water-based soups

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…

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6 Responses to “water-based soups”


  1. 1 Derrick Schneider October 9, 2009 at 10:56 am

    One of the common tips that I know of is to hoard Parmiggiano rinds (they keep well in the freezer) and toss them into the water. I make a minestrone with just a water base, but it’s thick with flavor because I toss in a cheese rind.

  2. 2 asarwate October 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    One word : katsuoboshi.

    McGee has a fun paragraph on it.

  3. 3 winyang October 14, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    That recipe book I gave you last Christmas has a recipe for lettuce soup (this one: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Lettuce-Soup-231995) which has acquired some pretty enthusiastic fans. The other bonus is that it takes care of a lettuce-plenty CSA share.

  4. 4 Carl Tashian October 15, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    And that lettuce soup is just a stone’s throw away from caldo verde, also water-based:
    http://leitesculinaria.com/7580/recipes-portuguese-kale-soup-caldo-verde.html

  5. 5 winyang October 22, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    And funnily/sadly enough, I just saw a recipe for caldo verde in the latest and very last issue of Gourmet.

  6. 6 carla November 9, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Last night at a friend’s house I had a soup that was just carrots, potatoes, lots of ginger and water, cooked up and pureed. I assume there was a bit of salt in there too. It was really good. I think the key is massive amounts of ginger.


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