Nutrition Column – Helpful Hints for Homemade Soup

When the weather outside is frightful, a nice, hot bowl of homemade soup can be quite delightful. For many, soup is considered the ultimate comfort food, especially during the cold winter months. Whether served as the main course or as an appetizer, soup is a hearty, nutritious, low-cost dish that is sure to satisfy.

Although soup is relatively easy to prepare, here are a few tips to help make sure that you simmer up the tastiest soup.

– If you are using soup bones, start them in cold water. Placing soup bones into boiling water seals the bone, which prevents flavor and nutrients from being released.

– Avoid letting the soup boil. Soup should simmer gently for several hours to bring out the best flavor. Boiling soup can result in tough or rubbery ingredients and cloudy broth.

– For a clearer broth, strain through several layers of cheesecloth or pour through a sieve.

– Add unthawed frozen vegetables during the last 15 minutes of cooking time to avoid overcooking them.

– Because dried spices give off their best flavor when heated while fresh herbs lose their flavor if cooked too long, it’s best to add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking and fresh herbs near the end.  

– Always add seasonings in small amounts and taste after each addition. Some experts recommend using a stainless steel spoon for taste tests, because wood and sterling silver spoons can disguise the flavor.

– If you accidentally over spice your soup, add a few slices of potato, simmer for 30 to 45 minutes and then remove the potato slices and discard.

– To help reduce the fat content, place four or five ice cubes in a piece of cheesecloth and swirl it around in the soup, or place a few lettuce leaves in the soup, stir them around for a few minutes, then remove and discard. Another method is to place a clean paper towel over the top of the soup to soak up the grease. If time permits, you can also make soup a day ahead of time, chill it overnight and then remove the hardened fat that forms on the surface before reheating the soup.

– To make creamy, rich soups without adding a lot of fat, use mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, vegetable purees or low-fat tofu instead of cream.  

– To thicken soup, use evaporated skim milk, instant mashed potatoes, rice flour, cornstarch, or pureed white beans.

– Avoid overcooking or over seasoning soup if you plan to refrigerate or freeze it ahead of use; the ingredients will cook further when reheated. For safety’s sake, cool or freeze soup in shallow meal-size containers. Soup is best if refrigerated no more than two to three days or frozen no more than six months.

– For an added touch, garnish soup with croutons, low-fat cheese, scallions, low-fat sour cream or fresh pieces of herbs just before serving. Or for something different, serve soup in homemade bread bowls.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension