Almost without trying, I’ve created a ritual I savor: making soup every Sunday. Call it my religion, at least while it’s cold outside. I went from being intimidated by soup to experimenting—the basics being, well, pretty basic. While there is no shame in following recipes, I’m more inclined to make soup if I’m in a soup mood, and then create something from what is available. Cooking moves us all in different ways (and some of us not at all). It’s fun to arrive at cooking intuitively. To get there, you have to just do it, usually by following enough recipes first.

My ritual involves soaking beans in a bowl of water on Saturday. Come Sunday morning, as I’m having coffee and listening to NPR, I start chopping vegetables. As the soup simmers, I do chores, and before you know it, there’s a pot of soup.

I plan to post a weekly Sunday Soup recipe. This week is White Bean Fennel. You’ll also find Asian-Inspired Butternut Squash in an earlier post.

Here are some tips:

Make your own stock. Vegetable is the easiest. Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has a brilliant stock section that I refer to every time, the soiled pages to prove it. It is an all-around excellent reference, not just for vegetarians. Brin Eats was kind enough to post Deborah’s stock tips. Making your own has several benefits. It’s cheaper than buying chicken or veg stock. It tastes better than water. It recycles unused veg. You can make it while you cook other things (or save veg trimmings in a ziplock to make stock later).

At its most simple, better-than-water stock takes only some onion, garlic, celery, carrots and salt. Possibly a potato. A few mushrooms. Maybe some herbs. More stuff tastes even better—parmigiano rind, the ends of winter squash, fennel bulb trimmings, to name a few. Saute them, add water, simmer, strain, enjoy.

Keep a supply of dried beans and grains. Not only do they look pretty if you have a place to display them in jars, but available staples makes you more likely to make soup. White beans, black beans, barley, rice, etc. I go to Goodwill every so often to find inexpensive jars, slowly replacing all my plastic.

Always have carrots, celery and onions in the fridge. These three ingredients start nearly every soup. They also happen to be the backbone of your veg stock.

Have a good stock pot. No need for anything fancy. Just have something big enough for your ingredients and about 8 cups of water.

Use what’s in season. Need inspiration? Just wander the farmers market or your local organic grocery store. Buy a head of cauliflower if it looks good. Bring it home. Look up a recipe. In that order. Finding a recipe in one of your many cookbooks (and then going and buying ingredients) is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Instead, work in reverse. This method forces you to try a new recipe. Making your favorite minestrone over and over is wonderful. But pushing yourself has its rewards. Enter your market finds into a site like Epicurious plus the word “soup” and see what you come up with.

Invite friends over. Warm soup is a humble and unfussy meal to feed to friends along with bread and salad. Soak your beans on Saturday. Make soup on Sunday and feed your friends during the week after the flavors have been able to meld.

Don’t forget to make enough for leftovers! Depending on how much space you have in your freezer,  you can squirrel away enough soup to last you all winter.

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