Believe it or not, homemade soups can be just as easy (and affordable) to fix as they are delicious (and nutritious) to eat! Why, in our house, these made-from-scratch dishes (often chock-full of vegetables from the garden) are mealtime mainstays all year round, even in the summer!
I got hooked on making my own soups a couple of years ago, when after searching through a rack of cookbooks to find yet another way to prepare the mountains of zucchini we were harvesting, I came across a recipe for a squash soup calling for a combination of pureed zucchini, chicken stock, milk, and spices, topped with yogurt. Unable to resist, I tried it … and it turned out to be fabulous! With a pale creamy green color and a delightfully delicate flavor, the zucchini potage was a treat for the eyes and a feast for the palate!
Once I’d discovered how tasty our squash could be when added to a simple poultry bouillon and milk base, with a few spices and yogurt for extra flavoring, I decided to experiment with other vegetables, and different broths and herbs. And before I knew it, I was an enthusiastic (and prolific!) soup simmerer with my own “stock” formula which has since served as the basis of an endless variety of sumptuous made from scratch delicacies. So, if you’re a potential soup maker too, I think you’ll enjoy the following tips. They just might help you get the soup “bowl” rolling around your house.
The most important task in soup making is the preparation of the stock (the job requires time, but not vigilance). All that you’ll need to start with are  soup bones (any kind will do, including chicken, beef, ham, and fish);  a couple of celery stalks (with leaves), a carrot, and an onion;  a bay leaf (use three of these when preparing fish broth), several sprigs of parsley, and a dash of vinegar; and, of course,  a large pot (about eight- to ten-quart capacity, if possible) with a lid.
To begin, place the bones in the kettle and pour in enough water to cover them completely. Then add 1 tablespoon of vinegar for every 3 quarts of stock (I think this helps draw the nutrients and flavor out of the bones). Next, chop the parsley and vegetables and toss them in, along with the bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the ingredients until the vegetables are soft and most of the meat has dropped of the bones.
After cooking the stock for a minimum of 1 hour, remove the pot from the stove and strain off and refrigerate the broth. Save the vegetables and the meat (you may want to pick some of it off the bones) and put them aside to use later. Once the liquid has thoroughly cooled, skim off any fat (it’ll have risen to the surface). What’s left should form the base for several batches of soup, so just freeze what you don’t need right away, and pour the rest into a fresh pot. Lunch will be ready in no time! [EDITOR’S NOTE:Some cooks prefer to scrape the fat off stock only when they’re ready to use the base, since the thin layer of grease does tend to help seal out air and preserve the broth.]
Is it Soup Yet?
With the stock prepared, puree the meat and vegetables you set aside and use them to thicken the broth. If you need more “additives,” check out your refrigerator to see what sort of interesting (potentially blendable) leftovers you’ve got. Practically any cooked vegetable will do (except beets, which tend to be pretty overpowering unless you’re making borsch). And don’t turn up your nose at last night’s cheese sauce or that half-empty can of tomato paste, either. Even this morning’s Cream of Wheat cereal, or yesterday’s grits, can be used to add flavor and substance to soup.
Then again, just in case you get carried away and add too many pureed edibles to the pot, it’s a good idea to have some stored vegetable “juice” (left from cooking and canning, say) on hand to use as a thinner. (This nutritious and tasty liquid can also serve as a fine soup base if you’d rather not use meat stock.)
After your “brew” reaches a pleasing consistency, the only other thing it needs to give it that satisfying gourmet aura is a touch of spice (carefully added, a pinch at a time, while the soup is hot). The most popular potage seasoners are the “big French three”: sweet basil, thyme, and marjoram. While these spices used individually or combined add zest to most broths and chowders, summer (or winter) savory is a must for bean creations. However, my favorite flavor enhancer is the hard-to-find (yet easy-to-grow, indoors or out) chervil. This tasty green herb is both subtle and versatile; It can be tossed into a pot of soup by the handful, or sprinkled sparingly on each serving.
A Few Final Tips
Cream soups — garnished with sprigs of parsley or chervil, bacon bits, freshly made croutons, or paprika — are delicious, but they’re also likely to be quite rich (since they’re usually made with cream or a white sauce). So if you’re calorie-conscious, try creating your cream concoctions with yogurt or pureed cottage cheese rather than the traditional ingredients. The result will be just as tasty, and not nearly as “weighty”!
Clear soups, on the other hand, are low in calories because for the most part all they consist of is a light broth plus a judicious amount of chopped vegetables and, maybe, a half-cup of cooked rice or noodles. (When you make one of these dishes, try adding a dash of lemon or some tomato juice to lend it a bit of tang.)
However, whether you choose to make hearty vegetable medleys, savory cream potpourris, simple nutritious broths, or (if you’re like me) all three, I’m willing to bet it won’t take you too long to fill up a recipe box with original soup ideas to fit practically any occasion. I just hope, after your family gets a taste of how scrumptious “homebrew” can be, that you’ll be able to stir up a batch of it as quickly as they can stir up a year-round appetite for homemade soup!
Soups to Begin With
I wrote down the following recipes as I made the soups using whatever ingredients I happened to have on hand: