Get out your soup spoons, everyone, as I believe we have officially hit soup season! There is nothing like a nourishing, steamy bowl to take the chill off and make you feel cozy and full. It certainly is one of my favorite ways to eat a healthy meal! But, how do those great, healthy soups all begin? Besides digging out your favorite stock pot or extra large ladle, what do most soup recipes call for up front?
A mirepoix, a soffritto or maybe even a "Holy Trinity?" Call them what you want, but they all are a convivial gathering of aromatics, occasional herbs and spices and usually a bit of fat to get the party started. These various flavor combinations go by different names in different cuisines, but they always play an upfront role in how that soup turns out. They provide a foundation of flavor to distinguish it from one healthy pot to another.
How to Make a Flavor BaseMost flavor bases from around the world break down into three or four aromatic vegetables, sometimes herbs, and occasionally a small bit of fat. Asian cuisines often add freshly ground spices as well. The vegetables, cut into uniform small pieces, make up the largest part of the flavor base and are typically given a slow, easy start over low heat to extract the flavor. It is then enriched with the herbs and spices, if using.
Perhaps the most recognized trio may be the French mirepoix of onion, carrots and celery. Watch this quick video from Mario Batali on how to create the classic mirepoix. Cooking in any country has many variations of their flavor bases, as well as cooks adding their flair to the pot, just to keep things interesting.
1. Portuguese: Right out of the gate, I introduce the rebel with a cuisine that usually starts with four vegetables as a base than the typical three: onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes.
2. Cajun/Creole: Often referred to as the "Holy Trinity," onion, bell pepper, and celery make up the base for many classic gumbos.
3. Chinese: Multiple Chinese dishes start with with a base of scallions, ginger and garlic. There are vairiatons that add various chili peppers, too.
4. Hungarian: The Hungarians often reach for paprika, lard and onion as a flavor base for their soups and stews.
5. Indian: Garlic, ginger and onion are the beginnings of many wonderful Indian soups.
6. French: The familiar onions, carrots and celery create many great soups in those French kitchens.
7. Thai: Many Thai traditional dishes are flavored with galangal (a kind of ginger), kaffir lime and lemon grass.
8. Italian: Regional differences apply from the north to the south in Italy. Much like the French, northern Italy adheres to celery, carrots and onions while those in the south, go for garlic, tomato and basil.
9. Spanish: Garlic, onion and tomato all jump in the soup pot for great beginnings.
10. West Africa: The base of most west African cuisines is a trio of chili peppers, onions and tomatoes.
Destination Soup MakingOnce you learn a few flavor bases, you can change up the base to change up the soup. Let me explain:
Consider a simple tomato soup recipe like this one. Instead of the French mirepoix listed, begin that soup with a flavor base of ginger, garlic and onion, and add some curry powder and finish with a splash of coconut milk and that basic tomato has become a simple Indian Tomato Soup. Or, if you begin with the Hungarian flavor trio base listed above, you take that tomato soup in a smokey, spicy Hungarian direction. You could always go traditional and keep it Italian by maintaining the northern Italian base of celery, carrots and onion but add a big handful of fresh basil and some oregano and cheese croutons.
So, next time if you want to take your pot of soup in a whole new orientation, maybe you should consider how you start. That base you begin with could take you across the pond or even on a safari! Your destination is your choice.
Need a bit more?
- Loads of links to healthy soup recipes in a flash, broth making tips and soup making equipment all here.
- Feature a favorite and nutrient-rich fall vegetable with this soup this week that keeps flu and colds away.
Please share a favorite soup recipe link in the comments or any other flavor bases you use in your country to start your dishes off right!
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