As the cold weather approaches, I’m able to indulge my home-body nature and do a lot of cozy, homey activities. We build fires in the fireplace, light candles during the day and I don’t get tired of making soup. Soup can be either incredibly satisfying and flavorful, or it can be disappointingly bland.
I’ve found some simple ways to ensure that what is simmering on the stovetop really hits the spot.
5 Keys to a more flavorful soup…
You’ve probably heard of the four basic taste categories: sweet, sour, salty & bitter. But there’s also a fifth taste category. Foodies and gourmet ‘buffs’ call this umami (oo-mah-mee). There’s even a book about it. Scientifically, Umami is the flavor of protiens that have broken down into their basic amino acids. The taste usually comes from foods that are pretty mature: frest fruits or veggies like vine ripened tomatoes or fermented foods like red wine or aged Parmegiano Reggiano cheese. When you have a wonderfully flavorful dish, it’s got more than just the description of the four tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter) – it’s got umami.
Here are my keys to creating this kind of flavor in your next soup:
- BEGIN WITH ESSENTIALS: Nearly all good soup begins with garlic and onion. And often – what Italians call ‘soffritto’ or the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Italian cooking: onion, celery & carrot. Begin with a good amount of these flavor-generous ingredients.
- SEARING & DE-GLAZING: When starting a soup (let’s say a sausage & white bean soup with kale), begin with essentials (onions, garlic, carrot, celery) and let them soften a bit. Next, add the sausage and allow the meat to begin to brown a bit and stick to the bottom of the pan before adding any liquid. You are creating flavor in these bits that stick (take care that they don’t actually burn – just brown). Next, add some of your cooking liquid and scrape and stir off the browned bits that were on the bottom, releasing them into the liquid. This process is called de-glazing, and it adds wonderful flavor to a soup as it’s just getting started.
- UMAMI-RICH INGREDIENTS: Certain items are rich in umami. I like to keep my pantry full of these items: good canned tomatoes, red wine, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, asian fish sauce, Parmegiano Reggiano (to name a few). Depending on the soup you are creating, adding a splash of one of these items can kick up your soup’s flavor profile (a drizzle of balsamic vinegar into a pureed squash soup or a few glugs of red wine into a minestrone). Save the hard rind from a chunk of parmesan, freeze it – and add it to a soup later for a kick of umami. Use good quality canned tomatoes (I recommend checking for bpa free cans) when the recipe will allow it.
- STOCK INSTEAD OF WATER: Many soup recipes will give the option for stock/broth or water. If you follow a simple tip I’ve shared on my blog about saving food scraps you will always have fresh/frozen homemade stock on hand for that last minute soup. If purchasing broth, be sure to read the label to avoid added chemicals or preservatives.
- FINISH WITH FINESSE: Much can be done for a soup just before serving to give it one more kick of flavor. Adding freshly chopped herbs to top a soup can add brightness and color to a soup or stew that has cooked away most of the original color. Keep some frozen pesto in your freezer and swirl that in at the end. Add one more large clove of freshly chopped garlic 5 minutes before serving. One of my favorite finishes to a soup is a combination of chopped fresh garlic, fresh rosemary and lemon zest. Mix these things together, then sprinkle over a bowl of beef stew or minestrone and be amazed at the fragrance that hits you!
Make sure to avoid processed ‘flavor-enhancers’ such as bouillon cubes, or canned items like the ‘cream of somethings’. Although these seem to offer easy flavor – they also come with loads of chemicals like MSG, sodium and other nasties that are best avoided.
Don’t skimp on good, pure sea salt and fresh ground pepper, though and remember to do that final taste before serving.
Now be careful, and don’t burn your mouth!!