Did you ever read the story "Stone Soup" as a child? We had a picture book telling the story, about a hungry traveler who claims he can make delicious soup out of just a stone. By asking each of the passersby to contribute one small ingredient, sure enough, he cooks up a big pot of soup that is enjoyed by all.
I enjoyed this story as a child because of the traveler's cleverness and the villagers' lesson in cooperation. But as an adult, I was amazed to find that the cooking part of this story is incredibly accurate—when making soup, you really can throw in whatever you have and it will turn out great. The one meal I can always rely upon to be AMAZING, no matter what ingredients I have on hand, is soup.
The thing about soup is, once you know the "secrets" to making it, it's practically impossible to mess up. I really think it's the easiest meal you can make from scratch, as long as you have an hour or two to let it simmer. And you don't need to run to the store for ingredients but can simply use whatever you have on hand.
There are three basic principles I follow to get perfect, delicious soup every time:
1. Start by sauteing onion and garlic in butter/oil at the bottom of your stock pot.
2. Use Sazon Goya.
3. Add the individual ingredients according to how long they take to cook (so things that take the longest to cook first).
As long as you do those three things, your soup will be delicious. Guaranteed.
To illustrate the process, I took pictures while I was making Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup recently. I didn't use a recipe—which, Frank will tell you, is extremely rare for me, since normally I'm not brave enough to veer one word away from the instructions! But that's the thing with soup—it's so easy that if you've made it once or twice, you know how to make it forever.
I started with butter at the bottom of my stock pot (you could also use coconut oil):
Next I added one finely chopped onion.
In a pinch, you could also use minced dried onions. I've done it before.
Right after the onions, I add garlic. Ideally you would add fresh garlic cloves (probably 2 or 3) but I almost always use garlic powder.
Once the onions have cooked long enough to turn translucent, I add 6 cups of chicken stock.
I sometimes make my own chicken stock when we eat a whole chicken (I roughly follow this recipe except I almost never add vegetables and I never have parsley on hand ... so it's basically just water, bones, and a bit of vinegar), and sometimes I use bouillon or a carton of chicken stock. You could also use vegetable stock or plain water, but I always use chicken stock as I like the flavor. (Am I allowed to say "I like the depth of flavor it provides and the way it enhances the other ingredients"? Does that sound pretentious?)
(I hope you guys are enjoying my heart-shaped "made with love" wooden spoon. I love that thing.)
And now for the secret ingredient! Sazon Goya!
That stuff is magical. Seriously, it says right on the packet: "A little bit of magic in foil packets." It's true!!! I use it in every kind of soup, from minestrone to chicken noodle. It makes every dish better.
I especially love using it because I can always hear my Cuban grandmother's voice in my head when she used it (she's the one who introduced me to the magic of Sazon Goya). She always tells me to the buy the kind without Annatto, so I do, though I'm not sure why. But the last time Frank did groceries he got the regular kind with annatto, so we'll be cooking with that kind now. I don't think it makes a difference.
Here's the soup after the Sazon Goya (at this point it's just onion and garlic sauted in butter, chicken stock, and Sazon Goya):
Lovely color there, thank you Sazon Goya.
So now it's time to start adding the ingredients. Potatoes take the longest to cook, so they go in there first. I try to chop them into pieces small enough to easily eat with a spoon.
Why did I use red potatoes? Because they were what we had. I'm making this soup again tomorrow and I'll be using brown potatoes because we need to use up a bag of them. I'm telling you, with soup, just throw in whatever you need to use up. It will end up tasting delicious.
I never peel potatoes, for any recipe, since the skins are packed with fiber and vitamins. Also, who has the time?
After that I put the lid on and walked away to let the potatoes cook. I waited to add the other ingredients until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile I turn my attention to the cauliflower.
Why did I put cauliflower in this soup? Because we'd had a party the day before and I had a leftover vegetable tray nobody had touched. So I turned the leftover cauliflower into soup.
First I chopped the cauliflower (which was pretty quick since they were already cut up. I just chopped them small enough to easily eat with a spoon):
Not pictured: I then tossed the cauliflower in a big bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it according to this recipe. Yes, it took 30 minutes to roast, but the potatoes needed that time to cook anyway.
So then I added the roasted cauliflower:
Wow, that looks ... appetizing... Don't worry, we're not done.
The final step is adding the ingredient that needs the least time to cook—KALE!:
Here is where Frank would make some smart-alecky remark about "stop with the kale propaganda." He listens to way too much Jim Gaffigan, if you ask me. But even he had to admit it tasted delicious!
So that's it. Just remember: 1) Start with sauteing onions and garlic. 2) Use Sazon Goya. 3) Add ingredients according to cooking time. Your soup will always turn out great.
You can elaborate on this basic process to make any kind of soup you want. Use a tomato base, vegetables, pasta, and no meat—it's minestrone. Cook ground beef with the onion and garlic, use tomato paste and a ton of beans—it's chili. Use broccoli instead of kale and cauliflower, blend or puree the soup, and then add milk or heavy cream—it's cream of broccoli. The possibilities are truly endless, once you get the basic idea.
Here is the official recipe if you need it:
Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup
1 tbsp butter or coconut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
4-6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock), depending on how many people are eating
4 large or 6 medium potatoes, chopped
1 head cauliflower florets (about 2 cups), chopped
1/2 bag of kale (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 packet Sazon Goya seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) Grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese to top
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Melt butter at the bottom of a 6-quart stock pot.
3. Add onion and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent.
4. Add chicken stock and Sazon Goya.
5. Add potatoes.
6. While potatoes are cooking in broth, separately toss cauliflower in large bowl with olive oil and about 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Spread out cauliflower pieces on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes.
7. When potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork, add roasted cauliflower.
8. Stir in kale until just wilted.
9. Serve and enjoy! We sprinkled a little grated Parmesan on top. Dee-lish.