The Soup Is For All: Soup Alchemy & Experimentation
In my conversations with friends and loved ones, I’ve come to realize how many people are AFRAID TO COOK! Whether it is because of a lack of experience or bad experiences in the past, so many people I know are hesitant to try something even as basic and fantastically mutable and customizable as a soup, and certainly not without following a recipe to the very letter!
This is a shocking discovery for me because making and consuming good food is one of the most satisfying and life-affirming things I can think of. It is one of the things that keeps me going even in my darkest days. With that in mind, I’ve created this little two-part tutorial with tips on how to create The Most Satisfying Soup Experience You Will Ever Have!
Basic Soup Template
- Frying pan for browning meat (I prefer a light metal pan to a heavy dark pan for this)
- Big soup pot!
- Knife for cutting veggies
- Small spoon for tasting
- Ladle for ladling your delicious creation into bowls for family & friends!
- Meat (if you’re an omnivore)
- Fresh Veggies (any kind you like, chopped into bite-size pieces)
- Canned Veggies (stay away from mushy stuff, but DO try cream-style corn and stewed tomatoes!)
- Broth (I use store-bought organic broth like Pacifica, but you don’t have to!)
- Olive Oil or other vegetable oil (to keep the veggies moist and from sticking to the pot)
- LOVE. It really does make the soup taste better!
If your soup will have meat in it, season & brown the meat first. Make sure you drain the grease and pat the meat dry with a paper towel. You might be tempted to put the grease into the soup with the meat, but if you do, your soup may turn out very oily. (*) Set the meat aside.
Coat the bottom of your soup pot with a thin layer of olive oil, or another cooking oil of your choice. This will keep your veggies from sticking to the bottom & sides of your pot. Go for a strong oil rather than a light-tasting oil as the oil will add lots of intense flavor!
Cut up your FRESH veggies and dump them into the pot. Remember: this phase is for your more tough veggies that will take longer to cook: potatoes, carrots, peppers, onions, squash, etc. If you’re using leafy greens or other delicate veggies, they should go in later so that they don’t get cooked into mush and disintegrate.
Cook your fresh veggies over medium heat until they are partially cooked/wilted, stirring frequently. (**) Feel free to add a bit more olive oil as needed to keep them moist. And DO season your veggies a little now so that the flavor will have time to blend and mature.
Once your veggies are a little tender, add your meat and broth. Ideally, you want the liquid to cover your meat & veggies. It’s totally okay to use water and/or milk to supplement your broth. This is a good time to add more seasoning as well.
Turn up the heat to high and allow your soup to come to a full rolling boil. Cook on high for a few minutes, then cover and turn heat to low. Simmer until your hardest veggies are tender and the flavors of the ingredients have blended together. This means you have to check on your soup somewhat frequently, tasting and testing the consistency of your veggies.
Now: add your canned veggies! If the juice is tasty and not too watery, don’t drain it out; add it to your soup! This will give the broth even more flavor. I’ve especially found that cream-style corn can give weight and balance to the higher, hotter elements of a soup. For example, the very hot red fresno pepper in my kielbasa soup is only balanced by the earthy, starchy element from the corn. Let your soup continue to simmer for about ten minutes while the flavors blend.
Lastly, add your delicate veggies. Your basil, your spinach, your green onions. You want these to cook only until they are wilted, dark green, but not olive drab. You don’t want them to be mushy or falling apart.
Once your delicate veggies are cooked, your soup is ready! Enjoy!
How do I figure out how much meat, veggies, etc. to put into my soup?
Everything in this template is to your own taste. Seriously. Use your best judgment and intuition and individual preference. Ideally, you probably want to have your meat and veggies covered with some broth, so keep that in mind. The best advice I can give you is to do what pleases you and what tastes good to you. If it looks and tastes good to you, it will taste good to others. Let your own taste buds and sense of aesthetics guide you to soup ecstasy!
O’ Great Soup Goddess, tell me which seasonings to use!
My desert island picks for seasonings are a black, white & red trinity: crushed black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. I swear that you can make anything taste good with the right portions of these three seasonings. If cost is a factor, these are your best bet, in my humble opinion. But again, use what tastes good to you and matches up with the soup experience you want to have! Maybe you want to create a chicken curry soup. Maybe you want a fruit soup that would taste divine with cinnamon. Use what feels right. Sprinkle lightly, taste and then adjust according to your preferences. A great cook uses a wide variety of seasonings, orthodox and not! Just remember not to let your spices overwhelm the food. The spice should complement, not compete with, each individual aspect of the dish you’re preparing.
*My soup is oily. How can I fix this?
A good fix for this is to put a couple leaves of lettuce into the soup, let the oil collect on the lettuce and then fish it out. Repeat as many times as necessary. Another thing that helps is to refrigerate your soup. The oil will harden on the top and can then easily be removed with a fork or spoon. Then you can reheat and enjoy!
**I don’t get it. Where’s the alchemy?
The whole process of cooking a meal is very much an alchemical process. You are taking base elements and transforming them into something almost impossibly glorious! Try not to cook if you are upset or angry. Your mood will affect the quality and taste of your food. Prepare your food lovingly, savor each component, thinking of the wonderful color and texture it will add to your meal. As you handle the ingredients of your elixir, energetically push in your feelings of compassion, contentment, loving-kindness, inspiration, whatever energies you & your loved ones need most. In this way, your cooking becomes a meditation and a ritual for healing and inspiration.