How to Make Great Soup without Having a Specific Recipe

Another post in my occasional series, “How to ________ without _________

I love soup.  That’s one reason why I love cooking during the fall/winter season.  As I’ve learned more about cooking in general, I’ve realized that it’s pretty easy to make a tasty dish without a recipe if you do a few things right. 

For soup, these are my secrets:

1. Lots of garlic and onion.

2. Plenty of salt

3. Really good stock (homemade is preferable and really easy to make)

4. Plenty of herbs and spices

The rest is just filler to make the soup even more delicious.  Depending on what other ingredients you use (particularly which herbs and spices), you can make a wide variety of soups.

Here’s a recipe that I’ve been making recently that is easily adaptable to many different ingredients:

Pumpkin Sausage Soup with Greens

1 pound of sausage or ground beef (sausage is better if you have it) or skip this step if you want a vegetarian soup

Saute the meat in the bottom of your soup pot until well-browned.  Ideally, you’ll have lots of good fond (the brown toasty stuff) on the bottom of the pan.  Put the cooked meat into a bowl and set aside. (Don’t wash out your pot!)

2 medium onions, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped finely (I prefer carrots finely chopped rather than grated in soup.)
6 cloves of garlic, minced (or through a garlic press)
olive or coconut oil (if you’ve used a particularly lean meat)

Add extra fat if needed (or take some out if you’re using sausage) and add the onions and carrots.  Saute until they are softened and starting to brown.  Add the garlic and saute for about a minute.

1/2 C white wine

Add to the pan to deglaze it.  Scrape up all the brown crispy stuff off of the bottom of the pan.  This adds a lot of great flavor!

6-8 C of stock (chicken, beef, or vegetable)
3 C of peeled, cubed bite-sized pieces of winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, neck pumpkin, etc. – any kind will do) – or you could use sweet potato, potato, turnip, parsnip or other root vegetables
lots and lots of salt (probably at least 1-2 teaspoons) – to taste, you won’t need to add as much if your stock already has salt in it.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is almost tender.

A giant pile of well-washed, chopped greens – beet greens, turnip greens, swiss chard, kale, collards, spinach – they will all taste good

Add by the handful to the pot, stirring well.  The greens will cook down quickly.  When it looks like there’s enough in the pot, stop adding them.  This time, I used the greens from about five beets and that was plenty.

Spices to taste: oregano, cumin, paprika, nutmeg, allspice, chili powder, etc.
the browned meat

Add the spices and the meat to your pot and simmer until the greens are fully-cooked and pumpkin is completely tender.  The soup that I made on Sunday had about 2 teaspoons each of oregano, cumin and paprika along with a good grating of fresh nutmeg and a sprinkling of allspice and chili powder.


Check for salt and add more if needed.  Have I mentioned that it’s important to get enough salt into soup to make it taste good?

If you would like a slightly more creamy soup, then before adding the greens, take out a cup or two of the soup and puree it.  Pour it back in and proceed with the recipe.

It’s delicious and great for feeding a crowd!

(I used this soup recipe as my inspiration for this soup but my final version is pretty much totally different.)

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2 Responses to How to Make Great Soup without Having a Specific Recipe

  1. Rachel says:

    I’m making chicken and dumplings tonight 🙂 That soup sounds delicious, i’ll have to try it. Drew doesn’t like pumpkin much, so we’ll see about that!

    • Laura says:

      Chicken and dumplings sound delicious too! 🙂 You could sub in sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin! (Or he might like pumpkin this way – the texture is very different from pureed pumpkin.)

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