Is there anything more soothing than a big, warm bowl of soup or stew? Now that winter is here, I thought it would be a good moment to talk about how to make great soups and stews.
I love soups and stews. They are so nourishing, comforting, endlessly variable, and simple to prepare.
Also, as a busy parent, I love them for two very specific reasons:
- I have found them to be a great vehicle for getting vegetables into my whole family.
- They are a fantastic make-ahead and/or slow cooker option, which can make weeknight dinners a breeze.
So I wanted to share some tips and tricks for making great soups and stews easily.
Soups & Stews: Vehicles for Vegetables and Introducing New Foods
Whenever I do workshops on raising healthy eaters I always highlight soups and stews as a great option for more selective eaters.
As a kid, I was a picky eater and pureed vegetable soups were always a favorite of mine. I didn’t have to worry about different foods touching, the consistency was smooth, and the flavor was interesting without being overwhelming.
Similarly, when my son was at the height of his pickiness, soups and stews were a lifesaver because he always enjoyed them and I could stress a little less knowing that he would get a good dose of vegetables in the meal.
If you would like to start serving soups and stews with your kids, here are some tricks that might make it more fun and engaging for them.
The Boats Game
One of the games we used to play with the boys when they were little was the “boat game.” We would serve pureed vegetable soups with crackers, bread, or diced grilled cheese sandwiches and encourage them to float pieces on top of their soup like they were boats. The boys loved floating their boats and then then scooping them up and eating them!
Similarly, you can put a slice of bread or a piece of meat or cheese at the bottom of a bowl and then the kids eat the soup to discover the buried treasure.
Colorful vegetables like carrots and beets make wonderful soup, but also turn them really fun colors that can have fun names. When I first made beet soup, for instance, my boys loved pretending it was blood and they were vampires. Similarly, a green soup made with spinach or broccoli was “Incredible Hulk Soup.”
How to Make Great Soups and Stews
The good news is that soups can be made fairly quickly and easily. And while you can make a soup just by tossing ingredients from the fridge into your soup pot, it is so simple to elevate a soup from good to great that I find it is worth it every time. Here are some tips and time-saving tricks, for making truly great soups and stews:
Keep your pantry stocked
There are certain ingredients that can add flavor and nutrition to soups and stews. Here are some of my favorites:
- Beans, lentils, and other legumes. These babies offer lean protein and lots of fiber. Plus they make soups and stews really hearty, which is perfect for the colder months. I always have canned beans on hand for a quick meal. In addition, dried lentils are great because they are quick-cooking so you can still have the soup or stew ready in less than an hour.
- Canned tomatoes. These will add a nice dose of acidity to a soup or stew. Fire roasted versions will also add a smokiness, if you like that. They are great for tomato soup, but also make a fantastuc addition to brothy soups such as minestrone.
- Noodles and grains. Small noodles such as elbow pasta, orzo, and rotini are great for making a soup heartier. Similarly, grains such as rice, farro, and barley are fantastic additions and add a fun texture dimension.
Start with good broth
Homemade broths are pretty much always better than the commercial versions. And while it may seem intimidating at first, they are actually very simple to make.
The only tricky part is that making broth takes some time, which is why I try to set aside time on the weekend to make homemade chicken or vegetable broth, which I freeze in quart-sized containers or freezer bags to that I always have broth on hand when I need it.
If you are just starting out making your own broth, one great way to add lots of flavor to your broth, and reduce food waste at the same time, is to freeze your vegetables scraps. Carrot tops, celery pieces, and onion peels are all great additions. I also like to add the stalks of fennel bulbs, which impart a nice sweetness.
There are some vegetables you might want to avoid adding too much of, though. Strongly flavored vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower can overpower the other vegetables and dominate your broth (unless, of course, you are making broccoli or cauliflower soup, in which case those scraps will add a lot of welcome flavor!).
Fun bonus tip: roasting vegetables for broth enriches the flavor.
But let’s be realistic, there are also times when making broth just isn’t in the cards, so I also keep a couple of boxes of good-quality commercial broth on hand, just in case.
Prep your vegetables
Most of us have bags of carrots and celery in the fridge, and an onion or two in the pantry. These are the building blocks for countless soups and stews. Chop them separately and store them in bags or containers in the refrigerator. Then just scoop out the amount you need to make your soup or stew and you’re halfway to done with your dish!
Sauté your aromatics
Sweat your celery, carrots, and onions in a little olive oil (my preferred cooking fat) or butter to soften them and bring out their flavors. Then add additional vegetables and legumes, and your broth.
Add nutrition and flavor boosters
Toss in a handful of greens, such as spinach, Swiss chard, or kale for a nice nutritional boost.
In addition, herbs such as rosemary, sage, or basil, and spices such as chili pepper, black pepper, and bay leaves add an extra layer of flavor to soups or stews.
For Italian soups, I usually toss in a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Let it simmer
Soups and stews taste better when the ingredients have had a little time to get to know each other. Once all the vegetables are cooked, add your pasta or grains, if using, and simmer gently until tender.
Wait a Day
As pointed out in the tip above, soups, stews, and sauces always taste better when their ingredients have had some time to meld. You can take this a step further by preparing your soup or stew a day or two ahead of time. This will allow the complexity of the flavors to blossom even further.
Don’t forget the final touch
Although it may sound like an unnecessary step, garnishing your soup or stew with some toppings can take your delicious soup or stew into a truly special meal.
For stews and minestrone-type soups, adding some grated Parmesan, crumbled feta, or other cheese that matches the flavor profile of your soup or stew is always a hit.
For a pureed vegetable soup, the toppings that add texture can be a lot of fun! Croutons and crackers are a classic option, but you can also get creative, and add things like pomegranate seeds and peanuts (like in the cauliflower soup pictured above).
Finally, some chopped fresh herbs, such as basil or parsley, sprinkled on top when serving always add color and flavor to your dish.
Want some great soups and stews to get you started? Check out our Ramen Vegetable Noodle Soup or Butternut Squash and Yellow Lentil Stew. And if you want to make getting dinner on the table even easier, sign up for The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans to see how simple and delicious dinner can be!
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