For me, there are few meals that can be as satisfying as a well-made soup — especially at lunchtime. As the weather cools off, a hot concoction is just what the doctor ordered. And, no, not some scrub Progresso or even that “high end” Campbell’s Slow Kettle Style shit. If you try to bring that whackness into my zone, I will punt it into the Sargasso Sea.
The key, here, is understanding that making most soups isn’t too difficult, and it can feed you — healthfully! — for days. So, let’s get right to it. Here are some tips to building a solid foundation for soups that you can make variations upon, and also a few recipes and stupid jokes to aid you on your quest.
Knock out that mirepoix, son
Many soups call for a base of chopped carrots, onions, and celery. The French call it a “mirepoix”; I call it a giant pain in my ass. If you are down to chop up those veggies individually — and I have done so to the point where I’m totally over it — more power to you. If you are a human being and not a cyborg, I recommend a pre-cut container from the local grocery store. Whole Foods has ‘em, but my go-to is the one from Trader Joe’s.
This fits into the same category as the mirepoix. You’re probably gonna need some garlic in your soup, but cutting it up can suck ass. I find that the peeled garlic cloves — again, both Whole Paycheck and TJ’s sell these time-savers — don’t lack in flavor. And you don’t get sticky garlic shit all over your hands when chopping. If you’re a stickler for freshness, invest in a garlic press like this. You can even leave the peels on. A note: Don’t buy pre-minced garlic. You might as well just throw in your chips and grab some Campbell’s condensed at that point.
Count your beans
Chances are, beans might be integral, too. In fact, not much more than a mirepoix, garlic, beans, stock and aromatics will make for a fine soup. This recipe for a Tuscan white bean soup is one of my favorites and is super easy. About those aromatics: I always add more rosemary and/or thyme than the recipe dictates. Why? Because rosemary and thyme taste fucking delicious, that’s why.
I’ve made this mistake before and ruined a couple of soups. There’s no going back once you’ve let too much sodium slip into the mix. It’s kind of like participating in an orgy. There’s no going back from that. You’re an orgy guy from that point forward.
Add salt gradually and, also, be sure to use sea or Kosher salt. The fine-grain Morton’s stuff will fuck your shit up. And as long as we’re on the subject, grab a low-sodium stock or broth when you’re picking up ingredients. It’s the same idea as using unsalted butter when baking or cooking: It’ll let you dictate the flavors more. And if you’re not a dictator in the kitchen, what are you good for?
An additional word about stocks vs. broths. I don’t make stocks myself. It’s really hard to do well, no matter what the Food Network people are telling you. So, when I’m at the store, I reach for a low-sodium stock on the shelf. There’s some debate going on about broths being lesser-than, but in basic soups, it’s hard to tell the diff. So, if some nerd is telling you about how superior stocks are, crack open a can of broth and don’t worry about it. Also, crack open a can of beer. Drinking while cooking is essential. I can’t believe I didn’t mention it first.
One of my go-to soup recipes is this joint from The New York Times. (The Times, it should be mentioned, as a fantastic cooking section and iPad app. Totally worth bumbling down its rabbit-hole.) It’s a ribollita by Mark Bittman and the dish is lightning-flash-to-your-tongue delicious. As you might notice, it’s pretty closely to related to its Italian brethren, the Tuscan white bean soup. Still, it’s a bit more difficult — with more steps — and the addition of tomatoes makes for a much different end result. Here, too, I’d add that I like to use less kale than Bittman recommends. Once you try making these bad boys a few times, you’ll figure out how you like it. That sounded dirty.
Invest in a Crock Pot
You can get one for $30. Don’t be a fucking cheapskate. The C Piznot was built for soups and stews. Pop a gang of shit in in the morning, come back home to a fresh meal. Ba-boom! My favorite thing to make in the Criznock P.O.T. is split pea soup. I don’t have a recipe because I’m a gangster but it goes something like this: mirepoix, a grip of garlic, salt, pepper, chicken stock, a bag of split peas (soaked overnight), a bay leaf, and the crucial component: the remnants of a bone-in ham (perfect after Thanksgiving or Christmas). You pop all that shit in there, turn it on high and watch the magic. About halfway through, I pull the bone, chop up the remaining ham and throw it back in. The bone goes in the trash and, a few hours later, the soup goes in your stomach.
It’s always best to use fresh, seasonal ingredients even if it makes you sound like a pretentious twerp when you say it. Right now, for instance, the West has a green chile roasting explosion. I love this recipe, and while it works with some canned Ortega crap, green chiles roasted on the side of the road in Colorado, California, or New Mexico are what’s up. If you’re out East, you might consider making something with root vegetables. If you’re in Texas, just keep on making beef chili.
Step into the freezer
Almost every soup is eminently freezable from now till kingdom come. If you’re making a big batch of soup for just yourself: win. Freeze that shit up and enjoy it in the weeks and months to come. And a big pro tip: Make sure to bring some to work at least one day. You can tell your coworkers how you made it yourself while they eat their farty Subway. It’ll make them jealous, and there’s nothing better than that when you’re cooking. Besides drinking. I think I mentioned the drinking earlier.