For the love of…soup!

Autumn in Nova Scotia is one of my favourite times of year, with the changing light, colourful trees, crisp mornings, and the abundance of the harvest. It always makes me start to think of soup, which is one of my go-to meals.

Soup is warming, healthy and affordable. I always feel especially nourished after a big bowl of soup. While I love soup in autumn and winter, it’s a versatile meal for all seasons — from light bisques to brothy bowls to hearty meals. It can be an appetizer or the main and is adaptable to all sorts of dietary interests, such as vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and flavours from around the world. Soups can feature a particular vegetable, or be a unique mix of sometimes unlikely ingredients.

The other thing I love about soup is that it allows me to use vegetables that are a little past their peak, or produce that doesn’t meet grocery store standards (aka ugly or imperfect fruits and vegetables). I often make “fridge soup” to use up the bits and pieces in the fridge, like that lonely carrot, the leftover rice or leftover meat. Here are a few tips:

Equipment: Soups can be simple to make and don’t require a lot of equipment. Some people swear by blenders or food processors, but these can be expensive and take up a lot of counter space. If you decide you want to create a puréed soup, then a hand mixer (immersion blender) is a great option. It doesn’t take up a lot of room, can be used right in the pot when the soup is hot, and either new or second hand is quite affordable. A food mill is low energy, but takes some time. Crock pots and pressure cookers can also help to get soups on the table when you’re in a rush.

Basics: Each world cuisine will have a few ingredients commonly used to start soups. Onions and garlic are a common favourite, as are carrots, celery, and sometimes red or green peppers. I love my vegetables, but I am not a big fan of celery. I’ve discovered that a few celery seeds are a great replacement; a little goes a long way.

Herbs and spices: You can take basic ingredients and create a flavourful meal with just a few spices. Ginger, lemongrass, and coconut can give you an asian flare. Curry, mustard seeds and garam masala will make a beautiful dal (lentil) soup. European-style soups are often flavoured with bay leaves, lovage or borage. Fresh herbs can add lovely fragrance, but the flavour can be lost if you add them too early; they are best for garnish. You can control the amount of salt in the soup, something that is often in high amounts in canned soups.

Storage: Soups and stews freeze beautifully. I often make too much soup, so I freeze half for later. Some ingredients – like cubes of potatoes – don’t freeze very well; they get mushy when thawed, although puréed soups with potato retain their consistency.

Stock or bouillon: Homemade stock or bouillon can be a great way to make the most from leftover meat bones or vegetables (keep those carrot, radish, turnip tops and broccoli stems!). You can make it in advance and freeze it for later. You can also dehydrate vegetables in a home dehydrater to add to soups, or use cubes or powder from the store (watch for high salt, sugar and yeast content).

Here are some delicious soup recipes to try:

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