All the ways to thicken a soup

bowl of tomato soup
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Broth is great, but sometimes you get too much of a good thing.

Soup is the perfect winter food. Warm and satisfying, it takes relatively little effort to make, fills the house with an enticing aroma, and keeps well for leftovers. The ingredients are usually pretty cheap, making it an economical choice, and the varieties are endless. Sounds like the perfect food, right?

Well, sometimes it doesn't quite turn out that way. I made a pot of soup last night and added far too much broth early on. I thought the barley, lentils, and frozen peas would thicken it up, but they hardly did anything. Instead I was left stirring a pot of very flavorful water, knowing it was far from the stick-to-the-ribs quality I'd been aiming for, and wondering what to do.

It turns out there are a few tricks for thickening up an overly brothy soup. I happened to have a pile of leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge that did the trick nicely; it added a whitish tinge, but at least there was more substance. Other tricks include:

Rice – A handful of uncooked rice, to be precise. Bon Appétit writes, "Any kind will do: jasmine, basmati, short grain, long grain. When added to a brothy (or watery, even) soup, and left to simmer for 20-30 minutes, the rice breaks down, releasing its starch and thickening the liquid that it's cooking in."

Pasta – If uncooked, it has the same effect as rice, releasing starch as it cooks. That's why I usually pre-cook macaroni or ditali before adding to minestrone, because it thickens it up too much! But there are times when it is useful.

Roux – I'm a fan of using a roux when making cream of vegetable soups. Particularly cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, and other fairly watery vegetables, a roux made of butter, flour, and milk or cream add rich thickness to the pot.

Full-fat coconut milk – A can of coconut milk will add liquid to the pot, but it's a richer, thicker liquid than the broth, which helps to give it more body. You can also scoop out the solidified fat and mix that in for even more flavor.

Starchy vegetables – Grate a starchy vegetable like squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, or white potato into the soup and let it simmer.

Grains and legumes – A handful of red lentils will cook quickly and add body. Some people add oats, bread crumbs, couscous, cream of wheat, refried beans, etc.

Slurry – Whisk some cornstarch, all-purpose flour, chickpea flour, or tapioca with water in a small bowl and slowly stir into the soup pot. It takes about 1 tablespoon of flour to thicken 1 cup of broth, or 2 ounces of cornstarch to an equal amount of water of water or broth to thicken 1 quart of liquid, and the thickening action won't start until the soup simmers for a few minutes (via Our Everyday Life).

The soup itself – A handy trick for bean soups, use an immersion blender to partially purée the contents of the pot; it will thicken it right up. If there are bigger chunks that you want to keep, ladle out a portion of the soup, blend it, and add it back in. You can use a potato masher right in the soup pot, too.

All the ways to thicken a soup
Broth is great, but sometimes you get too much of a good thing.

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