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The Easy, Fairly Quick Way to Better-Flavored Broth (& Soup!)

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I’ve been simmering soup. I’m talking about a whole lot of soup. I recently spent a year creating soup recipes for my new book, Soup Swap. And these past few months, on book tour, I’ve cooked soup for events in book stores, at farmers markets, at kitchen shops, and in private homes.

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I don’t mind. Really, I don’t. During these tumultuous times there is nothing more grounding and calming than making a pot of soup. As I simmer stocks and sauté leeks, purée lentils and roast peppers, the news of the day floats out of focus, and for just a short while I find myself a little less scared about the state of the world. My kitchen and my soup pot grounds me.

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I’ve learned all kinds of tricks and tips for making a pot of soup taste multi-dimensional and extraordinary. One of my favorite revelations is something I call flavored broths.

What’s a flavored broth?

 Carrot-Ginger Zinger Soup
Carrot-Ginger Zinger Soup

Well, it started when I was testing recipes for carrot and ginger soup. If you google carrot and ginger soup you’ll find hundreds of recipes. It seems everyone makes a version of carrot and ginger soup. And when they’re good, they are a fabulous, healthy mixture of beta-carotene-rich carrots blended with the bracing, biting, fresh zing of ginger. But I figured if I was going to offer yet another recipe for carrot and ginger soup, it needed a new twist.

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My friend, food writer Molly O’Neill, told me about her recipe for the soup that uses a cup of ginger tea as a flavor base. Ginger tea? I wasn’t sure how it would work, but decided to give it a try. I roasted carrots and leeks to bring out their sweet, caramelized flavor. I made a pot of homemade vegetable stock. Here comes the interesting part: I steeped a mug of ginger tea for several minutes until it was nice and strong. I strained the tea and used it as a broth to deglaze the pan of just-out-of-the-oven roasted vegetables before adding them to the stock. I then puréed the soup and served it topped with fresh ginger grated on a microplane.

The soup had a whole new dimension. The ginger flavor emerged in every sip of soup, from the ginger broth to the fresh ginger grated on top.

This got me thinking: If ginger tea could be transformed into a broth to make a basic soup taste so extraordinary, what other possibilities might there be to highlight and enhance flavors in soup? I was on a mission, experimenting with everything from herbs (both fresh and dried) to dried mushrooms to dried shrimp.

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Here are a few ideas for making a pot of soup taste like something really special:

Dried Mushroom Broth: Place 1/2 cup dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour on 1 cup almost boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the broth into another bowl. Use the mushrooms and the strained mushroom broth in mushroom soups, other vegetables soups where you want a meaty, umami-like flavor, or meat-based soups.

Herb Broths: Chop 2 tablespoons fresh or dried rosemary (preferably on the stem) and place in a bowl. Cover with 1 cup boiling water and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the herb broth and use in minestrone, pasta e fagioli, lentil soup, Italian wedding soup, or any soup where you might be using fresh or dried rosemary. You can make an herb broth from virtually any type of herb—dried or fresh. Think cilantro broth for bean-based soups, basil broth for tomato soup, and thyme broth for vegetables soups and fish or corn chowders. Experiment with different herbs and add a few tablespoons of the broth to taste, adding more if needed. Try making a broth from fresh mint and using just a tablespoon in curries and Asian-style noodle soups.

Ginger Broth: Steep a bag of ginger tea, or peel and finely chop 2 tablespoons fresh ginger and place in a mug or bowl. Add 1 cup boiling water and steep for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tea is quite strong. Strain and use in carrot and ginger, curry, hot and sour, and dumpling soups—or any other soup where the flavor of ginger would be welcome.

Lemongrass Broth: Coarsely chop 2 tablespoons fresh or dried lemongrass and place in a bowl. Cover with 1 cup boiling water and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Taste the broth and make sure the lemongrass flavor is quite pronounced, but not too strong. Add more hot water if it’s too strong. Strain and use in Thai curry soups, a fish soup, or anywhere you might like the subtle flavor of lemon.

Dried Shrimp: Place 2 tablespoons dried shrimp (found in Asian markets) in a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain the broth and use in chowders, miso, and Asian-style fish soups or any soup you might be adding fresh shrimp or shellfish. Chop and add the soaked shrimp as well.

Chile Broth: Soak dried chiles in a cup of, like the mushrooms, almost boiling water. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and use the chile broth in posole, chili, ramen, or any soup where you want a spicy, chile-flavor.

Kathy Gunst is a James Beard award-winning food journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks; her latest book is Soup Swap (Chronicle Books). She is the Resident Chef for NPR’s Here and Now, heard on over 450 public radio stations. You can read more about her here.

Have you flavored broths before? And with what? Let us know in the comments!