Soup 101: The Basics of Simple Soup

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Simple soups are an inexpensive, low-fat meal solution. They can be a kid-friendly source of vegetables plus a great way to use leftovers. Soup has become a trendy diet alternative to juicing. To make a good soup, you just need adequate time and salt; try to avoid skimping on either.

Consider vegetables and flavors that taste good together. Potential vegetables for soup include asparagus, broccoli, peas, beans, potatoes, butternut or acorn squash, carrots, tomatoes, celery, corn, roasted peppers, mushrooms and cauliflower; this is hardly an exhaustive list. Take a look at my Cheat Sheet to Flavor Profiles for some ideas.

Simple vegetable soups, such as this carrot and rosemary version, lend themselves well to purees. This can be accomplished with a traditional counter top or “stick” style blender or mashed with a fork for a more rustic feel. Plus, if you’re focused on making your own lunches, soup is easy to transport; just get an insulated mug. The format below makes about eight one-cup servings.

Basic technique (yields about eight servings)

1) Heat two to three tablespoons of butter or oil in a five- to eight-quart pot. Sauté three handfuls of diced onions and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add carrots, celery, leeks or garlic to the onions if desired.

2) Stir in a pound of chopped vegetables along with dried or fresh herbs, spices and a half teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper and cook briefly. Add about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs to fit the flavor you want for your soup, such as oregano, thyme, chili powder, etc. and a bay leaf.

3) If you want to make a bean soup with soaked but otherwise uncooked dry beans (see note below), add with or in place of the vegetables. They will take about 90 minutes to two hours to cook, depending on the kind of bean and how fresh they are.

4) Add two quarts of water, chicken or vegetable stock, along with the chicken (if using). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, partially cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, at least an hour, preferably two.  Add extra water as it cooks if the soup seems too thick.

5) Add ingredients that don’t need much cooking time such as canned beans, diced cooked meats, shellfish, pasta or cooked rice; about a cup of such addition usually suffices. Cook for about 10 minutes or until those ingredients cook through.

6) Puree if that’s your intent. Taste. Add more salt, pepper, fresh herbs, citrus, hot sauce or any other potential flavor enhancers.

7) Garnish it. Yogurt, croutons, chopped scallions, grated cheese, herbs, bacon, the list is endless.

Note on Soaking Beans

Dried beans are a great base for soups, but they take some time to soak before cooking. Put them in a pot with plenty of water; there should be at least three inches of water above the beans. You can let them soak overnight, or do a “quick soak” by bringing them to a boil for two minutes, then cover and let sit for an hour. Regardless of how you soak the beans, discard the water and rinse the beans before proceeding.

Some ideas:                    

  • Chicken noodle: Onions + celery + carrot + garlic + chicken + thyme + pasta + chopped fresh parsley garnish
  • Italian: Onions + garlic + chicken + tomatoes + zucchini + white beans + oregano + Parmeggiano cheese or pesto garnish
  • TexMex-y: Onions + celery + garlic + corn + chicken + chili powder + cumin + black beans + chorizo + hot sauce, green onion and sour cream garnish
  • Baked potato soup: Onions + celery + garlic + broccoli + white potatoes + cayenne + grated cheddar, bacon, sour cream and chive garnish
  • Curried squash: Onions + garlic + butternut squash + carrots + curry + cardamom + puree, then top with croutons and yogurt

Here’s the first recipe from the video, or see the Carrot & Rosemary Soup recipe here on CookFearless.

Basic White Bean Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 servings
This recipe is meant to demonstrate how to use the above formula using a simple bean soup. I've corresponded the steps in this recipe to the method described above. You'll want to start a soup like this with dried beans; canned beans won't stand up to the long cooking. The natural starch released in the beans will make the soup thicken as it cooks; if it gets too thick, simply add some water.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 14 oz. can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lb. white beans, soaked
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 cup cooked meat, such as shredded chicken, diced cooked sausage, crumbled bacon or ham (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • 3 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
  1. ) Heat two tablespoons oil in a stock pot over medium heat.
  2. ) Saute the onion, carrots, celery and garlic until softened about five minutes. Add half the salt and a few cranks of black pepper.
  3. ) Add the herbs, bay leaf.
  4. ) Add the beans.
  5. ) Add the stock, water and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and partially cover. Cook for about two to three hours or until the beans soften, adding additional water if needed if it gets too thick.
  6. ) Add the chicken, sausage, bacon or ham (optional). Cook for an additional 10 minutes
  7. ) If you want a smoother texture, you can puree some of the beans. Add the cayenne. Taste and add the additional salt if desired, along with more pepper, thyme or other seasoning.
  8. ) Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired

This post was updated January 9th, 2017

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. I have been very inspired by you. I am a cooking instructor who specializes in home cooking. I also write a blog and plan to write a weekly soup feature starting in January. I will be sharing techniques, tips and recipes along with basic some instruction, I.e. Safely cutting an onion, etc. I am somewhat new to this and am not sure of the protocol for sharing your blog with “my” followers. Do I need your permission? Is this something you would care to weigh in on? I am very small and local and don’t think I am going to be competition ( especially hostile competition!) to what you are doing. I have even considered setting up a series of classes similar to your kitchen counter classes but I haven’t worked out the details. (How do you get the individuals committed to returning for each session?)

  2. I have never made homemade soup before and I found this detailed instruction very useful. I made the white bean soup and it was great. I was very nervous but my husband was very assuring. Thank you again for another wonderful meal.


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