I was recently asked how I learned to create my own recipes without a fancy culinary degree or time spent as a line cook in a notable kitchen. And my answer is pretty simple - I made a lot of soup.
In college, I pretty much lived off soup. It was simple to make, economical and could feed me for days with the right loaf of bread. And while it all began as an affordable way to make a nourishing meal, what it really taught me was how to chop, sauté and simmer, how to season with salt, spices and herbs, how to layer ingredients and make them sing together and ultimately, how to yield flavors and textures without consulting a recipe or rulebook.
Unlike baking bread or working with dough, a pot of soup can be easily controlled. It’s all about tasting as you go, asking yourself what’s missing and learning how to achieve the flavor profile you’re after.
Here are some of my go-to tips when tasting and tweaking a pot of soup:
- If a soup tastes too thin, thicken it with a slurry of corn starch and stock.
- If the flavors are too dull or you feel like you can’t taste the ingredients, add more salt. I like to salt as I go, adding a pinch here or there with my fingers. I also recommend a good sea salt over table salt.
- If something still tastes like it’s missing, it almost always needs an acid. Try adding a splash of vinegar to help focus the flavors and make the soup taste more well-rounded (sherry, red wine or apple cider vinegars will all do), or add a bit of red or white wine to give the flavor more depth. Citrus is another great addition to soups and creates a brighter, more interesting flavor.
- Always keep dried herbs on hand such as thyme, oregano, rosemary and bay leaves and spices like cumin, paprika and chili powder.
- The longer your soup is allowed to simmer, the better!
With this recipe, I knew I wanted to create a tomato-based soup that paired well with grilled cheese. And not just any grilled cheese, but one made with this Garlic Challah Bread - AKA the most popular recipe on the blog (and for good reason). So needless to say, the soup had to hold its own!
I love tomato soups that are on the thicker side, but still silky, and soups that taste creamy, without using actual cream. I also like a savory tomato soup, not too sweet, which is why I opted to include red bell peppers and a carrot for a hint of subtle sweetness instead of a pinch of sugar. To give the soup more flavor, I decided to work with an assortment of tomatoes - including a variety of heirloom, plum and vine-ripened tomatoes - and roasted them along with the peppers and garlic for 30 minutes. Once those were added to the pot with a bit of stock and tomato paste, it was ready to simmer and then be pureed with an immersion blender. A quick taste called for a pinch of salt and a splash of red wine vinegar and this pot of soup was deemed worthy and ready to go! So simple, yet so flavorful!
As always, I hope you enjoy this soup and find these tips helpful when creating your own delicious recipes! And if you’re really looking to expand your culinary skills, I highly recommend any of Michael Ruhlman’s books, but specifically "Ruhlman’s Twenty" and "Ratios."
Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup with Garlic Challah Grilled Cheese
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil, plus more for drizzling the vegetables
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 2.5 lbs. of assorted tomatoes, I used a variety of heirloom, vine, and plum tomatoes.
- 2 red bell peppers, cut in half with seeds removed
- 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 qt. chicken stock
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. oregano
- sea salt
- black ground pepper
- 1-2 tsp. red wine vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then, cut the tomatoes in half, core, and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the halved red peppers (seeds and stems removed) and the peeled, whole garlic cloves to the bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt and toss. Pour the tomato mixture onto your lined sheet pan and sprinkle with another pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in the oven to roast for about 30 minutes.
- While your tomatoes are roasting, roughly chop your onion and carrot. Heat a large dutch oven or pot over medium high heat and add in 2 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Once the butter has melted, add the carrot and onion to the pot and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Then, add in the chicken stock, tomato paste and oregano and bring to boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to let the stock simmer while your vegetables finish roasting.
- Once the tomatoes, peppers and garlic have roasted, remove them from the oven and place them in the pot along with their juices. Stir and let simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Once simmered, use an immersion blender (or regular blender) to puréed the soup. Once puréed, taste the soup and add salt and black pepper as needed. Then, add a teaspoon or two of the red wine vinegar to taste and stir to combine. Serve and enjoy!
Garlic Challah Grilled Cheese
To make the Garlic Challah Grilled Cheese, follow this recipe to make a loaf of Garlic Challah Bread. Then, slice the bread evenly for sandwiches. Place a pat of butter in a skillet over medium heat and lay a piece of the bread atop the melting butter. Layer the bread with your favorite cheese (I like a simple Provolone or Gruyere) and top with the remaining slice of bread. Spread the top of the sandwich with additional butter and flip once the bottom is golden and the cheese begins to melt. Cook until all the cheese has melted and the bread slices are golden. If you’re making several grilled cheeses, place the finished grilled cheeses on a baking sheet in a 200 degree F. oven and cover with foil to keep warm until you’re ready to serve. Enjoy!