Cooking Tips: Seasoning Soups

by Frontier Co-op

Soups are nourishing, economical, and easy to make. And — whether you're using fresh produce or this week's leftovers — spices can make any soup sensational, too!

Ask someone about his or her favorite food when the temperatures drop and the flurries threaten to fly, and chances are good that a lot of them are going to say soup. When you're chilled to the bone (and if you live in a snowy climate, you know what that phrase means), there's nothing like a bowl of hot soup to warm the body and spirit. Ditto any time you're feeling under the weather. In fact, the first restaurants — located in Paris — were so called because they sold hearty soups to restaurer (restore) patrons.

A pot of soup or stew simmering on top of the stove brings a steamy warmth to the kitchen, disperses delicious aromas throughout the house, and provides a splash of color to a season that can often get a little dreary.

Many of us include soups in our weekly menus, with recipes reflecting personal tastes and preferences, nutritional values, and even family culture and heritage. We all have our favorites, but when it comes to these stovetop concoctions, there's great advice to be followed in the classic children's French folktale, "Stone Soup." In this story, a hungry traveler tells a village of peasants (who have related that there is nothing to eat) that he will make a delicious soup from nothing but stones and share it with them. Water is added to a kettle with a stone, and then, one by one, the villagers make seemingly insignificant contributions — a carrot, a little meat, and other ingredients — in response to the traveler's comments that the items will make this Stone Soup the best ever. In the end, of course, they all share a delicious pot of soup. There are two great lessons about cooking soup to take from this story: one, that when it comes to soup-making, anything goes—and two, soup always seems to taste better when enjoyed with others.

But we're not only talking a delicious potpourri of leftovers on a cold night. There's a soup for every occasion and every taste. Whether it's a light consommé served as the first course of a special meal, a refreshing fruit soup on a warm afternoon, or a hearty stew in the midst of a snowstorm, soup fits the bill. And when you make your own soup you can customize—chunky or smooth, spicy or mild, light on onions, heavy on garlic, hot or cold, and, of course, seasoned to perfection.

Soups offer a tasty meal packed with nutrition for all members of the family. For the younger set, vegetables are often more palatable in soup or stew than when served by themselves on a dinner plate. Soups are also easy to concoct for special diets, such as vegetarians or vegans, or those watching their salt intake. Decreasing—or even eliminating — salt is easy with the help of herbs and spices.

Seasoning soup

Herbs and spices are essential to the art of soup making. In some soups, they're the central theme — but generally, they serve to enhance and complement the other ingredients. Frontier offers a full selection of soup seasonings, including:

  • Basil: Good with tomato-base soups and many vegetables.

  • Bay Leaf: Used in stews and with beans and vegetables. Remove the leaves before serving.

  • Cayenne: Adds spicy hotness and may be used in place of black pepper.

  • Celery Seed: A strong, distinctive flavor, to be used sparingly. Whole seeds should be cooked for at least an hour, while ground seed may be added towards the end of cooking.

  • Chervil: A pungent addition to many thin soups, sometimes substituted for parsley.

  • Chili Powder: Most often found in chili but also delicious in other soups.

  • Chipotle powder: Adds heat and a touch of smoky flavor to Mexican style soups, bean soups or corn chowder.

  • Cumin: Good in vegetable soups, chili, and other bean soups, as well as Mexican and Indian soups.

  • Curry: A delicious addition to soups containing grains, vegetables, lentils, or split peas.

  • Dill: Fragrant and delicious in potato or onion soups. Dill weed is best added near the end of cooking, while dill seed needs to cook for a long period and is best used ground.

  • Fennel: Used sparingly, fennel's strong taste adds a delightful and distinctive touch to squash soup and beef stew.

  • Garlic: Garlic adds instant flavor to almost any soup. It is available in a variety of forms—fresh, powdered, granulated, and flaked. Granulated is easy to measure and dissolves nicely if allowed to cook a few minutes before serving. Powdered garlic is less strong than granulated.

  • Marjoram: Flavorful in minestrone, onion, chicken, and potato soups.

  • Onion: Many soups start with the sautéing of onions, and for good reason! Onion is available in the same forms as garlic.

  • Parsley: Parsley may be added to almost any soup. It adds lovely color and a refreshing taste. While fresh parsley is sometimes tough in soups, dried parsley is consistently tasty, easy to measure, colorful, and delicate.

  • Rosemary: The clean, strong flavor of rosemary perks up vegetable or chicken soups. (Use it with a light touch.)

  • Sea Salt: Salt soups sparingly. Use it to coax out other flavors rather than dominate your dish. Sea salt contains trace minerals and is free of additives sometimes found in table salt.

  • Thyme: Release the distinctive flavor and aroma of thyme by crushing it between your fingers as you sprinkle it in vegetable and rice soups.

You can also use dulse flakes (right out of the bag or toasted) in soups—especially Asian-style ones—to enhance flavor, boost nutrition and provide salt.

Soups are a great place to experiment with spices. There are no hard and fast rules about what seasonings to use in what soups, but if you're feeling the need for some direction, here's a good place to start—the following list gives you some suggestions for using the spices described above and some others commonly used in soups:

  • Bean soups: cumin, garlic, onions, parsley, sage, savory, thyme

  • Beef, chicken and turkey soups: allspice, basil, bay leaf, cinnamon, curry powder, dill, garlic, ginger, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, onions, paprika, parsley, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, thyme

  • Fruit soups: anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, mint, nutmeg, rosemary

  • Seafood soups: basil, chives, curry powder, dill, garlic, ginger, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme

  • Tomato soups: basil, bay leaf, chives, garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme

  • Vegetable soups: basil, caraway, cayenne, chives, dill, garlic, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, savory, tarragon, thyme

And don't forget soup-enhancing seasonings at the table — vegetarian soy Bac'Uns make great additions at the table to sprinkle on a bowl of potato, bean or creamy soups. And try toasted sesame seeds on Asian or vegetable soups.

Frontier also offers several spice blends, each with its own unique flavor. Blends most suitable for soups include All-Seasons Salt, Celery Salt, Garlic Salt, Herbal Seasoning (no salt), Italian Seasoning, Mexican Seasoning and Onion Salt.

Of course, all-purpose and ethnic blends like Italian Seasoning are always good bets, too.


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