta or egg noodles in particular. Any variety of rice or pasta as well as frozen dumplings, potatoes or tortillas work just fine. Just pour them in your simmering broth like you would boiling water and add a few minutes to their usual cooking time to make up for the lower temperature.

Keep some broth in there, while you’re at it. Chicken or vegetable broth are useful pantry staples as they basically last forever and, besides soups, can replace water in sauces or rice for added flavor. Low sodium broth is always a good choice or you can even make your own and store it in the freezer.

Pile in the protein. Pre-cooked chicken, beef brisket, steak, pork tenderloin, sausage, shrimp, extra-firm tofu, tempeh or beans can all increase the heartiness of your dish. Add them towards the end of cooking once your starch is already tender to avoid mushy meat pulp.

You garnish, girl! “Yeah, this could have been made at a restaurant, NBD.” Definitely don’t buy a whole bunch of cilantro just to drop a couple leaves on top of your bowl of soup, but if you got it, flaunt it. Ideas include (big breath): fresh herbs (i.e., basil, cilantro, sage, parsley, dill), sliced avocado, pesto, sour cream, Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, shredded cheese (i.e., cheddar, gruyere, monterey jack, parmesan), chopped scallions or chives, nuts (i.e., cashews, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts), crumbled bacon, croutons, crackers or bread.

Find a template and add your flair. There are a wealth of soup variations over at Food Network Magazine or you can adapt a recipe you already use and enjoy to include even more of what you like. Consider one serving of soup as one cup of broth with a half cup vegetables and a half cup protein. Divide recipes down, multiply them up, add ingredients, subtract them… Just like real science, soup science is based on math!

Jen Cantin recently graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. with a degree in English and Journalism. She shares other (a)musings at Deep Fried Epiphany and does not dedicate this post to Soup Nazi from Seinfeld because honestly she’s never seen that episode.

Originally posted on Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

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