Everyone loves soup. The smell of a simmering pot draws us into the kitchen, and sitting down to a steaming bowl of homemade soup is the perfect antidote to a cold, blustery day. Simplicity, comfort, and nourishment come together in a healthy, hearty soup, and it’s especially warming when shared with others.

As we return to a tradition of locally grown foods and seasonal ingredients – dark leafy greens, brightly colored vegetables packed with nutrients, supercharged beans and grains, and protein-rich chicken and meat – we enjoy terrific health benefits along with great taste.

The key to creating a complex flavor in soup lies in a few simple ingredients. It seems that no matter what I’m cooking, salt plays an important role. In a soup, it brings out or heightens the flavors of various ingredients, but it’s important to add a bit at a time, tasting as you go. I like Diamond Crystal kosher salt, a large-crystal salt that’s free of additives and lower in sodium than other types. Freshly ground black pepper has a vibrant taste with a spicy bite; invest in a good pepper mill to ensure the best flavor.

Leeks and onions are good companions: The subtle flavor of the elegant leek adds complexity to an onion-based broth, especially in pureed vegetable soups. The longer you cook an onion, the sweeter and more flavorful it becomes, and slow-cooked caramelized onion creates a delicious soup base. Leeks, on the other hand, cook more quickly. Five minutes is usually plenty of time for them to wilt and soften, so I usually sauté the onions first and add the leeks later. In a premade broth, thinly sliced leeks will diffuse their flavor within ten minutes of simmering; onions take a lot longer to lose their crunch and strong taste. A rind of Parmesan cheese, allowed to simmer throughout the cooking process and removed before serving, adds another rich-tasting element that’s especially useful for vegetarian soups.

When it comes to herbs, fresh parsley and thyme are workhorses. Parsley holds up well during cooking, so I sometimes add half at the beginning and half at the end, when it brightens the final appearance and adds a burst of flavor. Thyme, along with rosemary and oregano, work best added early. The more delicate basil, chives, mint, and cilantro should be added near the end. A sprinkle of grated hard cheese and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper are also good to top off a bowl of soup just before serving.

The following recipes below, excerpted from my book Soups + Sides (Lake Isle Press, 2010), and originally published with this story, form the basis for a hearty, satisfying meal, especially when paired with greens, a simple grain salad, and/or bread.

Beef Stew with Carrots, Green Beans, and Roasted Potatoes

Cheddar-Dill Biscuits

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Kale and Vegetable Soup with Farro

Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili