5 Ways to Pep Up Your Soups

January  7, 2015

Today: Heather Jeffcoat, the editor of Entertain Decorate Celebrate, shares five ways to make your soups more interesting this season.

Few things are more comforting than a classic bowl of soup. We all have hundreds of soup recipes at our fingertips, but most of us go back to the same ones over and over again. At my house, when we want to create a memory, we make the beef stew recipe that has been in the family for years -- and we don’t change a thing. But this also means that we fall into flavor ruts.

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There is something sacred about leaving some recipes alone, but I have to remind myself that it is okay to break from tradition and change up my classic dishes from time to time. With just a few adjustments, you too can take your classic soup recipes to a whole new level. By adding in different spices or changing up the vegetables or proteins, you can easily create new dishes that are inspired by your tried-and-true favorites. You never know -- maybe the adapted recipes will make their way into your routine like they have mine. 

Here are 5 easy ways to switch up your soup routine:

Rethink your garnishes.
I love a good tomato soup and grilled cheese combo, but instead of putting your buttery, cheesy sandwich on the side, serve it up as a garnish in mini bites. (Think of them as mega croutons!) A garnish can be about more than just making a dish pretty; it can actually be something that adds flavor or depth to a soup, like a dollop of herb-flavored ricotta, seasoned and toasted tortilla strips, or one of my favorites, buttered popcorn.

Add bulk with pasta and grains. 
One of my favorite ways to satisfy takeout cravings is by using ramen noodles -- that cheap staple we lived off of in college -- in an Asian-inspired soup, like a shrimp ramen variation. Pastas and grains are a great base for a wide range of soups: Either add them to the pot directly, or serve your soup atop them. An added bonus? Using a carb as your base can also help stretch your soup and your savings. 

Get creative with your vegetables and legumes.
Think past the classic combination of carrots, celery, and onions in your soups, and start branching out. For example: A classic beef stew is filled with carrots, potatoes, and green beans, but I like to add red bell peppers, garbanzo beans, and capers for a delicious twist in this Mediterranean Beef Stew. Think through vegetable swaps you can make in other soup recipes you have: Maybe add in kale instead of spinach, or Brussels sprouts instead of green beans, or lentils instead of dried beans. The ideas are limitless.

Add some cream.
I love a spicy soup, but I also like to balance out that spice -- enter heavy cream. Aside from evening out the heat of chili peppers or pepper flakes, like in this Chicken Tomatillo Soup, cream is a great way to add a smooth richness to your soups. You can accomplish this with Greek yogurt, too -- this is a lighter alternative that still doesn’t skimp on the creaminess.

Use a different cut of meat. 
We often think of using ground meat in soup since everything is tossed in and simmered, but quality meat makes a huge difference. I like to use a good cut of pork tenderloin, trimmed and cubed, in curry; tender cuts of beef also make a great addition to soup. Always choose the freshest fish you can find -- high-quality meats and seafood are worth the splurge, and will have a huge effect on the flavor and texture of your soup. 

Curried Pork Soup 

Serves 6

2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1” cubes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 1/2 cups sliced celery

1 onion, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

3 jalapeños, seeded and minced

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

6 cups chicken broth

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
One 15 1/2-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
One 13 1/2-ounce) can coconut milk

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon red curry paste

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup cooked jasmine rice

Fresh cilantro for garnish

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.  

Recipe development and food styling by Rebecca Treadwell; photo styling by Sidney Bragiel; photography by Marcy Black Simpson

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Annie stader
    Annie stader
  • Page Stabler
    Page Stabler
  • Roxanne Graham
    Roxanne Graham
  • Brian Hart Hoffman
    Brian Hart Hoffman
  • Heather Jeffcoat
    Heather Jeffcoat
Editor of Entertain Decorate Celebrate


Annie S. January 7, 2015
I second the vinegar... If you are not sure put a few spoons of soup in a small bowl and add a few drops of an interesting vinegar (banana!). I keep eye droppers in the kitchen for this purpose.
Page S. January 7, 2015
These all look so delicious, especially with the cold weather coming. Now to choose which one!
Roxanne G. January 7, 2015
Try a different stock. Lately, i've used duck broth for asparagus soup. Awesome. Also, sub coconut cream/milk for diary cream.
Brian H. January 7, 2015
Click on the top photo and it will take you to the soup recipe!
Heather J. January 7, 2015
Here is the recipe for the top image for our Taste-like-
Lasagna Soup. Enjoy!
Nuala January 7, 2015
Is there a recipe for the soup pictured at the top with the farfalle? It's exactly what I'm craving on this cold day!
Anne January 7, 2015
What is the soup in the top photo? It looks incredible!
AntoniaJames January 7, 2015
Easiest perk-up ever: splash in some vinegar right before serving. I have at least 10 kinds of vinegar in my pantry; all are used on a regular basis for this purpose. Of course, lime or lemon juice, or a garnish of chopped green apples serves the same purpose. (And the same principle applies to any stew or bean dish or braise, for that matter.) ;o)