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I've been experimenting with soups recently and trying different recipes, and I've found that I often come out with a good soup that's a bit too bland in taste. And yes, salt and pepper makes a huge difference... but it needs something else. Beyond finding the right spice for the right soup, what are some general things that I can do that won't greatly change the flavor but will add some fullness to the flavor?

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What type of soup? A chicken noodle is much different from a cream of mushroom or a gaspacho or pumpkin or a cantelope soup. –  Joe Feb 23 '11 at 12:45
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7 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

This doesn't answer your question directly, but spices are only a small part of the picture. Below are some techniques to get more flavor in your soup.

Longer Cooking

Depending on the type of soup you're making, you may just need more time. Some flavors just need more time to get out. This is especially true of meat and bones. It's possible to make a ham and pea soup in an hour, but simmer that ham for 3 hours and it's night and day.

Rest overnight

Many stews, chili, etc. seem taste "better" the next day. Give an overnight rest in the fridge a shot and see if the flavor improves.

Add volatile flavors later

There is a caveat to go along with longer cooking. Some items work over long cooking times, while others lose flavor. In addition to meat/bones, garlic, onion, bay leaves (and others) benefit. Many fresh herbs, pepper, vanilla, saffron (and others) lose their flavor from the heat. If you are cooking for a while, you might try adding some more volatile flavors later in the process.

Add salt early

Salt helps to extract flavors, so add it early on in the process. Do be judicious with it, however. Long cooking tends to concentrate flavors, so you can easily make it too salty.

Sweat vegetables / brown meat

Before getting any water involved, sweat your onions, celery, peppers, mushrooms, or whatever vegetables or playing in this game.

Likewise, brown your meat. The maillard reaction is necessary for developing great flavor from the meat.

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I like to add less than half the anticipated amount of salt at the broth stage. I'll add the rest later when the flavours come together and I can properly judge how much is needed. –  Chris Cudmore Feb 23 '11 at 20:18
    
+1 for longer cooking! I just learned that myself and it's so true. –  Mien Feb 27 '11 at 17:01
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Soup making usually involves two steps:

  1. Making the broth
  2. Adding the particular ingredients that make it an XXX soup.

As far as I'm concerned, the first step is the critical one. Here are my broth-making tips:

Ingredients:

  • Bones with a bit of meat on them.
  • 1 carrot (peeled, whole)
  • 1 Celery Stalk (whole)
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Marjoram (optional). -- Thank you Polish Mother-in-law for adding this to my repetoire

Steps:

  • Brown the bones, particularly beef or veal
  • Dice and Brown the onion in butter.
  • Throw everything in the pot, and cover with water.
  • Bring to a boil, and reduce temp to a slow simmer.
  • Simmer until it tastes good.
  • Remove veggies and bones. If desired, strain broth to eliminate onions and protein globules.
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+1 yes! the stock/broth is, in many soups, where you are getting much of your flavor from. It is critical to pay attention to the broth. When I make chicken soup, I spend 95% of my effort on making great chicken stock, and 5% on throwing in some carrots, celery, chicken, etc. to turn it into a soup. Even if you are making a very texture-dependent soup like avgolemono or split pea, putting the effort into the stock is going to make a world of difference. (also you get a +1 for pointing out browning the bones and veg) –  Ray Feb 23 '11 at 20:23
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Lemon juice works well with a variety of soup flavours, when added just before serving. I also find that you need less salt when using lemon juice at the end.

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interesting idea! i'm going to try this :) –  clueless Feb 24 '11 at 19:55
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I have several suggestions, also:

  1. I feel that adding fried onions or garlic adds a lot to soup giving it spicelike taste addition.

  2. I really like adding Za'atar to soups, especially fish soups.

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+1 Very bold flavours. Za'atar is not so easily come by outside the middle east mind. –  Orbling Feb 24 '11 at 0:09
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I had the same problem as you.

You could try adding a bouquet garni, which contains:

  • Parsley
  • Bay Leaves (Laurel)
  • Thyme
  • Celery
  • Rosemary

If you have them fresh, you can tie them together using kitchen rope and toss them in, and remove them after boiling. If you have them dried, you can (of course leave them in).

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Romano cheese is really good on soup, especially with black pepper. Mmm.

If you're going for a savory taste, add bay leaves and some dill. Dill also works really well with cream of potato. Basil adds a little bit of taste, too, but it works best with something tomatoey - you can buy little cans of tomato sauce and put them in if you want to thicken your soup.

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try some nutmeg in your soup.you can get excellent results in broths, stocks and creams. for beeth or chicken stock, also try pimento and juniper, mace, bay leaves and parsley.also try a dash of sherry in your bouillon or consommee... (yammy yammy) making stocks: do not brown the onion with any fat, just dry brown them. when cooking soup, just let it simmer (a soup should always be smiling)

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