The weather is cooling down and restaurants are preparing for their fall and winter menus. Most establishments are starting to think about creative soup ideas—whether they're rich and hearty or light and delicate. In recent years, soup has taken center stage as a main entree with the popularity of Vietnamese pho and ramen shops. Soups are also great for utilizing leftover ingredients that you already have in the kitchen. So how do you go beyond the boring run-of-the-mill chicken noodle or tomato-based vegetable soup? Here are some examples of soup ideas that chefs are utilizing across the country.
Get Inspired by Your Farmers' Market
Chef Thomas Lents of Chicago's Sixteen, which has earned two Michelin stars, uses farmers' markets to inspire his soup ideas. He recently prepared a soup for the end of summer and early fall based off the bounty of corn and squash at the market. He starts with a really light corn juice that's lightly thickened with the natural starches from the corn. He then pairs this sweet base with a garnish of crisp summer squash, almonds, a hint of heat, lemongrass cream, and caviar. Year-round markets can be a great source for creating different soups—whether it's cold gazpacho made from summer heirloom tomatoes or watermelon, or a hearty squash and apple soup in the fall. Cauliflower makes a nice soup base as well, and has become more popular in recent years.
Highlight Earthy Flavors
Mushrooms are a great ingredient to use in soups if you're looking to add a hint of umami and earthiness. Truffles, when in season, are an especially decadent addition. To add a twist to mushroom and barley soup, chef Tal Ronnen, who runs plant-based Crossroads in Los Angeles, makes a mushroom and farro soup that encompasses a different texture. Similarly, chef Dave Becker of Juniper and Sweet Basil, which are both in Massachusetts, makes a four-mushroom soup with a drizzle of white truffle oil that's so hearty that it almost tastes like it's made with meat.
Some of the best soup ideas originated years ago but still have a place on today's modern menu. For instance, French onion soup, cioppino, and ribollita are all hearty soups that can be eaten as either a main course or an appetizer. Cioppino pulls in a bounty of shellfish, French onion features rich beef stock, and ribollita is full of hearty vegetables and any leftover bread you may have in the kitchen. Once you get the base down, these soups can accommodate changes based on what you have in the kitchen that day. You can also add ramen or pho to your menu if you're looking to use up any leftover hearty proteins, noodles, or vegetables you have lying around.
Soups shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to planning your menu. This is especially true during the cooler months, when diners are looking for warm, comforting, and enjoyable dishes. From a chef's perspective, soup is a great vehicle for showcasing flavors and using up scraps that may go to waste. So start with these inspirational ideas, and get creative when it comes to putting your own twist on the soups you feature on your menu.