Soup is delicious and comforting, but it’s not known for being exciting. So often, soup recipes end up feeling like a thrown-together meal of meat, vegetables, beans, noodles, all hanging out in a hot tub of broth. (That sounds like a weird episode of The Bachelor.) But with a few toppings and swirl-ins, it can be zhuzhed up into a beautiful, extra flavorful bowl that is ready for the spotlight, transforming in front of your eyes like Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries.
Black Bean Soup with Chile-Lime Crema
But where do you start? There are a handful of categories that you can pull from: crunchy, creamy, rich, or fresh and herby—or all four. Take our new black bean soup recipe, for example. We topped that with a handful of Fritos corn chips, a dollop of chile-lime crema, diced avocado, red onion, and cilantro. Maybe that was overachieving, but just look at it. It is a whole lot more appetizing than a bowl of murky black beans, and now all those flavors can dance on your tastebuds as if you’re having a full-on Taco Tuesday in one bowl of soup.
With that beautiful watercolor portrait of fully-loaded black bean soup in mind, here are our pillars of soup toppings, with some ideas to soup up your soup night.
We’ve already discussed Fritos, but any tortilla chip will do, especially for bean soups or, well, tortilla soup. Crushed up potato chips on top of potato soup would be a potato inception, corn nuts could complement a corn chowder, or good ol’ crackers (oyster, buttery Ritz, saltines) are a good standby. Some spiced nuts (like these sambal cashews!) or toasted breacrumbs would be nice on a creamy soup, or even some crispy grains like buckwheat on top of cauliflower soup. To take things to the next level, you could make bacon croutons for your split pea soup, cheesy toast on French onion soup, or grilled cheese croutons for tomato soup.
Photo by Alex Lau
A good swirl of yogurt, sour cream, or creme fraiche will make any soup look more mesmerizing and appetizing, and add a contrasting tangy flavor. We like yogurt on top of coconut lentil soup and simple squash soup to keep them from being just a big spoonful of pureed veg.
You may argue that something creamy is rich, but this is more about a nice finishing note like a drizzle of good olive oil, chunks of avocado, or a hefty sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on low-commitment wedding soup (that gets panko on top for extra crunch). Sometimes you need a little extra decadence. And though this is a very herby idea—more on that below—a dollop of pesto has a few categories in one, with nuts, herbs, garlic, and cheese packed in one flavor bomb.
Photo by Chelsie Craig
Fresh and Herby
This can be a squeeze of lemon or lime to brighten up a bowl, or making it rain herbs like chives, scallions, cilantro, parsley, or dill. We’ve also used fennel fronds (which look like dill but are more vegetal in flavor) for a subtle flavor and pop of green, or finely chopped shallot or red onion when you want a little more of a contrasting bite. For a little spice, try infusing chiles into oil and drizzling on top. There is no limit to the amount of toppings you can put on your soup—you just might need a bigger bowl if you go too hard.