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It never fails to amazing me how delicious and luxurious a single ingredient can become when cooked properly. Velvety, blended soups are a perfect example. They’re just as simple as their chunkier, dozen-ingredient counterparts, and they are indisputably more elegant. Inexpensive and healthy, soup can be made quickly, well ahead of mealtime.
I prefer to serve food family-style when I'm hosting, but individual bowls of soup are the perfect way to dress up a dinner party. Soups are always easy to keep warm while tending to other dishes, and leftovers make a reliably fantastic solo meal.
I stick to a no-recipe formula, highlighting just one main ingredient that catches my eye at the market. I skip cream or milk (save for the occasional yogurt garnish), and I rely on sautéed onions and a single herb or spice help to build an intense but focused flavor. To finish, I top every bowl with a bright garnish that adds complementary color, texture, and taste.
The result? An endlessly reusable method that I can confidently rely on to improve any meal.
The sweetness and umami of sautéed onions are elemental when building flavor. I start every soup by cooking one roughly chopped large yellow onion with plenty of salt and about ¼ cup of butter or olive oil in a big pot over medium heat.
There’s a time and a place to stew together every dying vegetable scrap in sight, but this is not it. For a clean and focused result, just pick one main ingredient to highlight. Practically anything will work. Often I look for something seasonal at the farmer’s market that catches my eye — lately, that means cauliflower, or squash, in summer it was zucchini, or corn — but year-round, I happily turn to a bag of frozen peas.
Whatever ingredient it is, stir in about three cups, roughly chopped if it’s large. Season to taste with more salt (usually plenty of black peppercorn too). Continue to sauté five minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burnt bits sticking to the pot.
My hot take: no cream is needed for a creamy soup. In general, you don't need dairy to ensure richness. Avoid the urge to add milk or even pre-made broths—simply simmering your soup ingredients in water yields a precise, flavorful, and natural vegetable broth. And don’t worry; a blended soup will always have a creamy texture, and you can always dollop some full-fat yogurt as a garnish.
Add enough water to just barely cover the lightly caramelized ingredients, cover the pot, and let everything simmer for 30 minutes. Then, turn off the heat.
Herbs and spices dramatically lift a plain soup, but too many different flavors can make it muddy. Once my soup has cooled slightly, I add plenty of just one bold spice or herb. It’s important to add this seasoning to your soup once the heat is off: otherwise, its freshness will wilt and boil away.
For example, peppercorns of all varieties lend distinct warmth and spiciness to earthy soups such as squash, cauliflower, or celery root. Fistfuls of fresh basil enliven zucchini or pea soups and give a vibrant burst of green.
If your soup doesn’t taste right, blend it before nervously fooling around. The blender melds flavors together and creates an ultra-professional velvety texture. Afterwards, taste the soup and evaluate the need for more salt, olive oil, pepper, or seasoning. If it’s difficult to blend everything into a homogenous texture, try letting it simmer again in a covered pot for another 15 minutes or so.
I like to top every bowl of hot soup with a garnish that adds a burst of flavor, color, or texture. Anything and everything will do the trick: fresh herbs, thin yogurt, quality olive oil, crunchy croutons, fragrant spice mixes. (Check out some more great uses for yogurt-as-garnish here.)
For example, a delicate cauliflower soup takes on an entirely different tone when swirled with a spoonful of dark, curry-powder infused olive oil.
The zucchini and basil soup is great with a few small leaves of basil — or simply with peppery olive oil drizzled on top.
And a rich squash, carrot, or pumpkin soup will benefit from a swirl of tangy yogurt, or a sprinkle of a gremolata of grated citrus zest, finely chopped parsley, pepper, and salt.