Cooking Formula: Soup

We love the comforting heartiness of homemade soup, but don’t always want to search for the best soup recipe and gather specific ingredients before beginning. That’s why we love this customizable chunky soup cooking formula!

  • By Jess Dang
  • May 30, 2020

There’s something so comforting about homemade soup. It’s rich and savory, a complete meal in a single bowl, the flavors of fresh veggies mingling with spiced broth, and perfect with a slice of crusty baguette. Soup is also an ideal meal for when you’re low on groceries because it can be made with leftover ingredients — no recipe required! 

Chances are good that even if it’s been a couple of weeks since you’ve been to the grocery store, you can scrounge up some bits of veggies from your fridge or freezer, and find a few aromatics and flavor enhancers in the pantry or fridge to throw together a last-minute soup and use up ingredients that might otherwise have gone to waste.

That’s why we wanted to share this soup cooking formula to show you how easy it is to make a delicious soup from scratch. No matter what you have on hand, you can follow this formula to end up with a soup you’ll love! This formula is great for chunky soups in particular, such as minestrone, vegetable noodle soup, or beef and barley.

1. Sauté Aromatics

The base of your flavor in a soup comes from the vegetables and other ingredients you add at the beginning, called aromatics. The traditional flavor base in French and American soups is called mirepoix, a mix of diced onions, carrots, and celery in 2:1:1 proportion (twice as much onion as carrot or celery). Many soups from other parts of the world start with a similar base: Cajun soups and stews start with onions, celery, and bell peppers; Spanish and Portuguese soups start with onions, garlic, and tomato; Russian soups often add beets or pepper to the onion / carrot / celery mix; and Polish soups start with leeks, carrot, celery, and parsley roots.

Aromatics also include these other, more delicate ingredients, such as shallots, lemongrass, ginger, tomato paste, and garlic. Some soups, like most Asian soups, skip the longer-cooking aromatics and exclusively use these delicate ingredients for flavor. 

We recommend using about ¼ onion per serving. Sauté your mirepoix or other hardier aromatics in oil or butter over medium heat with a pinch of salt until they start to soften, about four or five minutes. Add delicate aromatics in the last minute or so of sautéing before adding liquid to your soup.

2. Add Meat (Optional)

Add and begin to brown chicken, ground turkey, sliced pork, or whatever other protein you’re using. (If you’re using ground beef, you’ll probably prefer to cook it separately so that you can drain off the excess oil.) Aim for around ¼ pound of protein per serving of soup. Cook for a minute or two, until the protein begins to turn golden. It will finish cooking as the rest of the soup cooks.

For a vegetarian soup, skip this step or use tofu or faux meat alternatives, such as vegetarian sausage, soyrizo, or “chicken” strips.

3. Add Hearty Vegetables

Three types of vegetables is generally a good rule of thumb for soup, and remember that some of your vegetables may already have been added in earlier steps, such as carrots or celery. Plan to use a total of about 1 cup of vegetables per serving of soup.

In this step, you’ll add any hearty vegetables such as root vegetables (and other starchy veggies), cruciferous vegetables, and other longer-cooking veggies. Softer vegetables, tomatoes, and greens will be added later. Saute for a few minutes to allow veggies to caramelize a bit and develop flavor.

Vegetables to add at this step include:

  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Butternut squash
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Mushrooms
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini

4. Add Seasonings

Spices and dried herbs also go a long way toward adding flavor and character to your soup. Typically, you’ll add these in the last minute or so of sautéing before adding liquid to your soup, so that they have time to season the ingredients and develop flavor. These are ingredients like:

  • Spices and spice mixes, such as paprika, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, 5-spice powder, Italian seasoning, and Cajun seasoning
  • Whole spices (that get removed before serving), such as star anise or cinnamon sticks
  • Dried herbs (not fresh), including dill, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and parsley
  • Pastes, like curry paste, miso paste, tomato paste, and tamarind paste

5. Add Stock 

Add your chicken, beef, or vegetable stock / broth along with any canned tomatoes or tomato sauce you might be using, at a total of about 2 cups per serving. If you prefer a brothier soup, add a little more liquid; if you like a chunkier, more stewlike soup, add less. Alternately, if you’re less concerned with the number of servings you produce, just add enough broth to cover all the ingredients. 

6. Simmer the Soup

Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Season with some salt and pepper, and add any additional flavors you might be using to really add depth of flavor. These flavor boosters include: 

  • Bay leaf
  • Coconut milk
  • Fish sauce
  • Parmesan cheese rind
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar (a little works wonders to balance the flavors)
  • Wine (red or white)

Save acids, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice, for seasoning at the end (we’ll cover that in a bit!). Simmer your soup gently until everything is tender and the flavors have melded, usually around 15 – 20 minutes, depending on what vegetables / meat you use and how tender you prefer them to be. Taste your soup and add some salt and pepper, if necessary, or any additional flavors.

Cooking Tip:

Remember to taste as you go to see if your soup needs more seasoning. Always start off with less salt and slowly add until it tastes just right.

7. Add Quick-Cooking Ingredients

In the last few minutes of cooking, add in any quick-cooking ingredients or pre-cooked ingredients that just need to be heated through. This includes soft or leafy vegetables, beans, and cooked grains. 

For your remaining vegetables, let peas, asparagus, and corn cook in the simmering soup for a few minutes, or until soft. Greens such as spinach, kale, chard, or arugula can be stirred in during the last minute before turning off the burner. 

This is also the time to add in cooked grains, if you like! Use about ¼ cup of cooked grains per serving, such as:

  • Barley
  • Couscous
  • Farro
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Rice

If you’re using beans in lieu of or in addition to animal protein, add them during this step and let them heat through before serving. Use about ¼ cup of beans per serving, such as:

  • Black beans
  • Cannellini beans
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • Great Northern beans
  • Lentils
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans

8. Add Toppings

If you’re making a cream-based soup, add the cream after turning off the heat. And remember to taste! It’s not too late to add more seasonings at this stage. In fact, a bit of acid — such as lemon juice, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, sherry vinegar — will elevate the flavors even more.

Once you’re satisfied with the seasoning, remove any inedible ingredients such as bones, parmesan rinds, and bay leaves, then ladle your soup into bowls and add toppings.

Toppings add texture, flavor, and visual appeal to your finished soup. Some of our favorite soup toppings include:

  • Bread crumbs sautéed in butter
  • Cheese, such as cheddar, parmesan, gorgonzola, goat cheese, or queso fresco
  • Cured meats, such as bacon bits, chopped smoked salmon, or crispy prosciutto
  • Crackers
  • Croutons
  • Egg, soft-boiled, especially if you have a vegetarian soup and want a protein boost
  • Fresh herbs, such as chopped basil, thyme, cilantro, dill, or parsley
  • Fresh vegetables, such as chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, avocado, or shredded cabbage
  • Green onion or chives
  • Hot sauce or chili oil
  • Instant ramen, crumbled and toasted
  • Jalapeños, or other spicy fresh or marinated peppers
  • Nuts, such as toasted almonds, walnuts, pecans, or peanuts
  • Olive oil, a light drizzle
  • Popcorn
  • Seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, sesame seeds, or pine nuts
  • Shallots, fried
  • Tortilla chips
  • Yogurt or sour cream

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