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Soup and stock basics

With a good base stock, some vegetables and meaty bones you can make great soups, a meal in a bowl.

Soups, thick and thin, are very satisfying and easy to make at home. Soups make an elegant and exciting first course for any meal. With a good base stock, some vegetables and meaty bones you can make a meal in a bowl and serve simply with fresh bread. Don't forget the best soups have a homemade stock base.

Wonderful soups

A hot bowl of soup is always a great starter, particularly during the cold months. Probably chicken noodle soup is a worldwide comforter. Soups make a light start to a meal or, in the heartier forms, become the main dish. Ideal for lunch or supper, served with specialty breads or croutons.

Making your own stock is simple; the home made flavor incomparable. The stocks and broths needed to flavor soups take long but they are easy to prepare. Most of the time, stocks just simmer unattended. Freeze your stock and you will always have a ready base. Using that base, your soups will change according to the seasonal produce available.

Think of the many varieties of soup, not only hot thick soups for the winter, but cold and chilled soups that can be served in the summer; clear thin soups and thick purees, cream soups, or hearty bean soups that make a meal with the simple accompaniment of fresh bread.

A word about soups

Soups, thick and thin, are easy and very satisfying to make at home. Soups make an elegant and exciting first course for any meal you want to make special -choose one that will complement the flavors of the other dishes in the menu- or with a good stock, some vegetables and meaty bones you can make a meal in a bowl and serve simply with fresh bread. Bisques, chowders and gumbos have enticing names and all of them are soups. You can also have milk, fruit, wine and dessert soups.

Bouillon is a clear soup made from brown stock.

Consommé is a combination of chicken or veal stock with beef stock or bouillon. Garnished with diced meat –chicken, beef or ham- or chopped hard boiled eggs; a first course soup completely clear, easy to eat, and with a nice, clean flavor. It is not very filling which makes consommé an ideal starter when the main dish is very rich.

Broth refers to a thin soup made from fresh bones and vegetables cooked in plenty of water slowly and for a long time. Serve the meat and vegetables with the soup. You can make a similar soup with a stock base.

To prepare a pureed soup, cook fresh vegetables in stock and puree them afterwards. This kind of soup does not need thickening usually.

Make a cream soup from pureed vegetables, fish or poultry and enrich it with cream and butter. You could also use egg yolks. Another way is to use a béchamel sauce as base, cooking the main ingredients in the sauce before pureeing them. The outcome is rich and thick.

Dried legume soups are a meal on themselves. Think of a minestrone soup.

Soup will soothe of nerves a starter of digestive juices. Only in its heartier forms does it become a meal in itself.

Soups for all seasons

Warm and comforting when it is cold outside, cold and refreshing when it is hot, there are soup recipes for each season.

Soups for Spring

Take advantage of the new, tender vegetables and prepare light, thin soups. Choose some vegetables –carrots, potatoes, leeks, chard- and cut them en julienne. Cook them for ten minutes in chicken or vegetable stock. You are done. If you don’t have stock and want to give your soup a very special flavor, put to the boil 4 cups of water with a drizzle of olive oil and a small chunk of Serrano ham -2 oz (50 g) which is one or two slices will do.

Soups for the Summer

There is a great selection of cold soups to serve through the summer from gazpacho to vichyssoise. Do you have a glut of tomatoes in your garden? Make a soup out of them. Make gazpacho for immediate consumption or make tomato soup and can it.

Soups for the Autumn

Time to start with hot soups again and the unique range of autumn vegetables and products can be the basis form some great soups, think of mushroom or pumpkin cream, corn chowder or lobster bisque.

Soups for the Winter

Winter is definitely time for hot soups. Now is when dried bean soups look more appetizing and filling.


Stock is the liquid in which meat and bones have been simmered for hours with vegetables and seasonings.

Brown stock is mad from beef. White stock from veal or chicken; and it should be said when it is chicken.

Fish stock is made by simmering fish or fish bones, heads and tails in water with seasoning and sometimes white wine. Don’t boil for more than half an hour as fish bones may taste bad.

Vegetable stock is made by cooking vegetables and seasonings in water, or by combining liquids drained from cooked vegetables.

Soup tips

Hot soups should be served steaming in pre heated plates. Cold soups should be served chilled in chilled plates.

Clear soups are made from broth or stock base. Clear soups need to be clarified to remove all traces of fat. Pass the stock through a fine sieve to remove all solid bits and put it to the boil again. Beat one or two egg whites until they form peaks, pour them on top of the boiling stock and let it cook for a minute or two, then retire the clumped egg white –pour it through a cheesecloth, for instance. The resultant stock will be completely transparent.

You can give your soups a deeper color with caramelised sugar or commercial preparations such beef or yeast extracts.

Sometimes we eat with our eyes so garnishes for soups are important for appearance and color. Dumplings, croutons, chopped herbs, chopped vegetables make good garnishes. Cut them in shapes for a more dramatic look. Try to get a contrast in color between the soup and the garnish.

When you are in a hurry, you can use a canned soup and give it a personal touch.

You can shave off a lot of preparation with a food processor; it chops and slices vegetables in a fraction of the time it would take to by hand. Always start with the least moist and messy vegetable. I.e. mushrooms before peppers or tomatoes. Don’t worry to clean in between; it is all going to the same pot anyway.

Weight loss secret: start with soup

Soup is good food, especially if you are working on better portion control.

According to the latest research, starting your meal with a soup will often result in your eating less. Soups have a lower caloric density than most foods and take a relatively long time to eat giving your brain time to register fullness before is too late.

Soups & stews tips

If you’re using carrots and celery for your soup stock, just chop them up roughly and throw them in. No need to peel or cut leaves off as you’re just using them for flavor.

Reduce the fat content of your homemade stock by allowing it to cool slightly and skimming the fat.

Stews often taste better the next day after the flavors have time to blend.

Add vegetables to soup, according to required cooking time. For example, add carrots and onions earlier than zucchini or small pieces of cauliflower.

Cream soups don’t have to be loaded with fattening cream. Try vegetables like leeks, squash or other vegetables and sauté over oil and onions. Puree when fully cooked and add just a little bit of cream before serving.

Try topping soups with cheese, croutons, green onions or other flavorings.

If you’re adding pasta to a soup, add it near the end or you will risk overcooking it.

Collagen in soup stock can give it a gelatinous texture when cooled. This isn’t a bad thing and is an indicator of a very rich stock.