Soup is a great weekday meal as it’s tasty, healthy and quick to prepare. As you can make a soup using almost any combination of vegetables, it’s also great for using up random ingredients so that they don’t get wasted. What’s more, if you know the basic steps to making a soup, you don’t even need to have a recipe to hand!
Here is our step-by step guide…
First things first: ingredients
Aim for about 0.5-1 kilo of veg. Vegetables that have seen better days work well in soups, so if you’ve got sprouting potatoes, wilted greens, or floppy carrots, chuck them in! Take a look through your fridge or cupboard to see what needs using up.
70% of food waste in the UK happens in our homes, and most of that is food that could have been eaten. So if you peel your carrots and potatoes, or cut the stems off broccolis or the tops off leeks – why not try keeping these for your soup?
In our humble opinion, every good soup starts with a base of “aromatics” that pack some flavour like onion and garlic. If you don’t have any onions, leeks and shallots work well too.
For some soups, adding a base of double or sour cream, coconut milk, or a tin of tomatoes can really enhance the flavour. Try adding a few dollops of sour cream into a tomato or leek and potato soup, or adding a tin of coconut milk into a spicy red lentil soup. In a pinch, milk can be used. Dairy-based cream should be added at the end, just before serving.
A staple for most soups is salt, pepper and a stock cube. See here for how to make homemade stock from vegetable scraps.
Below are a few combinations of herbs and spices that we think go well together.
Quick tip: It’s best to buy spices in small quantities as old spices lose their flavour.
- Thyme (or herbes de provence), peppercorns, bay leaves and parsley. Works well for a vegetable broth or creamy soup.
- Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, chilli, cumin and nutmeg. Works well for a spicy lentil and tomato soup.
- Lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves or lime zest, cumin, turmeric, garlic and peppercorns. This gives the flavour of a thai green curry and works well for a soup made with mixed veg, lentils and coconut milk.
- Oregano, basil and a pinch of fennel – works well in a tomato-based soup.
Pulses and grains
Adding a small amount of grains and pulses like red lentils, split peas, chickpeas and pearl barley can help to make a soup go further and add protein. If using dry grains or pulses, make sure to check the packet to check cooking times and to see if they need pre-soaking before cooking.
- Cook the aromatics like onion and garlic in oil or butter for 10-15 minutes, until they are golden brown and smell amazing.
- Chop the vegetables. The smaller the chunks, the quicker they’ll cook. Set aside any fast-cooking vegetables (like chard and spinach) to add in near the end.
- Prepare a stock by adding a stock cube to boiling water.
- Add the rest of the ingredients. This includes your herbs, spices, veg, stock, and any tinned tomato or coconut milk, as well as pre-cooked grains and pulses. Red lentils can go in without pre-soaking or pre-cooking.
- Bring to a boil then cook at a low heat. Taste the vegetables after about 30 minutes to see how cooked they are. Cooking a soup for 1-2 hours on a very low heat will really bring out the flavours.
- Blend it – or don’t. Blending soups like leek and potato can make them deliciously creamy, while leaving them as they are can give them more texture. Make sure to remove any tough herbs and spices like bay leaves, star anis and cloves first!
- Taste and add flavour. If it tastes bland, try adding some flavour enhancers like: salt, pepper, lemon juice, fresh herbs or hot sauce.