The Secret to Excellent Pureed Soups

©. K Martinko – Curried coconut-pumpkin soup made in the Instant Pot

Take your creamy vegetable soups from dull to delectable with these tips.

My mother made soup almost every day of my childhood. It was her standard go-to lunch fare, a good way to use up leftovers and a frugal way to fill up the bottomless pits that were her four growing children. I'm now an adult soup-lover and make it frequently for my own kids, although not quite every day.

I think of soups in categories. There are the tomato-based minestrone-type soups, chunky and full of hearty diverse ingredients. Then there are the softer lentil-based and bean varieties that are slow-cooked to a melty texture. Finally, there are the pureed and/or creamed soups, made of a handful of usually similarly-colored vegetables and blended to a smooth uniform consistency. It's this latter category that I want to discuss today.

Pureed soups can be hit or miss. The worst ones are bland, watery, lumpy, or mealy. The best ones are divine and luscious, with flavor explosions on the tongue. In order to avoid the former and guarantee the latter, it's important to understand a few basic concepts.

First, you have to build the flavor from the bottom up. This means starting with a generous base of aromatics, such as chopped onion, shallots, leeks, celery, garlic, herbs, etc. that are gently cooked in butter or oil until soft.

Then you add the main vegetable for the soup. This could be peeled and diced butternut squash, pumpkin, potato, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, or asparagus. Writing for Lifehacker's Skillet, A.A. Newton recommends pre-roasting these vegetables for even more flavor:

"Caramelizing some vegetables in a hot oven while basically steaming the others [those aromatics mentioned above] brings out the best in each ingredient, creating layers and layers of flavor with very little effort."

Next, add the stock – but not too much. I've always found stock to be an important ingredient with pureed soups. You might get away with water in other soup recipes, but because pureed soups are relatively simple, having a good stock makes a big difference. Add just enough to cover the vegetables, and if you're unsure, lowball it. You can always add more.

Once the vegetables are very soft, you puree the whole pot. A regular countertop blender gives the smoothest texture, but an immersion blender is easier. At this point the soup will be thicker than you like, but that's to allow for the addition of cream, milk, coconut milk, etc. for that creamy texture. If you find the soup is too thin, there are ways to thicken it up, including ladling out extra liquid before blending to mixing in a roux or slurry. Finish it with a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs, grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, or a swirl of pesto.

The more soup you make, the more you realize what a fabulous food it is – versatile and forgiving and endlessly satisfying. Happy soup-making!