The nice thing about soup, aside from the fact that it's warm and cozy and just about all I want to eat during the winter, is that you can make the dish with pretty much anything. Soup is what I often whip up between grocery trips, when the only things my pantry has left to give are a few cans of beans and a rogue packet of dehydrated broth.
The next time you're running low on ingredients but can't make it to the store to buy groceries, try throwing together a soup instead. With a little knowledge about the types of pantry staples you can and should use, you'll find that you too can make a delicious soup practically out of thin air.
To get you started, I've compiled all the information I think you need to know about making delicious and satisfying soup with pantry staples, based on what I've learned from years of doing it myself, plus a handful of tips from experts. Here are seven steps to follow for a successful DIY soup:
1. Decide on the base liquid.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to have broth or stock on hand to make soup. Though soup is admittedly mostly liquid, you don't need to use a stock or broth. If you rely on flavor-packed dried ingredients, like bay leaves and whole peppercorns, plus the right kind of fat and acid sources (more on that in a bit), water can become a perfectly suitable base.
You can also make a quickie veggie broth with whatever veggies you happen to have in your crisper drawer. Stew loose carrots, celery, and/or onions in water with whole peppercorns, sprigs of herbs, and salt for 30 minutes over a medium heat, pour everything through a sieve or colander to separate the liquid from the whole ingredients, then use it right away or freeze it and save it for a rainy day.
In general, whether you end up using store-bought or homemade broth (or water) you'll need about six cups of liquid for every 14 ounces of protein you include, Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, tells SELF. But if you want to use more or less, she says you totally can. “The beauty of soup is that it’s really so versatile,” she explains, “so these recommendations certainly aren’t set in stone.” In many cases, you can actually add a bit more water or broth to fix a soup, say if you accidentally added too much salt. Think of water as your cooking eraser—a quick way to dilute a little mistake.
2. If you're using meat, cook that and set it aside.
If you're working with uncooked meat, you'll also want to be sure to precook it for a bit on the stove. It doesn't need to cook all the way through (because it will continue to cook in the hot liquid later) but you should definitely get a nice sear on all of its sides first, because that will add a richer, caramelized flavor to your soup. In most cases, you'll want to cook the meat before you cook anything else, transfer it to a plate, and skim any excess fat that it leaves behind in the pot. (You'll transfer the meat back to the pot when you add the liquid source.)