Soups, Good and Bad

by Danny Zawacki

I’ve never been great at making soup. I either need to follow a recipe or just give up before I start. There’s something about the free-form idea of soup that I cannot wrap my mind around. I hear that I can put anything in a soup and make it good, and my mind goes blank. I can only think of the soups I’ve had before and try to replicate them. But since I’m not really knowing what I’m doing, some step gets missed here or there and the soup just isn’t great.

There was one time in college I tried making a chicken soup in a crock-pot and it sat there all day cooking. I threw chicken in the pot and covered it with water. I also added in some veggies. And it was terrible. The chicken was rubbery and the broth was bland. Indistinguishable from water.

Don’t get my started on my first attempt at making borscht.

While I am terrible at making soup, I am getting better at it. I can successfully follow a recipe and churn out a fantastic soup. The more recipes I follow, the more I figure out what works and doesn’t work. Not even just soup recipes. Sometimes it is recipes for other things that just stick with me. Take, for example, my roasted chicken recipe. Something about that recipe always turned out a great chicken broth with the carcass. The more I did it, the more I realized what it was. The caramelization and browning of the meat added flavor and complexity that a few plain chicken breasts would never have.

Another time, I heard in passing that celery is what gives flavor to all stocks. Celery? I thought how could that be? It’s such a bland and unexciting vegetable that has no nutritional value. Or is it? Think about the taste of celery. It’s unlike anything else and it’s a strong flavor. One that can hold its own among a whole host of flavors. So I started making sure I always had a good celery in my broths and my soups improved (when no celery is on hand, an ample amount of celery seed works in a pinch).

Tonight, I used up the last of our butternut squash from the CSA last year. I made a butternut squash soup that kind of followed one recipe but also mixed in another recipe and then I through in something extra and it really became my own in the end. All that was in it was the squash, bone broth, carrots, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and then coconut milk. It pureed together nicely. In my opinion, it was the perfect mix of sweet and savory. I had two large bowls.

I’ve never been a great soup chef, but I’ve always wanted to be one. Ellie keeps telling me the soups I make are good but something about them still isn’t quite where I’d consider them to be good. Some day I’ll make a great soup and I won’t have to think about it. That day is not today.