Soups are one of those things that seem easy.  A little stock, some veggies, maybe some meat, a few spices and ‘Bam’ (to steal a phrase) it’s done. But in reality a good soup is a delicate balancing act. Each part creating a separate but harmonious tone, complementing the other voices and combining to create one incredible taste. One of the best soups I’ve ever had was at a restaurant in Eugene, Oregon. It was actually at the Fifith Street Market, a deli-style restaurant/market with minimal seating, a bakery, and a butcher’s shop. They had the most incredible shrimp bisque I’ve ever had, one that took me years to recreate. It was thick, slightly spicy, savory yet sweet, with ample chunks of shrimp throughout.

One chef I worked with in my younger years told me that making good soups was the best way to become a good cook. He said that anybody can fry an egg, or cook a burger, or even sauté up a seafood fettuccine, but that even good cooks often fail when making soup. He told me the secret to a good soup were good ingredients, good stock, and patience.

Take this soup for example. A simple dish with no more than four or five ingredients, but with the right steps can be transformed into a silky, light, but flavorful soup perfect for dipping in sourdough or topping with fried potato skins, bacon bits, scallions and a dollop of sour cream. When making any soup take the time to choose good stock. Try using fresh homemade stock, or fresh stock that doesn’t need to be reconstituted with water.  These stocks tend to have less salt, allowing you to flavor them yourself. Avoid using bullion cubes, or paste as they are high in sodium and have a less rounded flavor than ‘fresh’ stocks.

Before adding any liquids, make sure your base has ample time to cook.  Bringing your onions and garlic to a lightly browned color will caramelize their sugars and deepen their flavors. This will enrich your soup and provide the darker roasted flavors for the lighter, more subtle flavors to stand on.

When adding multiple ingredients with different cooking times cut them to sizes that will shorten or lengthen their cooking times accordingly.  Larger for potatoes, a bit smaller for carrots, big chunks for summer squash and things that wilt or cook quickly at the end, even after removed from the heat.

Follow these tips and you can make any soup taste better, richer and put more smiles on faces!

2 pounds yukon gold, or russet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch squares

1 medium shallot, minced

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped

1 medium carrot, halved and chopped

2 T flour

4 cups stock

1 cup heavy cream

1 sprig fresh thyme, or 1/4 t dried thyme

2 T butter

salt and pepper

In a large pot melt butter over medium high heat. Add shallots and garlic and saute until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes, add carrot and cabbage and saute for another two minutes or until cabbage slightly wilts. Add flour and stir to coat evenly.  Whisk in cream and stock, and stir in potatoes and thyme.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes. Remove 4 cups of soup and blend in batches until smooth.  Return blended portion to soup and stir in. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

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