I didn't think I'd be back to the Cooking Basics series so quickly, but we made soup tonight, and so I thought I might as well share!
(Especially since Husband is busy with school stuff and I'm bored. And there's only so much Les Miserables reading you can do before you start getting overwhelmed. Have you seen that book? Nearly a thousand pages! This parenthetical is really getting long, right?)
Tonight's soup is a Vegetable Chowder. Super fitting for a light but filling meal. And even though soup often feels like a winter deal, I like a light vegetable soup for summer, too! Especially paired with some grilled meats or a fresh salad.
So, here's how a standard soup base goes. You ready? I'm ready.
First, start out with your mirepoix. That's just a fancy French word for your chopped base vegetables, celery, carrot, and onion. These vegetables provide a good base flavor for everything else you'll add to your soup pot. So you start with a good sized glug of fat (I usually go with olive oil, but sometimes, when I want to get crazy, I'll add a touch of bacon grease! Mmm.) Make sure to salt and pepper at each step!
But since this is a veggie chowder, we're going to need more veggies than your simple mirepoix. I also chopped up some broccoli and zucchini. The broccoli went in first, since it's a tougher vegetable, followed by the zucchini a minute or two later, since it is soft and will cook faster than the other veggies. Again with a little salt and pepper.
Next up, add the flavor! Herbs and spices and garlic all up in. I added a few minced garlic cloves, along with some red pepper flakes and thyme leaves. These herbs and spices will carry a lot of your soup flavor, so don't be too gentle with them! It's nice to add the herbs and spices and let them saute with the veggies for 30 seconds to a minute. Everything gets the high heat of the pan to bloom and develop, but a short saute means you won't burn those precious flavors.
Now, add your liquid! Usually, this is some kind of stock or broth. I almost always have chicken stock on hand. Remember when I showed you how to do a crock pot chicken stock? You can make pretty much any flavored stock with this same method. A fish stock? Use fish bones! A beef stock? Use beef bones! A shrimp stock? Use shrimp peels! You get the picture. When you're in a pinch, you can use water. Though the extra flavor of a stock is really nice. Bring your soup to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. All the flavors will meld, and your herbs, spices, and veggies will make that broth/water delicious!
But first! If you want a starch, add it now, before the veggies are completely cooked through. And by starch, I mean potatoes, pasta, or even beans. You want to give them plenty of time to soften and soak up flavor, too! This is where timing comes in to play. If you're cooking with beans or lentils, those can take upwards of an hour to cook. If that's the case, you'll want to wait to add your soft veggies (such as broccoli or zucchini) til the beans are mostly cooked through. If you're using small-chopped potatoes or pasta, those take 10-20 minutes, and they can be added after the soft veggies.
Once your veggies (and starch) are all softened, you have a delicious and flavorful soup! Go you!
BUT, we're not necessarily done. Oh no.
Want a cream soup? Of course you do, they're delicious. Add the cream or milk mixture. Then continue to let your soup cook for another couple of minutes for the cream to get fully incorporated.
This is also where you can add any cheese or pre-cooked meats or frozen veggies like peas or corn. You just need to warm those things through, and it will only take a minute or two in that hot, hot soup. But wait! If you want a blended soup, do that BEFORE you add the meat. That's very important.
Lastly, don't forget the toppings. Have you ever noticed that the toppings MAKE the soup? Add a little green onion or bacon. Add some grated cheese. Add some crispy tortillas or pre-cooked, warmed meat. Add some fresh parsley or cilantro. This really is the fun part!
And that's it! You're all prepared to make a delicious soup. Any flavor you want!
And here's my vegetable chowder.
Cheesy Vegetable Chowder
2 Tbs. olive oil (or bacon grease)
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup broccoli florets
1 zucchini, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
4 cups chicken broth
1-2 potatoes, diced
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper
optional, shredded cheddar, green onion, and/or bacon for topping
Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then add celery, carrot, and onion. Season with salt and pepper, and saute for 3-5 minutes. Add broccoli florets and saute 1-2 minutes longer. Then stir in the zucchini. Salt and pepper well. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and thyme, and saute for 30 seconds.
Pour in the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the potato, lower heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are soft.
Stir in the half and half, and allow to incorporate for a minute. At this point, you can use a blender or immersion blender to blend soup, if desired. I like to use my immersion blender, and go about half way, so there are still some vegetable chunks. Then stir in the cheeses until melted through.
Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with toppings of your choice. Enjoy!
We ate this with shrimp grilled over bacon grease. Oh yes we did.