When I started writing this post, I wrote, “Today is chowder day.” And then I realized that I wasn’t completely sure what the difference between soup and chowder actually is. So I did a little research and learned a few things. Here’s a great link for a list of definitions for all kinds of soup terms. I learned that chowder originally involved seafood, but nowadays can mean any creamy soup made with vegetables as well.
What we’re talking about today is the category of soups that are thick, rich, creamy, and can go in about a hundred different directions as far as flavors. I’m going to specifically steer you into a Broccoli Cheddar Soup, but then I’m going to discuss the various components of a chowder type of soup.
To reiterate what I wrote last week, soupmaking is an art and under no circumstances should you feel bound to use exact quantities or ingredients in ANY soup recipe I share. That’s the beauty of soup.
Start with a heavy, deep stockpot. The heavier the pot, the less likely you are to scorch the bottom of the soup while you’re cooking it.
Cut 4 large potatoes into small cubes and cover with water. Cook until very soft.
While the potatoes are cooking, saute
- 1 chopped onion
- 3 cloves of minced garlic
- 1/3 c. chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
Cook until these are browned and starting to carmellize. Set aside.
Drain the cooked potatoes and mash them by hand or run them through the food processor. This will create the creamy base for the soup. Add approximately 4 c. chicken or turkey stock. If you add at least part of this liquid to the potatoes while they’re in the food processor, the potatoes will liquify easily.
Put the potato/milk/stock mixture back into the stockpot with 2 c. water and simmer on low.
Stir 1/2 c. flour into 2 c. of cold milk. Add to potato/stock liquid in the stockpot. Stir in sauteed onions, garlic, and celery. (Hint: if you have family members that don’t like finding pieces of onion or garlic in their food, you can liquify those things in the food processor with the extra water before you put them into the soup. You’ll still have the rich flavor, but not the sometimes-troublesome texture.)
Meanwhile, steam and chop up broccoli. My preference is always fresh broccoli, but frozen broccoli will work just fine for this soup. How much broccoli you add will depend on how much your family likes broccoli! I use an entire head of broccoli for our family of six.
Grate 5-6 c. sharp cheddar cheese and set aside.
Now it’s time to season the soup. I always salt the soup last, after everything else has been added. It might, however, be helpful, if you’re a soup novice, to add the salt at this point since it will affect how all the seasonings taste to you.
Possible seasonings to add:
- 1 to 1.5 t. salt
- 1/2 t. ground pepper
- 1 T. fresh dill, chopped
- 1 t. soy sauce
- 1 t. dry mustard
- 1 t. dry parsley
At this point, I sometimes add a can of diced tomatoes, but that definitely changes the broccoli cheddar personality.
Now it’s time to add the broccoli.
After the soup has simmered for 15-20 minutes, turn the burner off. It’s time to stir in the grated cheese. If you stir the cheese in after you turn the burner off, you can avoid curdling the cheese or having it separate on you. This means that you don’t want to add the cheese until right before you’re ready to serve the soup.
Of course you can skip the cheese if you simply want a creamy broccoli soup.
Garnish with a sprig of parsley and serve with cheese biscuits.
Voila! You have creamy broccoli cheddar soup.
Now. Let’s talk about how to reeeeeeally get creative.
What if you don’t have white potatoes? Try sweet potatoes and feta cheese instead of cheddar.
What if you don’t like celery? Leave it out!
What if you want to add ham? Go for it!
The building blocks of these soups are the simple:
- A liquid
- A thickener to make the soup creamy
- Vegetables, either whole or pureed
- Meat (optional)
- Seasonings–the sky’s the limit!
Some possible variations or additions on the liquids:
- chicken stock (any meat stock will work)
- vegetable stock
- plain water with or without seasonings
- milk or cream
- tomato juice
- sour cream
- plain yogurt
- can of beer
I want to make one note about using commercial broths and stocks. Using a commercial broth is fast and easy. Another way to make an instant broth is to dissolve bouillon cubes in boiling water. You can even use the flavor packets from ramen noodles to flavor your soups. The serious downside to using prepared broth is the sodium content. Even the low-sodium versions are still VERY high in sodium. Many also contain MSG; be aware that MSG can also come disguised under a couple of other names.
- white potatoes
- sweet potatoes
- white or brown rice (yes, cooked thoroughly and run through the blender, this is great thickener)
- corn tortillas, chopped into very small pieces and cooked for an hour
- carrots or winter squash cooked thoroughly and blended
- bell peppers (keep in mind that bell pepper becomes a dominant flavor if you use them)
- chunks of chicken, pork, or beef
- shellfish like clams
- toasted sesame seeds
- toasted sunflower seeds
- toasted flax seed
- fried, crumbled bacon
- crumbled feta cheese
I don’t recommend using ALL these ingredients in one soup. I’m not sure how that would taste. These are just ideas and I’m sure there are many more ingredients that I haven’t thought of. Pick a flavor direction and start experimenting.
Here’s how I make Salmon Chowder. This recipe will also give you a peek into how I use up leftovers when I make soup.
The more you experiment, the bolder you’ll become and the more fun soup will be!