How to Make Soup Without a Recipe
I was addicted to recipes. I couldn’t even make soup without a recipe. I spent hours deciding what to make, googling “easy dinner recipes”, “quick lunches”, “top chicken recipes”, “easy [insert season] recipes” over and over every single week. I compulsively saved and bookmarked recipes so I wouldn’t lose them.
Cooking was becoming draining – yet there wasn’t a budget for eating out. I was tired of buying produce and herbs for one recipe and throwing them out when I didn’t have another use for them. The slightly used ingredients would sit in my fridge until time broke them down, until they were withered, squishy, and always brown.
One day I had enough. I was tired of not trusting myself to cook without a recipe. I was tired of googling, tired of staring compulsively at my phone or computer following the many steps in these recipes. I was tired of reading recipes that all sounded the same. Chicken, again? Another pasta dish? More rice?
I began learning how to cook without a recipe using soup. It isn’t as difficult as it may seem to make soup without a recipe. I’m breaking down my process for you.
Once you try to make soup without a recipe, you will begin to see patterns in the recipes you have been following all these years. Noticing the patterns is the first step to becoming a better, more intuitive cook – regardless of how long you’ve been cooking and how skilled you feel.
Choose a fat & heat the pot
The type of fat you choose really depends on what you have at home and what your goal is for your soup. Do you want something to soften your veggies that isn’t too creamy? Canola or vegetable oil is a good choice. Want a creamier soup that feels more luscious? Butter is the way to go.
Get the pot heating on medium low while you gather your ingredients. Once gathered, pour a decent glug of oil or throw a nice pat of butter into the pot and allow it to heat up.
Choose a type of onion + vegetables & soften in the pot
At least one onion is absolutely necessary! Onions are great in that they add flavour and texture but break down to basically nothing. Any vegetable can be thrown in a soup but consider the texture and how much time you have.
- Hard vegetables like winter squash (acorn, butternut, buttercup), sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, rutabaga, or broccoli all take longer to break down and must be put in the soup after sauteeing the onions.
- Softer vegetables and fruit like summer squash (zucchini), white or red potatoes, asparagus, leeks, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, peppers, and mushrooms can be added later in the cooking process.
Once your oil is heated and your onions are chopped, throw them in the pot on medium – medium low heat. You should hear a sizzle in the pot as they go in.
Cook the onions first, then throw a bit of garlic in there if you’d like.
Add your vegetables once the onions are either softened or brown and caramelized.
I like to let my vegetables and onions cook without any stock until they start to stick and slightly break down then I add my broth/stock/water.
Seasoning at each stage of your soup making is crucial for full flavor development. Add a decent amount of salt to the pot with the onions and vegetables. By adding salt, you are helping break down the onions and vegetables and enhancing their natural flavours. Add dried herbs here, after the onions and vegetables break down, if you are using them as well. If you add dried herbs too soon, they can burn before the vegetables have finished cooking.
Add broth/stock/water + bring to a boil then simmer
Add your broth/stock/water to the pot and scrape the bottom so it deglazes all the yummy brown bits and adds the extra flavour into your soup. If you are using a pre-made vegetable stock, do not add extra salt, as plenty of salt is already in it. If you are making a vegetable soup, choose water or a vegetable broth that won’t overwhelm your flavours. If you are making a rich meaty soup, try one with a deep beef or chicken broth. Add fish sauce for an extra bit of umami to a seafood soup with clams, shrimp, or fish.
Kick the temperature up to medium-high and stir every so often to bring your soup up to a boil quicker. Bring your soup to a boil before simmering on low for 30 minutes at least.
Add acid + taste
Your soup won’t be fully developed if it is merely a combination of vegetables, an onion, and fat. Here is where acid comes in, in the form of lemon juice, vinegar (white, apple cider, red/white wine), white or red wine, a tomato or two. Acid will help pick up and lift the soup so it doesn’t overwhelm your palate.
Add a teensy bit of acid then taste. If your lips feel greasy or something is missing but you can taste the flavours all the way to the back of your tongue, add a bit more acid. If the flavour falls flat halfway through, add a bit more salt and taste again.
If you’re having a hard time telling whether your dish is under-seasoned, sign up for the newsletter below and get a FREE copy of my guide to fixing under-seasoned meals.
Add meat (or don’t)
Most recipes call for you to cook meat and then add it to the soup. This can lead to the meat becoming tougher than it otherwise would be when gently cooked for 10-15 minutes in a gently boiling soup. If you choose to cook the meat in the soup, then it must be sliced extra thin and seasoned before throwing it into the pot. If you want bigger chunks of meat in your soup, then cook beforehand. Before eating, pull a piece of meat out and check that it is fully cooked.
The most important step in how to make soup without a recipe is to enjoy the finished product, your hard work, and your first attempt at cooking without a recipe. It doesn’t have to be perfect but as long as you taste each step of the way, make sure your vegetables and meat are fully cooked, and enjoy the creativity that comes with cooking without a recipe, then you’re doing it right. Congratulate yourself on your first attempt!
Did you try to make soup without a recipe? Tag me on IG @finnyfromscratch, use the hashtag #finnyfromscratch, or send me an email with what you’ve created! I’d love to see it.