15 Secret Ingredients Celebrity Chefs Use To Elevate Soup

Soup is one of those things that can be made well with a few simple ingredients or turned into extraordinarily complex ventures worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant. And the varieties go well beyond these distinctions. There are many different types of soup in the world, requiring vastly different ingredients and preparation methods. A Vietnamese phở, for example, has almost nothing in common with a French vichyssoise, while gazpacho is practically the opposite of New England clam chowder.

Either way, soup is a comforting dish, though especially so in the colder months. While there are many ways to make good soup, there are also a few mistakes you should avoid in order to prepare a successful dish, including not overcooking vegetables or grains or failing to sufficiently thicken your soup. But once you get these little foibles out of the way, it's time to start looking for ways to go beyond a basic, good soup and elevate it to something more special. To that end, let's take a look at how some of our favorite celebrity chefs spruce up their own soup dishes.

Giada De Laurentiis - Pour cannellini beans into your tomato soup

Tomato soup is an American tradition. Andy Warhol knew this, and his Soup Cans painting, depicting Campbell's Tomato Soup, is perhaps one of the most iconic representations of Americana. Even so, talented chefs everywhere constantly find ways to upgrade this reliably delicious soup.

Giada De Laurentiis's sundried tomato soup features cannellini beans along with carrots, red onions, celery, garlic, vegetable broth, water, and seasoning. Once everything is cooked through, she purees the soup with an immersion blender before adding kale and grated parmesan cheese. The cannellini in this soup make it look and feel like there is heavy cream in the recipe, but there is none to speak of. Instead, the added texture is courtesy of this highly nutritious, low-fat, protein-packed bean. And don't be afraid to play around with other tricks for elevating tomato soup. For example, Ina Garten's secret ingredient for richer tomato soup adds heavy cream and a few pinches of saffron, which can never hurt, while Ree Drummond makes it cheeky with a cup of sherry.

Gordon Ramsay - Top it with Triscuits

A Gordon Ramsay minestrone soup recipe is going to be good, no matter what. But, his trick for making it even better — so good all three of his daughters will gulp it down — is to top it with Triscuits covered in melted aged cheddar cheese. This hack may have occurred due to his partnership with the cracker brand, but the result is so good we don't care about its origin. 

And if you want to put a personal spin on this soup secret, try experimenting with the different flavors of Triscuits. Sticking with the cheese theme, you could try Romano Cheese & Honey Triscuits, which happen to be our favorite, or the runner-up Smoked Gouda Minis. Or suppose you don't want to take away from the flavor of the minestrone. In that case, original Triscuits are always a good option, along with the Hint of Sea Salt variety, which provides all the benefits of the originals but with a lower sodium content.

Robert Irvine - Center the soup around a goat's head

Using a goat's head to make soup might seem unusual in American cuisine, but in plenty of other places, including places as far afield as Afghanistan and Jamaica, it's all too common. Now, Chef Robert Irvine himself doesn't seem to have any goat's head soup recipes available. Still, he had a pretty good point when he suggested using goat head in soup after a fan posted a picture of a just-butchered goat and tagged Irvine's account. Goat meat is as tasty as any other meat, though with an earthier flavor and texture similar to foul. It's leaner than beef, for example, and leaves a lighter carbon footprint.

If you were ever inclined to make your own goat's head soup, be aware that it's not always easy to get a hold of this meat in the U.S., not to mention the head. You may have to go directly to a local farm that raises goats and ask if you can purchase an entire animal. This is a tall order. A more manageable option would be to order goat's meat from your butcher and turn it into a stew or marinade or attempt this delicious Nigerian soup called egusi, often made with goat meat.

Tyler Florence - Turn it up with turnips

Let's face it: Turnips are not a popular ingredient. They are not known for having a particularly appealing flavor, even though there is nothing inherently wrong with their cabbage-like taste and hints of potato. This needs to change, and Tyler Florence has a secret weapon for chicken noodle soup: add turnips to your chicken broth for an extra pop of flavor. Simply involve your turnip in the recipe at the stage where you boil your chicken, vegetables, and herbs. Then, continue as usual. But as your soup cooks, don't throw away those turnip greens you plucked from the vegetable. They're entirely edible and can be prepared in any way you'd cook spinach, but with a spicier natural flavor.

And once you start cooking with turnips, you're going to want more of them. For that, we suggest a turnip and rutabaga gratin, where you thinly slice your root vegetables and bake them at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes. With enough butter and heavy cream, anything can taste wonderful, especially turnips.

Giada De Laurentiis - Pack chicken noodle soup with lemon juice

If you know anything about Giada De Laurentiis, you probably know she likes to use lemon juice in her cooking. So, it's not surprising that De Laurentiis uses lemon in her chicken noodle soup to pack more flavor and spruce up the profile. Her recipe calls for about two whole lemons worth of juice. That's enough citrus to brighten anyone's day.

