11 Tips for Perfect Soup When You’re Not Following a Recipe

Nineteen years ago, my husband Curtis and I were living a few doors down from the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada. It was early February so needless to say it was cold outside. The canal had become the world’s largest outdoor skating rink—a place where Curtis and I spent a lot of icy days donning skates and thick winter-wear. Nothing was as warming as a bowl (and sometimes 2!) of hot, homemade soup after those bitter cold days, so I regularly kept a pot of homemade soup on the stove.

On this particular February day we were in the midst of planning our upcoming Valentine’s Day wedding when the minister who was going to marry us showed up an hour early for our meeting. He had been out skating and just couldn’t take the cold any longer so we invited him in and offered him a bowl of my homemade soup, which he appeared to love. It quickly became apparent during our wedding ceremony that he had, indeed, thoroughly enjoyed the soup when he shared the story and Curtis’ good fortune at being able to enjoy my soup-making skills for many years to come.

I am a long-time professional recipe developer and cookbook author who has made many different types of food over the years, but nothing is as pleasurable for me as soup-making. So, today I’d like to share some of my tips for developing delicious flavors in your homemade soup.


Skip the bouillon bases and commercial soup stock

Not only are they typically full of the brain and nervous system toxin known as monosodium glutamate (MSG), they tend to leave a distinctive, not-so-great flavor to soup. Either purchase homemade soup stock, make your own or add lots of flavor-rich herbs and veggies to your soup to boost the flavor in a pinch.

Keep the stove burner on low to medium heat

Oils tend to burn quickly on higher temperatures and leave an off-putting taste in the soup, not to mention an inflammatory effect on the body after the oil reaches its smoke point.

Related: Which Cooking Oil Should You Use?

Brown the onions

Almost every soup contains onions, which is a great thing because onions significantly boost the flavor of soup. I let my onions slowly cook in some olive oil over low to medium heat until they become browned, either light or dark brown depending on the flavor I’m attempting to achieve. Do not be tempted to rush the process because this is the single most important way to develop flavor in your soup. Once the onions reach the desired brown color, add the stock or water to pull all the flavor from the bottom of the pot or Dutch oven.

Create your own soup base

Every great soup starts with a good base. In French cuisine it is the mirepoix, which is a mix of 2 parts chopped onion to 1 part each of chopped carrots and celery. In Latin cuisine there is the sofrito, which is a puree of onions, peppers, cilantro and garlic. In Cajun cuisine, there is the Holy Trinity, which is comprised of 3 parts onion, 2 parts celery and 1 part bell pepper. In Italian cuisine, there is typically a mirepoix base with the addition of fennel, garlic and parsley, which is either diced or pureed and added to the soup. Choose your own adventure.

Don’t be afraid to use spices

There is a whole world of spices out there so don’t be afraid to try different ones. Of course, it helps to familiarize yourself ahead of time with which ones tend to be complementary rather than experimenting on your soup. Any combination of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme tend to be great together. Curry flavors like cinnamon (yes, it’s a great soup addition), coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garam masala (which is actually a mixture of spices) and turmeric also tend to be great together.

Related: 5 Spices That Do Amazing Things

Saute the spices

If you’re using ground spices or spices that are seeds, they tend to be best sautéed for a minute or two just prior to adding the liquid for your soup. The heat brings out their delightful flavors. Of course, they burn quickly so don’t let them saute for too long.

Add fresh flavor ingredients

Freshly grated or minced ginger or garlic add a powerful punch of flavor to your soup broth, which is especially important when you’re using water instead of stock as the liquid base for your soup. Both of these spices tend to be best lightly sautéed for a minute just prior to adding the liquid.

Add leafy greens and leafy herbs at the end of your soup

Leafy greens wilt quickly so don’t need to be added until the end of your cook-time. Leafy herbs like cilantro, dill or basil tend to lose their flavor quickly once they are added to the hot soup and are best added after serving the soup as a fresh garnish and flavor addition on top of the bowl of soup.

Related: 8 Healthiest Leafy Greens

Always add fresh herbs

While many chefs continue to claim that “fat is flavor,” fat is more of a culinary crutch. Herbs add flavor and a fresh taste to your soup that is incomparable.

Allow time for your soup flavors to mingle

“Low and slow” is the mantra of great soup cooks. Low heat and a slow cook time tend to produce the best flavors. Having said that, if you simply don’t have the time, you can still make a delicious soup in under an hour (usually minutes of actually preparation time and the rest is cook time).

Don’t be stingy with the vegetables

Vegetables impart delightful flavor to your soup as well as fiber and nutrition, so don’t be stingy with them. Better yet, roast the vegetables in the oven ahead of time before adding them to your soup for a rich and delicious flavor addition.

12 Ways to Incorporate Miso into Your Regular Diet
The Ugly Truth about Pumpkin Spice Latte
What’s in Your Starbucks Gingerbread Latte?


Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.



lynda l
lynda l11 days ago

“Low and slow” is the mantra of great soup cooks.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 months ago


heather g
heather g4 months ago

I'd never heard the word 'healthful' until I moved to Canada. It is a North American word and rather an unhealthy sounding word.

heather g
heather g4 months ago

Thanks the mirepoix recipe mixes. I never tire of soup

Julie W
Julie W5 months ago

One good thing about soups is you don't really need recipes, just a basic method. This article is a good one if you've never made soup before, but it's hard to go too wrong.

bob P
bob Petermann5 months ago

Very good suggestions thanks

Virginia B
Virginia B5 months ago

Dr. Schoffro: My specialty is European languages -- English being my native language. Since my graduate school days, I have not only taught, but worked professionally as an editor. So when I read your articles, where you consistently use "healthy" when you should be using "healthful", I'm surprised that you "get away with it"! These two adjectives are NOT synonyms! It's never too late to enhance one's vocabulary!

One Heart i
One Heart inc5 months ago


Janet B
Janet B5 months ago


Janis K
Janis K5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.