I have a very complicated relationship with soup. I hated the stuff until I moved to Bozeman, at which point it became a necessity to survive. When the temperature drops below -30º F for the 10th day in a row, guess what, you like soup. You like it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is your Bagel Bite, in the morning, evening, and at suppertime. There are still some textural (boooo minestrone get off the stage) and linguistic (I like a “rustic” tomato soup but the second it’s described as “chunky” I am actively uninterested and/or nauseas) obstacles to overcome before me and soup make matching friendship bracelets, but we’re on our way. In the words of Kanye, it’s a process.
I think I’ve grown to love soup the way I’ve grown to love the ladies who first taught me how to make it: my first roommates in Bozeman. So many roomies, so little time! Look how much we love each other/the snow.
We ate dinner together almost every night, scrounging together whatever ingredients we had lying around to make something marvelous.We even came up with a ranking system for our meals: on a scale of Wouldn’t Eat When Drunk to Would Serve To the President. White rice + half a squash from my roommate’s boyfriend’s garden + some eggs from our chickens + an eggplant from the Food Bank + a scoop of peanut butter makes a pretty mean stir fry, especially when you’re in good company; I lived on $15,000 a year and felt like I lived like a king, a broke, 22-year-old king. I’ve never been so happy having so little, and that’s what I associate with soup: coming home to friendly faces, $3 six-packs from Conoco, and Everything But The Kitchen Sink dinners.
Soup is perfect because it is painfully easy, cheap, and versatile. It’s easy to go to try a new recipe and see that you don’t have, say, champagne vinegar or something terribly specific and then fear that the Lifestyle Blog Gods are going to look down upon you and smite you with their Terroir Trident or Scepter of Clean Eating but fear not! Unless you are baking, recipes aren’t set in stone, and even then you’ve got some wiggle room. You are the master of your fate! Soup Invictus!
You can make a soup without a recipe if you just follow four easy steps, like that sitcom but it’s Four Simple Rules For Dating My 24-Year-Old Self Who Loves Soup. It was rainy and gross the other day and even though it was about 90º outside, I still felt like tomato soup. For me, anyways, the KISS principle reigns supreme with tomato soup; why mess with a classic? Feel free to jazz it up however and with whatever ingredients you see fit, though.
STEP 1: SAUTE YOUR ONIONS, LEEKS, AND/OR SHALLOTS
Dice ’em finely and throw them into a pot. That pot should already be turned on to medium heat with some olive oil and/or butter. Cook down your onions, etc., stirring frequently until they’re soft and translucent. As you can see, my knifework leaves much to be desired but it’s all getting blended anyway so I’m not too concerned.
Aromatics are your spices: garlic, cumin, chili powder or red pepper flakes, cayenne, curry, paprika, you name it. Add the in and stir for just a minute or two, just enough for the flavor to really be released. I used garlic and red pepper flakes for this soup.
First, let’s backtrack to the stock. I use Better Than Bouillon because I like the flavor and it’s concentrated, which is key if space comes at a premium in your kitchen. You can also make your own stock if you want, which is fairly easy, but also requires a solid bit of forethought. Have I made my own stock before? Yes. Was it in class? Yes. Have I had the brains to ever think to make it ahead of time for my own soups? No.
Round up all the vegetables, legumes, lentils, and whatnot you’d like to add to the soup (I don’t know how to add meat to soup, sorry, you’re on your own there), and add them to the pot along with your stock. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and let simmer. If you’re making a soup with softer ingredients, like this tomato soup, you’ll probably only need to simmer for about 15 minutes or so. If you’re making a soup with potatoes, parsnips, carrots, or any other tougher root vegetable, you’ll need to simmer for 30 minutes or longer. Poke them to see if they’re soft, or something.
For this soup, I added vegetable stock (moment of honesty: chicken stock tastes better, please use it so I can live vicariously through you) and diced tomatoes, which didn’t seem thick enough, so I blistered some cherry tomatoes and added those to the pot as well. That is DEFINITELY not classic French technique but if the soup spirit moves you, let it groove you and whatever you do, do not tell Gordon Ramsay.
STEP 4: BLEND (OPTIONAL) AND SEASON (NOT OPTIONAL)
I like blended soups because again, chunky, but if you like to leave yours more as a stew, go right ahead. If you’re on Team Texture Issues, though, locate your nearest blender or immersion blender and blend away. I highly recommend an immersion blender, as it will make your life about 1000x easier. No more transferring half a batch of soup to a blender and then to another bowl and then then back to the pot while you brace yourself for the blender to inevitably fail and spew hot soup all over you. They cost like $30 and you will make it back almost immediately from all the money you’ll save making cheap soup for dinner.
If you like creamier soups, now’s the time to add in cream, butter, milk, etc. Emulsification, word. I added in some whole milk (it was just a one night stand, almond milk, it meant nothing, I promise) because YOTSO? More like You Only Tomato Soup OFTEN. After everything is all blended (or not), taste and season with salt and pepper. If you add the salt during step 2 or 3, it’ll reduce down too much during the cooking process and you’ll be left with a salt lick of a soup and a hungry gaggle of elk staring at you through your kitchen window.
Vibrant! In the words of Ina, how easy is that? So easy. You can really only mess up soup so much, and honestly, if you use something as a dipping sauce for grilled cheese, it can only taste so bad. This was, however, very delicious tomato soup. And if you sprinkle a little bit of cheese and cracked pepper over it, you’re practically at a bistro.
A bistro where every crossword puzzle you’ve ever half-completed haunts you (I give up on food photography, I don’t even know). I also made some grilled cheese because you really can’t eat tomato soup without grilled cheese, clearly. There is no recipe for that, either, because I’m not going to patronize you, but I will ask that you use butter. I spent 20 years of my life wondering my grilled cheeses weren’t extra delicious when I was making them in a nonstick pan with a dash of oil and a single slice of cheese. I won’t go as far as to say butter is your friend across the board, but he’s a good dude to know when you’re trying to make a decent sandwich.
The only downside of making soup for that one rainy day in the summer is that suddenly you’re stuck with leftovers that your mom wants “out of the refrigerator” and “doesn’t have space for in the freezer.” BRB, persevering through a bowl of hot tomato soup that I’m imagining is a bowl of sorbet. Note to self: tomato sorbet.
Now go forth and prosper, students of soup!