To implement this recipe, boil the lemon juice with chicken broth, a bay leaf, and Parmesan rind before adding carrots, pasta, and shreds of rotisserie chicken. Add parsley and more cheese to finish. For the pasta, De Laurentiis actually uses a farfalle instead of noodles, but you can experiment with any shape or size. And if you want to try a different take on this technique, consider Rachael Ray's recipe, which calls for the lemon juice to be added at the end instead of the beginning. Although she only adds a quarter of a cup, including it at the end will keep the flavor of the lemon more intact.

Andrew Zimmern - Add egg whites to matzo meal

No Passover can be legitimately passed over without a helping of matzo ball soup or two. In fact, it's so good that many people eat it year-round despite its status as a traditional Passover meal. The trick to make it good lies almost entirely in the little bundles of joy floating within it. Usually, the ingredients needed to make matzo balls are nothing but matzo meal (consisting of ground-up matzo crackers), eggs, and some type of fat, which can be chicken fat or margarine.

Chef Andrew Zimmern's matzo ball soup uses a trick to make these matzo balls fluffier and more airy. His unexpected ingredient is whipped egg whites, which must be carefully folded into the matzo ball mixture before they break down. Mixing in seltzer water or baking powder is another proven way to achieve those fluffy yet chewy matzo balls. Don't neglect the broth, either; it should be fully flavored and hold its own against your newly elevated matzo balls.

Bobby Flay - Dip avocado relish in tortilla soup

A classic tortilla soup, comprised mainly of chicken, tomato paste, onions, chipotle peppers, and ancho chili peppers, tends to come with crushed tortilla chips and a fresh avocado garnish. Not so with Bobby Flay's elevated take on the dish. As always, he takes it one step further and turns that avocado into a whole new entity.

To try this version of the soup, you'll need to prepare an avocado relish. This requires avocados, of course, but also red onions, limes, serrano chiles, and fresh cilantro. Your job is to simply mash these ingredients together before seasoning them with salt and pepper. It's not much more work than scooping out and dicing some avocado, but the rewards are high. Alternatively, since this recipe is quite close to classic guacamole, you can simply make guacamole as you normally would and garnish your soup with it. Just be sure to plop it in the center of the bowl on top of a large piece of chicken, or it might sink straight to the bottom.

Seiji Ando - Double down on katsuobushi in miso soup

Anyone who has ever been to a Japanese restaurant has probably had miso soup. It is often served as a side or an appetizer and presented as an uncomplicated part of the meal. But as we've seen with other types of soups, it's possible to elevate miso soup to a higher level.

Chef Seiji Ando of Benkay, in Portland, Maine, knows what to do. According to The New York Times Magazine, Ando grew up preparing the stuff alongside his father and grandfather at their restaurant in Osaka, and so now the chef knows enough about the rules of miso soup, or lack thereof, to play around successfully. In particular, Ando knows that adding more katsuobushi, which is dried and fermented bonito fish, is the key to preparing a miso soup that hits the Goldilocks zone for smokiness. He has also been known to add a dash of sake to his miso soups to complement that smokiness and sweeten the pot as needed. All you have to do to try this at home is follow a simple miso soup recipe but prepare it a la Seiji Ando.

Bridget Lancaster - Employ plenty of V8 vegetable juice

Bridget Lancaster of America's Test Kitchen experienced an "aha" moment when someone she knew suggested using V8 juice to make soup. She tried it on a minestrone, along with some chicken broth and pancetta, and told NPR that the ingredient, which itself contains tomatoes, carrots, celery, beets, parsley, lettuce, watercress, and spinach, "gave just the right body to the minestrone." 

At home, you can use V8 juice in a roasted garlic and tomato soup by adding it to some grilled, charred onions along with some garlic powder in a pot. Simmer for about 20 minutes before adding whole roasted tomatoes and cook for another 20 minutes or so, blending the mixture with white bread and whole roasted garlic cloves. Season the soup as you cook, and serve it with sour cream. But it doesn't stop there. V8 juice, especially the spicy version, can do more than just elevate your soup. It can also give a great extra kick to your rib marinade. The hefty portion of vegetables and spices packs a strong punch of flavor in a single ingredient, making it an easy element to incorporate into your recipe. 

Marco Stabile - Stir kombu into ribollita

When you think of Italian food, you don't necessarily think of seaweed, which tends to be more the domain of East Asian cuisine. But in this globalized world, anything goes, and Marco Stabile, a Tuscan chef, has taken advantage of that by elevating his ribollita soup with kombu seaweed (via Fine Dining Lovers).

First, a word on ribollita, which in Italian means "reboiled." This traditional Tuscan soup has been prepared for centuries in Italy, usually as a way to use leftover ingredients, like stale bread and extra vegetables from the garden. But while you might not have a lot of leftover kombu lying around, it's worth getting some to add to your ribollita. If you don't already have a centuries-old ribollita recipe to go off, don't worry. A slow-cooker chicken ribollita recipe is easy to cover. 

