Soup is one of the greatest achievements of human culture, yet its simplicity and versatility are often overlooked as something that is merely ‘useful’ or ‘a starter’. In fact, a truly well-prepared soup can be a nutritious, delicious, and even a spectacular proposition by itself. While the hipsters get carried away with ever more fancy burgers, pimped up mash, and novelty breakfast cereal restaurants, as a species we are neglecting that most fundamental of dishes: soup!

One of the great things about soup is that it’s easy to make, which means it’s easy to adapt. Even if you take that most elemental of soups, tomato, you’ll find that it’s simple to put your own twist on it. Start by frying up some garlic, onion, and grated carrot; add fresh tomatoes and stock and simmer it down; add salt, pepper, and whatever other herbs and spices you like to lift the bitter-sweetness of tomato: paprika, cumin, celery… you can even add milk or cream to soften the blow. And the crunchier the bread you take with it, the better.

The flipside of this concept of pimping up a regular soup is just to go all out with your favorite ingredients in the first place. With a little common sense, thought, and experimentation, you can design your own soups based on the things you like to taste the most. Chicken and noodles with ginger, lime, and chilli? Why not. BLT burger soup with spring onion mash? Okay, you might need to take this one back to the lab before it’s ready. The point is, soup is straightforward to make, and it’s easy to switch ingredients in and out as you create your own perfect recipe.

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For more practice with the basics, check out this new visual guide to 9 all-time classic soups. Perfect each one, and you’ll be ready to branch out with your own designs for a healthy, simple, tasty meal.

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