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Soups are really the home chefs' best friend. They are by far the most versatile of dishes and can be made using many different ingredients or very few ingredients. You can use an endless selection of fresh raw ingredients or sometimes cooked ingredients along with a well-made stock, let the mixture bubble away for a short time, and presto, you have created a delicious homemade soup with almost no effort.

Soups can be served as a first course or as a hearty thick main course or as a cold al fresco dish. However you decide to serve your next soup, try these few tips for making a delicious soup that your family and friends will love:

TOOLS FOR GREAT SOUP:

Good Quality Heavy Pan – a good pan that conducts and holds heat well allows the vegetables to cook longer before browning. Using a good quality non-stick pan also allows you to reduce the amount of butter or oil you use to sauté your vegetables.

Hand Blender or Stick Blender – the most valuable tool a soup chef can have. It allows you to puree your hot soup without having to handle the pot or navigate the messy transfer of ingredients into a blender or food processor.

Wooden Spoon – Use a wooden spoon to stir soups; this will not damage the base of the pan.

Sharp knife, chopping board and a vegetable peeler.

Try to use the recommended pot size called for the soup recipe. This will eliminate those frustrating boil-overs.

Heavy Duty Plastic Bags – Most soups taste best the next day or even a month later after freezing. Many soups freeze well and can be kept for up to three months if stored properly. The best way to freeze soup is in a heavy duty plastic bag. This way you can portion out your soup without having to thaw out more than you will need, and you do not have to worry about your container breaking, as they sometimes can, due to expansion in extreme temperature. Take note, a soups' texture or flavor can sometimes be affected when freezing.

ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS FOR GREAT SOUP:

An essential ingredient for most soups is a good well flavored stock or broth. While stocks are relatively inexpensive to make, they can be quite time consuming. For quick homemade-tasting soup broths, try Manischewitz new chicken, beef and reduced-sodium chicken broths. Once you have a good basic broth, there is a huge range of soups that you can create in your kitchen.

Not all recipes call for a full can on broth, so it is great to have an ice cube tray on hand for freezing your leftover broth. These terrific little 1 oz. cubes can be kept in plastic bags and are conveniently portioned out for later use.

GARNISH FOR GREAT SOUP:

A sprinkle of fresh herbs, a swirl of cream or a julienne of vegetables can be used as attractive garnishes for your soup and will give a “wow” factor to even the simplest of soups.

VEGETABLES & LEGUMES FOR GREAT SOUP:

Vegetables offer the soup chef an infinite number of culinary possibilities. Not only are they an important part of a healthy diet, they also have countless nutritional benefits. A great hearty vegetable soup can make any meal a winner.

Beans, lentils and peas provide the soup chef with a myriad of flavors and textures.

Legumes are also low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals and are a terrific source of protein. They can also be stored for up to a year if kept in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

THICKENING PRODUCTS FOR GREAT SOUPS:

Heavy or Whipping Cream – terrific for enriching soups. They will not separate if heated too intensely.

Sour Cream – can be used the same way as heavy cream and is ideal for enriching and garnishing soup. Be careful not to heat vigorously or the cream can curdle.

Milk – can be use in small quantities to adjust the consistency of soups. Milk can be used in hot and cold soups, or for less rich soup use milk instead of cream.

Potatoes, pureed vegetables or a roux – these are non-dairy ways to thicken a soup. Boil some potatoes or starchy vegetables and puree in soup.

A roux of some type of fat (margarine, butter or oil), flour and water whisked thoroughly together over medium heat in a sauté pan will create a thick paste that can be added to a hot soup to thicken it and add depth of flavor. A light or medium color roux will can be used in light-color soups or sauces, and a browner roux that has been heated for longer will add a deeper color and flavor to your soup.

If you are planning to prepare your soup with the intent to freeze immediately for later use, it is better to omit the cream until you plan to reheat and serve. This is only true for soups whose recipe requires you to add the cream at the end of the soups’ cooking time. By adding the cream while you slowly reheat the soup, you will be able to achieve a smoother, creamier consistency then if you were to just reheat as-is.

DIFFERENT FLAVORINGS FOR GREAT SOUPS:

Olive oil, flavored oils, vinegars, alcohol, chili sauce, pesto and soy sauce are just some of the many flavorings that can be used to add depth to soups.

You can infuse extra virgin olive oil with chilies, roasted garlic cloves, whole spices and fresh herbs for your own homemade version of flavored oils. All you need is an airtight container, ingredients and a little patience and you can make some of the best-tasting flavored oils. Use this oil in your soup while you sauté your vegetables or add a splash into finished soups to pack an extra punch.

Vinegar adds bite to a soup and there are many varieties available, including wine vinegars, balsamic & sherry vinegar and fruit flavored vinegars.

As a rule, light soy sauce is used for soups. It has the most delicate flavor and is light brown in color, and is a creative ingredient to add for a little something extra in a clear soup.

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Sarah Lasry is a contributing writer to Manischewitz.com and Manischewitzbroth.com and owner/chef of Tastebuds Gourmet Café in Howell, NJ. Her acclaimed cookbook “The Dairy Gourmet” is available here.

Sauté:
To fry lightly in fat in a shallow open pan.
Roux:
A cooked mixture of butter or other fat and flour used to thicken sauces, soups, etc.