Soup is an essential dish to become confident with for a number of reasons:
- It is quick and very easy to make;
- It is usually healthy;
- It is one of the cheapest possible meals;
- It is a great way of using up all sorts of leftovers, from vegetables to meat to pasta;
- It can be adapted to any dietary requirement (no dairy, no meat, no gluten etc.);
- Pretty much everyone likes soup.
You don’t need to buy soup! For all the above reasons, save your money and make it yourself. Extra bonus: you know exactly what’s in it – shop bought soup is a classic culprit for containing heaps of hidden sugar and salt, strange stabilisers and preservatives and dodgy vegetable oils.
Pretty much every soup you could want to make can be put together like so:
- In a big saucepan, fry onion and garlic;
- Add whatever the name of the soup is (carrots, leeks, potatoes, pulses, chicken, courgettes etc);
- Always add flavouring: herbs or spices, plus salt and pepper (don’t forget stock cubes and bouillon are heavy on salt already);
- Pour in liquid (water or stock) to cover your ingredients;
- Bring to the boil (bubbling vigorously) then simmer (bubbling gently) until the ingredients are all soft and cooked;
- Blend until smooth, or leave chunky;
- SOUP MADE!
Let’s run through that with a mixed vegetable and lentil soup, which would serve four people:
4 cloves of garlic
600g mixed vegetables: e.g. carrots, potatoes, celery, swedes, courgettes, butternut squash, sweet potato, parsnip, broccoli, tomatoes. Soft and leafy veg like spinach should be added the end of the cooking time.
150g dried lentils – red, green or yellow
1 teaspoon each of dried thyme, oregano and basil, or 3 teaspoons of dried mixed herbs
1 litre vegetable stock (fresh, or made up from a good quality stock cube or bouillon – see the below note)
Freshly ground black pepper (you won’t need extra salt if you’ve used a stock cube or bouillon)
2 tablespoons olive oil
A note about stock: I use Marigold’s vegetable bouillon if I’m in a rush, but always make my own chicken stock. It’s delicious, healthy, and makes the most of every bit of the chicken.
1. Slice or dice the onion and vegetables. If you plan to blend your soup none of your chopping needs to be precise, if not make sure all your veg is cut into small pieces. Crush the garlic (note: I don’t bother using salt as they recommend in that video).
2. You’ll need a large saucepan with a lid: if your saucepan doesn’t have one, you can usually use a frying pan as a lid. Put the saucepan over a medium heat, warm the olive oil and then turn the heat right down and add the onion. Put the lid on and sweat the onion – this means to slowly cook them so they soften without browning. Keeping the lid on means condensation forms in the pan, helping to stop the onions burning and speed up the softening process. Sweat for about five minutes, give them a stir then put the lid back on for another few minutes until the onions are soft. Then take the lid off and add the garlic, stirring it every now and then for two or three minutes to stop the garlic catching on the heat.
3. Tip in the chopped vegetables, lentils and dried herbs, turn up the heat a little and fry them for a couple of minutes, so everything’s well turned in the oil.
4. Pour in the stock – enough to cover everything with about an inch to spare – and give it a good stir; season with plenty of black pepper.
5. Bring it to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until all the veg and lentils are soft and the soup is nice and thick – about 30 minutes. If you have leafy veg like spinach to use up, add it at the end of this time, stir it through and it will wilt down quickly.
6. Turn the heat off and leave to cool for a bit before either serving as is or blending – the easiest way to do this is in the saucepan with a hand-held stick blender. Draping a tea towel over the pot while you blend stops it splashing everywhere.
7. Top with whatever takes your fancy: a dollop of creme fraiche, a swirl of cream, chopped toasted nuts or seeds, croutons (it’s very simple to make your own using leftover bread), grated cheese, chopped herbs, frying-pan-toasted spices…or just eat it with your own soda bread.
8. Soup will keep in the fridge in a covered container for three days, or freezes well for up to six months. Freeze it in portions so you can take out convenient amounts at a time.
9. Start exploring the unending library of wonderful soup recipes out there.