Add onions, celery, carrots, minced garlic, shredded chicken, and cannellini beans to your slow cooker, along with a bay leaf, red chili flakes, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. The kombu should be included along with the chicken broth, water, and crushed tomatoes, stirred to combine, and cooked for 4 hours before you add the kale and parsley. Top with grated parmesan cheese, and reheat as necessary whenever you want to serve this dish. The beauty of it is that it can, in fact, be boiled and reboiled multiple times — the flavor will only get better.

Lopè Ariyo - Learn all about grains of selim

If you're tired of the same old soups, it may be time to branch out and look for recipes from a different part of the world. For example, have you ever tried making pepper soup, a spicy comfort food from Nigeria? If not, now is the time. Food blogger and cookbook author of "Hibiscus," Lopè Ariyo, can help. Her version includes crab meat and yams, along with grains of selim, also called uda pods. These smokey, peppery seeds have hints of nutmeg and honeysuckle, providing a robust, fragrant twist to the traditional recipe. Just make sure you don't remove them from the pod: when cooking with grains of selim, everything goes in the pot, pods and all, as if you were adding whole cloves of garlic you intended to remove later on. To use this ingredient, toast it briefly in a pan alongside the other spices common for pepper soup: crushed cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cumin seeds. Sauté some onion and Scotch bonnet peppers in coconut oil before adding the yam and the crushed spices. Stir in shrimp paste and broth and cook until the yams have fully softened. Serve hot with crab meat.

For options beyond shellfish and sweet potato, Ariyo also suggests working the uda pods into a spicy, offal-filled soup of tripe and goat meat (via The Guardian). Cooked in fish broth, the suya-uda pod soup is gamey, musky, and rich in umami. Grains of selim and uda pods are widely used in West Africa, especially in Café Touba coffee, a Senegalese drink prepared with the small seeds of a shrubby African tree. 

Ludo Lefebvre - Spruce up French onion soup with Worcestershire sauce

The French might have something to say about the idea of elevating a French onion soup. Many might think the recipe is already perfect, so if it isn't broken, why fix it? But while it's true that French cooking is practically perfect in many ways, it's always fun to change things up a bit, and that's how Worcestershire sauce fits into classic French onion soup.

To add this tasty twist, you can follow a recipe developed by Iron Chef America personality Ludo Lefebvre, which calls for the Worcestershire sauce to be added at the end, right before the cheese goes on top and everything is briefly broiled. Alternatively, you can follow this easy French onion soup recipe and pour in the Worcestershire sauce almost an hour after adding the wine and beef stock, not long before topping the soup with the melted cheesy toast.

Maggie Beer - Butter it up with buttermilk

We all know how good buttermilk pancakes can be. And buttermilk biscuits. But buttermilk soup? Maggie Beer had the stroke of genius to take a regular, old pea soup and turn it into something special with buttermilk. To prepare this elevated pea soup, start by sauteeing some onions in extra virgin olive oil before adding fresh, shelled peas, chervil, vegetable stock, and sea salt. Cook until the peas are tender before adding the buttermilk. Once everything is warm and toasty, puree the soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender.

But what happens if you don't have any buttermilk? Not to worry. First of all, this ingredient, which is basically milk that has been fermented in a controlled environment, is easy to find at most stores these days. But if you missed it, you can always prepare a buttermilk ingredient swap at home by combining one teaspoon of vinegar with one cup of heavy cream. Or, if you want to go the vegan route for your buttermilk,  pour a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar into a cup of half-and-half almond and soy milk. The perk is that these alternatives can be used in both soups and in those delicious pancakes and biscuits you can't wait to make.

Ina Garten - Brighten lentil soup with red wine vinegar

Lentil soup is an ideal comfort food for when the weather turns cold again. It's filling and hearty, and you can serve it as warm as you want. But lentil soup is also prone to blandness, without much to sink your teeth into other than the lentils themselves. As a way to skirt this tastelessness, Ina Garten adds red wine vinegar to her lentil soup, which helps cut through the earthiness of the lentils and adds a bright pop of flavor.

And because of its key role in this recipe, it's advised to use a very good quality red wine vinegar. If you don't know how to pick up a good one at the grocery store, a red wine vinegar buying guide is a resource you'll want to review before you go to the market. In short, however, it's a good idea to select vinegar that has been made from a single grape varietal rather than a blend of different ones, as the latter situation tends to lead to mixed results in terms of flavor.

Ina Garten - Stir fennel into French onion soup

Ina Garten can put her own spin on pretty much any recipe, and it will turn out delicious. This includes the fabled French onion soup, which in her hands, is arguably even better than the original recipe.

First of all, take a look at Garten's French onion soup as a whole. It strays a bit from the usual recipe by calling for sherry and cognac, but that's not too far off the mark for this type of dish. Fennel, on the other hand, is an anomaly for French onion soup, but it works wonders for the overall dish. And the best part is that you don't even have to make any extra effort to include it. Just slice it up and saute it along with the onions until caramelized, and then continue with your favorite French onion soup recipe as if nothing had changed.