First of all, it is completely legit to go store-bought for the sides. If you’re fortunate enough to have a China-German-Japan-Greek-Korea-town near you, have fun with a different carb like rice crackers, naan, and the like. And don’t forget that leftover pizza, cut into little squares and toasted is always a good option.
When choosing your pairings consider:
Is it going with the soup? Try a crusty sourdough for dipping in chowder or a corn chip for scooping up black bean soup.
Is it going on the soup? Everyone loves bacon bits, except vegetarians, of course -- they can try crumbled nori or tofu croutons for a bit of salt or crunch in every bite.
Is it going in the soup? Why not add a dollop of creme fraiche or a spoonful of pesto that gets stirred in? As a bonus, these look beautiful for presenting the soup.
Is it going near the soup? If a side is going to stand on its own, like a smorrebrod sandwich (little Danish open-faced sandwiches that are as beautiful to look at as they are to eat but are also easy to make, as seen in The Soup Club Cookbook) or a hearty side salad, your flavors should complement the soup but provide some contrast. Lighter soups need more substantial sides while heartier soups are best with light, crunchy, bright sides.
Sometimes it's good to use some restraint. Taco night always leaves us a little grumpy -- it’s such an easy, crowd-pleasing meal, but it uses up every bowl in the cabinet. As a rule, go for a few options, not every possible option. Corn chowder is really good with charred jalapenos, crumbled bacon, grated cheddar, diced avocado, roasted red peppers, sour cream, and oyster crackers … but it’s just as good with any three, and there are fewer dishes to clean up.
To complete your meal, pair your drink too! We trust our local oenologists: Bubbles go well with thicker soups. This doesn’t mean it's Champagne-only (though would that really be so wrong?). Consider a dry lambrusco, Basque sidra, or artisanal shrubs to liven up your seltzer.
Don't know what to cook? Check out the video below!