It’s November! Soup Season is here and now!
While I’m far from a professional and would be booted off Gordon Ramsey’s “MasterChef” the first round, due to “bloody terrible knife skills,” I make great soups and stews, enjoyed with seasonal exclusivity, November through March.
Born and raised in the upper Midwest—where dense, gray nimbostratus clouds fill the November skies and blow a sharp, icy tingle down our backs—it’s a form of soul-soothing seasonal warmth. It’s an opportunity to honor and welcome the chill with delicious coziness. A well-made soup is the epitome of Hygge.
Yes, cooking with love is real—but there is much more to creating soups and stews of the satiating, stand-alone, craveable meal variety. The warm hug in a bowl feeling is achieved with thoughtful ingredient choices, preparation, layering of flavors, seasoning, and time.
1. What’s in for the season?
Cooking with fresh veggies in peak season from a local farmers’ market or grocery will provide the most vibrant flavors. Local and/or organic, if possible―it does make a difference. Root vegetables and squash are at peak flavor during the fall and provide a stick-to-your-ribs satisfaction, even when enjoyed in a lighter, broth-based soup. If specific veggies aren’t in season, it’s often better to purchase them frozen.
2. Recipes for reference
Tried and true or take a chance on something new—the most beautiful thing about soups is the unlimited possibilities. While family recipes are great for heartwarming nostalgia, it’s always exciting to get a little outside our comfort zones. Soups and stews are generally low-risk opportunities for culinary exploration.
A few years back, I gambled on Oh She Glows’s soul-soothing African peanut stew, which quickly became an almost weekly favorite for my husband and me through the fall and winter.
A few of my favorite resources are:
>> The New York Times Cooking’s spicy corn and coconut soup
>> Oh She Glows’s french lentil soup (used as the feature image for this article, taken from a mountain camping trip)
>> And Half Baked Harvest’s 30-minute Thai peanut ramen
Another little bonus tip here: when choosing a recipe, consider accompaniments sure to transform a simple bowl of coziness into a legitimate meal. For example, a toasted piece of sourdough or a simple mix of greens topped with a light vinaigrette can be tasty additions.
3. Invest in quality herbs and spices
Using a combination of both dried and fresh herbs brings a big flavor. Dried seasonings provide depth, while fresh herbs lend brightness. Being thoughtful with the seasonings we purchase allows us to avoid waste. If a recipe includes a seasoning you do not have and won’t likely use again soon, consider taking advantage of your grocery bulk section and purchasing a small amount.
Several seasonings are used regularly in soups, so stocking up in the fall is something I’ve found helpful. Penzeys is my absolute favorite spice brand—a couple of fall-cooking necessities from their online shop include Bouquet Garni, a robust all-purpose savory herb blend, and Tuscan Sunset, another great blend that amplifies anything Italian.
Fresh herbs add brightness and balance. Most recipes call for celery ribs, but many skip the inclusion of chopped celery leaves. When purchasing celery for soup, go for the deeper green bunches with leafier tops—it’s much more flavorful than its pale green counterpart. Bonus: the leaves are essentially free herbs to add dimension to your cozy creation.
4. Sweat your veggies
Giving your aromatic vegetables time to sweat in butter or oil allows the flavor to develop before adding liquid and other ingredients. We do not want to rush our onions, garlic, celery, and carrots, as sweating them together allows them to soften, meld, and create a delicious base without browning.
5. DIY the stock—if possible
Without an Instapot, this can be a time-consuming process—albeit completely worth the effort. The flavors we can develop by choosing ingredients for a soup base with tailored aromatic dimensions provide an enormous wow factor. Using filtered water in this process is another must.
While much of what my husband and I eat is vegan or vegetarian, we do choose to eat sustainable, ethically-sourced meat and bones for bone broth sparingly and intentionally. Depending on where you live, you may have small farmers or butchers who provide strictly pasture-raised meat. Fresh stock or bone broth creates a deeper dimension in flavor as well as an unctuous mouthfeel. You’ll never want to go back to store-bought broth again.
I would not encourage the use of conventionally-sourced meat—but those thoughts are perhaps for a future written piece.
6. Time it right
This one is two-fold. A soup that has time to simmer on low heat with the lid on for an extra 15 to 45 minutes is always going to be more flavorful than its rushed counterpart. I personally tend to make soups on days where my schedule allows for a bit of simmer babysitting. Or love, if you will.
Timing is also in reference to the amount and meal planning. If the intention is to enjoy the meal through the week or to freeze a portion, making a giant pot is a wonderful time-saver. Another use for extras is sharing with your neighbor—homemade soup is the fall or winter thoughtful equivalent of fresh-cut flowers!
7. Avoid noodle takeover
Unless you’re a fan of mushy noodles or globby casserole-style leftovers, I recommend cooking the noodles separately and adding them in each time you enjoy your soup. It’s more of a personal preference, as many chefs advise cooking the noodles in the broth for maximum flavor. If making a small batch, it’s not as big of a deal. The utter devastation felt upon removing the lid of leftover refrigerated soup, revealing a mess of noodles and zero broth is fortunately avoidable.
As a trial and error home-chef and forever virtual student of Bon Appétit Magazine, I hope these tips are helpful in your soup-making endeavors this season.
If inspired, please drop your own secrets in the comments. Or I’d love to hear your favorite recipes, too—especially if you can assist in my hunt for the perfect vegan chili recipe.
May it be of benefit!