Chuck away the cook book, it's time to go freestyle with your soup. If you get an organic veg box or simply find a load of veg lurking in your fridge at the end of every week, then this is the perfect way to ensure your valued veg don't end up in the bin.
A good base ensures every soup starts well. Begin with a medium onion and chop in a few basic vegetables to give a rounded flavour. A combination of one carrot, one stick of celery and one leek works well. Sweat these off with a knob of butter: that means heating the butter, dropping in the chopped vegetables, stirring to coat and putting the lid back on. Cook, with the occasional stir for 15 - 20 minutes to soften them.
Spice it up
A pinch of spice can work wonders in most soups. Cumin is a great all rounder, giving an earthy taste to pretty much most soups. For a Thai flavour, add fresh garlic and ginger and ground coriander. For Indian, add a pinch of cumin, turmeric, fenugreek or garam masala. Tomato soups can take on a Mexican or Spanish feel with a pinch of sweet smoked paprika. Don't be shy to combine your spices, if you add somewhere between a pinch and a teaspoon, they won't take over but will give you a depth of flavour.The thick of it
If you like a smooth textured or hearty soup, then some type of thickener is required. You can add a peeled medium potato at the beginning with the other base vegetables or coat the veg with a spoonful of flour before adding the stock. A handful of red split lentils thrown in along with the stock will also thicken well, like in our lentil soup. These usually need to be boiled for 15 - 20 minutes so check the pack instructions.
A good stock is another key essential when making soup. If you'd like to make homemade, check out our video guide to making stock. It's always good to have some of this at the ready in the freezer. Another great stock is the water you've used to boil a gammon - delicious. Again, freeze this until you need it. If you haven't got time or simply don't have homemade stock, buy a good quality one from the supermarket.
The main ingredient
If you want a particular ingredient to shine, then big up the quantities. Think about cooking times and then add at the appropriate time. Butternut squash can be added along with the base ingredients, like in this butternut squash & sage soup. Add broccoli stalks with the base ingredients but the tops later so they retain their colour and cook with the lid off. Spinach needs to be added a few minutes before the end to ensure it stays vibrant and tasty.
To blend or not to blend
It's really up to you if you blend your soup or not and when you do it. It can be nice to blend a leek and potato soup but then throw in a few finely sliced bits of leek a few minutes before the end to give a little texture. Chicken can become a bit grainy when blended, in this recipe for Thai chicken and sweet potato soup, the sweet potato is blended and then the chicken added and cooked after. If you're not planning to blend, cut chunks into no more than bite-sized pieces to make it easy to eat.
A sprinkling of finely sliced spring onions, a few croutons or a handful of chopped herbs make a great finish and will make your soup look much more appetising. Likewise a drizzle of cream or a dollop of crème fraîche and a grind of black pepper give a restaurant touch if you're serving to friends.