Jenny Dorsey, chef and culinary consultant
Use good ingredients and cook those ingredients appropriately. For instance, don’t overcook greens in a soup or boil the broccoli for an hour. I also think people over-rely on butter and cream to make soups thick and “creamy.” You can achieve that consistency with squash, for instance.
I think a common misconception is that soup has to be cooked forever and ever for great flavor. Usually it does take a while for the flavors to marinate, but at some point everything begins to disintegrate too. Also, use homemade stock as a starting stock and salt as you cook the soup. Homemade stock is key, as is flavoring as you go.
Timothy Dugan, executive chef, Restaurant Bornholm, Brooklyn, NY
I add all the stems from the herbs I will use, in the beginning. Remove them when the soup is almost done, then add the picked herbs at the end, giving it a nice bright flavor.
A common mistake is adding salt at the start of the soup. As the soup reduces, it becomes more salty. There’s an easy fix for it, though: Just add some potatoes. The starch will suck up the salt and things will even out.
I think most chefs agree that using homemade stock makes a world of difference. Store-bought stock often has a sickening amount of sodium.
Michael Lee, executive chef, Centrale Italian Kitchen & Bar, Yorktown Heights, NY
You must season throughout the cooking process in an effort to extract all flavors and incorporate along the way. Never season only at the end.
Matthew Robinson, food scientist, chef, and author of “Knickerbocker Glory: A Chef’s Guide to Innovation in the Kitchen and Beyond”
The big difference between a good soup and a great soup is the stock. A homemade stock will be a better foundation than anything store bought. Other secret ingredients are those that add a bit of umami—Worcestershire sauce, mushroom, cured meat, spinach, or celery. The addition of fresh herbs just before serving is a great trick to add flavor.
Ken Immer, president and chief culinary officer, Culinary Health Solutions
You might imagine that my first suggestion of a “secret” ingredient would be a well-made stock. Honestly, it’s almost a requirement when we are talking about 99 percent of cooked soups. Once we do have a great stock to build a soup upon, there are a few ingredients that I think are key to really making a soup “pop.”
A shot of an acid (lemon or lime juice, vinegar, wine) at the end of cooking can really perk up a soup that may have been overcooked in order to get all the beans or meat to really be tender.
Fresh herbs are also best added both at the beginning and the end of the soup. If you’re using fresh herbs, even if the recipe only says at the beginning or at the end, be sure to do both.
Umeboshi plum paste. This is a bit of an obscure ingredient, but you’ll be happy to note that Whole Foods, or almost any healthy grocery store, carries it these days. This ingredient has a very complex flavor profile that includes all the tastes: salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and that flavor we call umami that is almost magic. [It’s] especially important in vegan soups, [in] which it can be hard to develop richness.
Bones of the animal. Using a bone-in piece of the meat that you are making the soup out of (or simply adding them while the soup is simmering and then removing before serving) is a great way of adding even more flavor and can be great when stock is just not available.
Soy sauce. It isn’t only for Asian-style soups! Any soup that calls for red wine and/or tomato paste and is a “dark-colored” soup can benefit from a splash of soy sauce added at the beginning of the process along with that red wine or tomato paste.
Caryn O’Sullivan, health coach and food therapist, founder of Appetites for Life
As a nutrition coach, I believe soup is the gateway to health. Soup is the opportunity for mega-nutrition packed into a simple to digest and soothing meal.
For bean-based soups, add kombu to make the beans more digestible and reduce the gassy effect of beans, as well as add a boost of iodine and other essential minerals to the soup.
Adding one or two potatoes to a traditionally creamy soup, like cauliflower soup, will add a creamy element, so you can omit the dairy. Simply blend up and serve. The potatoes will add a boost of lysine as well, an amino acid that helps to fight viral infections and boost immunity.
When making broth, add in fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, and oregano to pump up the nutritional value and add a subtle herbaceous background.
Coconut milk creates a delectable soup without the added dairy and complements sweet vegetables like sweet potato, squash, and potato, as well as curry-based soups.
For me, it is essential to use a broth that is well-flavored and not overpowering, especially when looking for a vegetable broth.