While I would like to live in a world where I eat homemade soup all the time, the truth is I usually keep a few of those aseptic boxed soups in the pantry for when homemade is just not going to happen. In general, boxed soups aren't that bad but here are nine little tricks I use to improve their flavor.
1. A Dash of Dairy
Creamed soups such as tomato, squash or red pepper really benefit from a swirl of dairy. A spoonful of yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche or even heavy cream swirled into each bowl not only makes it look pretty, but it adds a nice tang and richness.
2. Fresh herbs
A few snips of almost any fresh herb will brighten up your soup and add a fresh flavor. Thyme is good with chicken or squash soup, basil with tomato soup, rosemary with bean soups. Just chop or snip about 1 scant tablespoon of fresh herbs into each bowl as a garnish. The heat of the soup will soften the herbs and release their fragrance.
3. Lemon or Vinegar
Anjali already alerted us to the trick of adding an acid to soup to perk it up and this is especially true with boxed or canned soups. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime or a splash of sherry vinegar at the end of heating the soup.
4. A Touch of Nut or Truffle Oil
Try drizzling a few drops of roasted nut oil on top each bowl of soup. Roasted pumpkin seed oil on butternut squash soup, for instance, or roasted hazelnut oil on mushroom soup. And while some truffle oils are crap, some aren't all that bad (try La Tourangelle's Infused White or Black Truffle Oil) especially dribbled over lentil soup.
5. A Fresh Garnish
I recently garnished a bowl of boxed cream of tomato soup with a chopped fresh tomato and it really picked up and improved the flavor of the soup. Try a few chopped green onions, some pesto, slivered slices of bell pepper or radish on top of your soup.
6. Freshly Grated Parmesan.
There's very little a few gratings of fresh parmesan or romano or dry Jack can't improve!
Slice up a favorite pre-cooked sausage and add it to your soup while it's heating. Chorizo is a great way to add flavor and a little heat to a bean soup while chicken apple would be great with pumpkin soup.
8. Delicious Accompaniments
Serve your soup with the best crusty bread possible or toast up a favorite slice into a crunchy crouton. When the bread is good, it will bring the soup up a few notches, just by proximity!
9. A Splash of Wine
If you like to pour yourself a glass of wine to sip while heating up your soup, be sure to add a splash to the pot! Wine is acidic (see above) but it also adds depth and complexity. This works especially well with broth-based soups.
What are your favorite ways to dress up store-bought soups?
(Image: Emma Christensen)