Saute and sear like you mean it! All vegetables used in soups or stews (especially onions), should be sautéed in a bit of oil, until they give up their liquid, and start to turn slightly brown. This browning reaction is known as caramelization – and it results in a sweeter, nuttier, more intense flavor in vegetables, all of which have natural sugar.
The same goes for meat-chicken, turkey, beef, even fish. Place your meat in a hot, dry pan, and do not disturb until you strongly suspect that a golden crust has formed. Then flip and repeat. It’s similar to caramelization, except with protein, it’s called Maillard reaction (for anyone interested in food science). Maillard is what produces those delicious crispy bits that you love to pick off the pan.
Always use herbs liberally! Experiment with different herbs. Dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano can give a nice depth of flavor and should be added during cooking. Add tender, fresh herbs like basil, parsley, tarragon, cilantro and even some chopped green onion at the very end or cooking– they will give your dish a fresh flavor and a bit of crunch that complements any cooked vegetables and herbs.
Add umami instead of salt. Umami is Japanese for “pleasant, savory taste”, and many consider it to be the fifth basic taste along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Foods that are rich in umami include soy sauce, ripe tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and mushrooms.
Brighten flavors just before serving. When plating anything from salad, to poultry or seafood dishes, to cooked vegetables, brighten up the flavor with chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf), lemon zest, or lemon juice OR all of the above. A bit of fresh parsley and grated lemon zest makes an incredible difference in almost any dish.
Instead of cream in your soup, just one word – potatoes. Well maybe two, potatoes and bread. I know you’re thinking, “why not Fat Free Half and Half?” Because it will break apart when heated, but it’s fine if you’re making a cold soup or sauce. Instead, cook a diced potato in the broth, or add a slice or two of toasted bead cubes to the pot, hit it with your immersion blender, and voila- instant non-creamed soup! I also think the potato or bread trick gives your soup a thicker, creamier feel in your mouth.