Soup season is officially open, and I’ve been exploring water-based soups this year. Mostly because I don’t have the time and energy to make stock (not that it requires much), and I’m not buying stock at the supermarket because it isn’t very good, it’s expensive, I think it’s a waste of food transportation energy, and the supermarket I’m shopping at doesn’t sell meat anyway, so my choices are mushroom, vegetable, or nothing.
It’s amazing how flavorful nothing can be. With a little added fat and umami of course. You see, you can’t just salt your way to success with water-based soup. You need some kind of base, probably some variant of a mirepoix along with a bunch of fat. I don’t know where I heard this recently, but fat is flavor. So, preferably you’ll want a couple kinds.
Plus you’ll want a balance of umami (which, really, is what stock is all about), salt, and acid. Example one: this delicious west african peanut soup from Bittman. Fattened up with grapeseed oil, chicken fat, peanut butter, and peanuts. Tomatoes lend the umami and acid. Sweet potatoes and kale make for a good textural balance. Wow, it’s so damn good.
Example two: red lentil soup with lemon, which has graced this blog in the past, perhaps more than once. The recipe calls for stock, but this one works well with water. You need another flavor dimension beyond the olive oil/tomato paste/lemon troika to drive it home, though. A cup of grated parmesan at the end works well, in lieu of salt. And a dollop of yogurt upon serving takes it to the top.
So, that’s what I’ve got. If you have any other water-based soup secrets, I’d love to hear them…