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Anyone can make soup. And it can be magical. Something out of Tales of Despereaux (the original BOOK, not the movie travesty).
Soup is food you can make when your cupboards are getting a bit bare, if you know the rules for various types of meat and ingredients. You can generally make an excellent soup, even with limited ingredients, and it does not have to become Burgoo.
Our family served soup often when we had dinner guests. Oh, we don't mean dinner PARTY guests, nothing like that. We never HAD that kind of guests! I mean the neighbor kid who is there at dinner time, the missionaries who dropped by and needed fed, or friends who were invited, family staying with us, and other day to day dinner guests. We always knew we could throw together a tasty and filling meal when we served home made soup.
Our children learned to cook soup early on, and I taught them that certain things made the soup great.
A large bowl of dense and tasty soup, with a loaf of fresh bread, store bought dinner rolls, or refrigerator biscuits hot from the oven, makes a satisfying meal, and nobody ever complains.
Be careful not to use too much hot pepper. This is now a common mistake, and you may be able to eat your own soup, but your guests may not be able to finish their bowl, and that is a real shame.
There are ingredients that make soup taste good. And combinations that make it taste great. I'll try to explain a few.
- Mir Poi - Celery, Carrots, and Onions. A good base for the vegetables in most soups, and a lot of casseroles, and even some kinds of haggis!
- Butter - Any soup tastes better with butter. A lot of butter. Adding fat makes it more satisfying, and helps fill out the flavors.
- Salt - Salt it until it tastes oh so good. If you cook it some more, test for salt again at the end, because cooking causes ingredients to absorb more salt, leaving the broth a little weak.
- Broth - It helps boost the flavor. But water will do if that is what you have.
- Meat - Chop it fine or grind it and crumble it fine if you need a little to go a long way. Otherwise, 1/2" or larger pieces satisfy better.
- Other Vegetables - Peas, Green Beans, Corn, Cabbage, Spinach, Parsnips, Turnips if you must, and other vegetables help to round out flavors in one direction or another. Use Pod Peas, and Baby Corn for Oriental style soup.
- Tomatoes - Adds a depth and tang to soups with deeper flavors. Sometimes other fruits are added in the place of tomatoes, such as pineapple, apple, orange, or lime.
- Beans - A wide variety of beans can be added to soups, to broaden the flavors and round out the nutritional density. Beans are easiest to digest when cooked until very tender, and when stewed with tomato or other acidic foods, and meat also helps us digest and metabolize bean aminos.
- Barley - Takes about an hour to cook, but can help expand a soup nicely.
- Wheat Berries - Takes about 2 hours to cook, and can help increase nutrition. Use 1-2 tablespoons for a 2-3 qt pot, a little goes a long way.
- Noodles - We love them. Don't use those big chewy things, keep them thin enough to be enjoyable. Bean thread noodles take your dish right into Asian, with a flavor that won't interfere with delicate and savory soups.
- Rice - White or brown goes into many kinds of soups.
- Potatoes - A soup standby. We love them.
- Seasoning Salt - We like Redmond Real Salt Seasoning Salt. But use what makes it taste good.
- Garlic - Easy to get carried away. Just sprinkle in a little granulated or powdered garlic and let it brighten the broth without dominating.
- Cayenne or Black Pepper - Add a little zing or heat, but don't overdo. We want to TASTE the magnificence, not just blast our tongues with heat.
- Soy Sauce - Can be added to increase a beefy flavor, but don't add too much! I personally feel that the quality of the Soy Sauce makes all the difference. Kikoman tastes beefy, and salty. Some others just taste kinda weird. It can be added to other meats, and often is with Oriental style dishes.
That said, there are keys to many soup types, and specific ingredients that make the soup THAT GOOD when you put them in.
Beef - It is the tomato. Beef soup will always taste better if you add some tomato sauce, diced tomato, crushed tomato, etc. Ketchup WON'T do the job.
Chicken - Poultry Seasoning and Butter make your chicken soup sing, and Chef Paul says he loves it best with an edge of garlic that enhances the savory richness of the broth.
Pork - Poultry Seasoning and Onion, not too much Poultry Seasoning or it goes all to Sage and Thyme and isn't so good.
Turkey - Same as Chicken.
Lamb - Treat like Beef but go more gently on the tomato and seasonings. Lamb has a brightness and savoriness of it's own. Make sure the lamb is NOT a Muttony Lamb.
Mutton - Treat like beef, but add MORE Onion and Garlic, and a wider variety of vegetables, but NOT Turnips.
Veal - Treat like beef or lamb, depending on how red it is (redder more like beef).
Seafood - Can go Boston or Manhattan in color (milk, or tomato). Light Poultry Seasoning, butter, onions and light garlic will generally complement any seafood.
Venison - Treat like beef, but you may need to add more fat, and use a little stronger flavorings if it is gamey.
Pigeon - Treat like lamb, and pigeon loves red bell peppers.
Duck or Goose - Treat like Beef, but use heavier flavors to mask any gaminess or fishiness. A little stronger pepperiness can help also.
Smoked Sausage, Bacon, Ham - Goes well with Potatoes, but also with rice or beans. Onion, and Mir Poi are all you need here, but GENTLY on the salt because these already have salt.
Potato - Butter, Salt, and Onion, with milk and salt added is the classic simple Irish Potato Soup. It grows FAR beyond that, and we always add Mir Poi, Poultry Seasoning (just a bit), often Chicken Broth if we have it, and we thicken it with flour. We also ALWAYS add meat (ham, bacon, sausage, etc), and often add corn. It can be anything from a light side dish, to a full hearty main dish.
Bean - Bean soups require the beans to be overcooked, to get the thickness and brothiness from the beans. They work well with onions, bacon, ham, and other strong flavors, and a little heat complements them well. Remember, Great Northern and Cannelini beans are NOT the same as Navy or Small White - they have a stronger flavor, more like Kidney beans. Pinto and Pink are the most inoffensive of beans for heavier flavors, with Small White or Navy being the standard for lighter flavored dishes. Garbanzos can be added to many soups, but Black Eyed Peas, and Fava beans should not be used unless you like their taste and know how to use them in a way that won't conflict with the flavor of the soup. Lentil and Split Pea soups are also popular, but remember, many people are allergic to Lentils. When you want just a little beans added to a beef or sausage soup, use Kidney or Black Beans. They have a stronger beany flavor when you need just a little added to the dish.
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