What I love about soup is that you can make it out of just about anything you’ve already got on hand. Leftover roasted vegetables can be pureed with broth or water. A can of fire-roasted tomatoes can be blended with coconut milk. Soup is soothing, eternally adjustable, and it can be cooked off the cuff in 15 minutes (or slowly over the course of a few days, if you want to have bone broth). If you’re looking for inspiration, pick a place you’ve always wanted to travel to, and research traditional soup recipes from that region. Make a big pot to last you through the week, and try some of these suggestions for brightening up your bowl.
#1: Add Fresh Herbs
I try to make it a rule to always have at least one variety of fresh herbs on hand. Herbs add a bright pop of flavor, color, and nutrition whenever they are added. Have you ever bought a bunch of parsley for a single recipe, used a teaspoon, and then thrown away the rest after it wilted in the back of your produce drawer? Me, too, until I started adding fresh herbs to my dishes. A plate or a bowl of food looks prettier and tastier after it’s been garnished with parsley, chives, cilantro, basil, mint, or lemon thyme. And here’s a tip for keeping your herbs fresher, longer: snip the ends of the stems like you would a bouquet of flowers. Place the stems in a jar of water, then wrap the leaves with a plastic bag and tie the bag loosely with a rubber band around the jar. Store the jar of herbs in the fridge, and change out the water every day.
#2: Add a Drizzle of Really Good Olive Oil
My roommate is from Greece, and she’s a fantastic cook. Her food is direct, unfussy and simple. She makes the most incredible lentil soup with lentils, garlic, water and tomatoes, and she serves it with a bottle of strong extra virgin olive oil for drizzling over the top. Her soup doesn’t need the extra oomph, but now that I know how she and her siblings grew up eating it, with a big bottle of olive oil always at the table, I don’t want it any other way either.
#3: Add a Touch of Acid
A squeeze of lemon, lime, orange or drip of vinegar will easily amp up the flavor of a bland bowl of soup. I add lemon juice to everything – even scrambled eggs. Champagne, apple cider, balsamic and red wine vinegar are some of my favorites, but there are endless varieties of vinegars at specialty stores. A bit of fermented juice from your jar of kimchi or sauerkraut is also a great addition. Watch labels of flavored vinegars for added sugars.
#4 Add Roasted Kale Shreds
The idea is that you roast thin ribbons of kale with olive oil and salt until they get crispy, like chips. Kale chips. Then you top your bowl of soup with a handful of them. Delicious. Here’s how: preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Wash 5 leaves of lacinato kale and spin-dry to get rid of as much water as possible. Then slice into ribbons about 1/4-inch wide. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast for 25 minutes until kale shreds are crispy.
#5 Add Toasted Nuts or Seeds….or Popcorn!
A little bit of crunch is especially nice on top of a silky-smooth soup. You can roast a bigger batch at once so that you have a supply on-hand for adding to re-heated soups or quick salads. Toasted seeds (like sunflower or pumpkin) and nuts (try hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, macadamias, or pecans) are great in yogurt, too. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread whole nuts or seeds on a rimmed baking sheet (keep each variety of nut or seed on separate trays – they likely have different roasting times) and roast for 5-10 minutes. Nuts burn easily, so watch them closely. Test them after 5 minutes by taste and smell. And take them out about a minute before you think they’re done, as they’ll continue to cook once removed from the oven. Whole nuts can be chopped just before serving. Seeds can be kept whole. Popcorn adds a fun crunch, too. Kids love it.
Jacqui Gabel is from Minneapolis and moved to Denver two years ago to attend NTI’s Natural Food Chef Program. Like many, she fell in love with Colorado and chose to stay. She’s currently working on completing her MNT certification and working as a private chef. Find her online at realfooddesire.com.