Soup — it's the easiest way to warm up your kitchen on a cold day and to feed yourself and your family in one delicious and healthy bowl. But you don't need a recipe to make soup, especially if you have a clutch of miscellaneous vegetables hanging out in your crisper. Nearly any vegetable can be turned into soup with a little time and effort.
If you are craving soup and you have vegetables and broth in your cupboard, you're all set. Here's a step-by-step guide to transforming nearly any kind of vegetable into delicious, nourishing soup.
What Kind of Vegetable? Any Kind?
Yep, nearly any vegetable will make tasty soup. Sweet potato, zucchini, squash, turnip, tomato, celery, mushrooms, onions, leeks, cabbage, kale, and chard. Potatoes, rutabaga, celeriac, cauliflower, broccoli — the list goes on.
The only caveat is that you need to like the flavor of the vegetable. You can tone down turnips' bitterness with cream or yogurt, and you can offset cabbage's aroma with creamy white beans or tart lemon, but you can't entirely erase the taste of a vegetable in soup, so don't put something in that you really don't like.
Also, nearly any texture of vegetable will work, from tender greens to hard squash, but the cooking time will change. A big pot of chard will cook down quickly, while butternut squash will need more time.
What Else Do You Need?
The essentials are vegetables and stock, plus olive oil or butter and some salt and pepper.
After that, all is optional. I usually add some aromatics — onion, garlic, or leeks — and some fresh herbs. You can flavor the vegetables with smoked salt or spices, like curry powder or cumin. I sometimes add a splash of wine to the stock.
After the soup is finished there are so many other ways to jazz it up — a can of diced tomatoes, a can of white beans or chickpeas, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or a dollop of yogurt.
What's the Basic Method?
Cut about a pound of vegetables into a medium dice — about an inch across — or smaller if you're using a hard, dense vegetable, like potato or winter squash. Sauté the vegetables in a little olive oil or butter, keeping the heat to low and letting the veggies really cook and develop flavor. Brown the vegetables if you want to. After the vegetables have softened and developed some fragrance and flavor, add about 4 cups of stock, cover and simmer. (Even water will do, in a pinch!) Simmer for about an hour or until all the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender for a creamy soup, if you like. Voilà! You have easy, flavorful vegetable soup.
To Puree or Not to Puree
When you cook vegetables in stock like this, you have a choice. You can stop cooking when the vegetables are al dente and tender, and slurp up your soup as it is — chunks and all, an improvised vegetable stew.
Or you can puree the soup until creamy. This works with any kind of soup, and you'll be surprised at how creamy a soup can be with no dairy at all. But I tend to like this best with sweet, dense vegetables like squash and sweet potato.
It's up to you — to puree or not to puree!
How To Make Soup from Any Vegetable
What You Need
1 to 2 pounds vegetables
Aromatics, such as onion, garlic, or leeks
Olive oil or unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
4 to 6 cups stock
4-quart (or larger) pot or Dutch oven, with lid
- Choose and weigh 1 to 2 pounds of vegetables: I had quite a lot of vegetables in my refrigerator. I chose the ones that needed to be used up the soonest: a small head of cauliflower, and some carrots. I weighed them and they came out to about 2 pounds, although I knew the cauliflower would break down to much less when trimmed.
- Cut up the vegetables and aromatics: I chopped up the trimmed cauliflower and unpeeled carrots into evenly-sized chunks. I also chopped up 1 leek and 2 cloves of garlic.
- Heat olive oil: I heated up about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.
Choose Your Own Soup Adventure: Instead of olive oil, try butter, ghee, or coconut oil for sautéing the aromatics. Or start instead with diced bacon, chopped chicken thighs, or ground pork or lamb, and slowly render the fat then cook the aromatics. For aromatics, use a whole onion instead of the leeks, or add more garlic. Add finely diced fresh ginger, galangal, or chili peppers.
- Sauté aromatics: I added the leeks and garlic to the oil first and cooked gently for about 5 minutes or until they were fragrant and soft.
- Brown the vegetables: Then I added the chopped carrot and cauliflower and continued cooking for several minutes. The vegetables softened slightly and browned around the edges.
- Season the vegetables: It's best to season the vegetables at this point, especially if you're using low-sodium broth. Vegetables need salt and pepper, and if you are adding other seasonings such as spices or dried herbs, add them now so they flavor the soup from the ground up. I added about a half teaspoon each of cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika.
Choose Your Own Soup Adventure: To flavor the soup, raid your spice cupboard. Try curry powder, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, or any other warm and toasty spices. Get creative with salt; try smoked salt or truffle salt. Add dried herbs such as mint, oregano, or sage.
- Add broth: Add 4 to 6 cups of broth and bring to a simmer. Add a sprig of fresh herbs now if desired.
- Cover and simmer: Turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. Let cook for about 30 minutes, then check the soup. Are the vegetables as soft as you would like? If you want to leave the vegetables intact, take the soup off the heat now. If you want the vegetables very soft for pureeing, keep cooking until they are falling apart.
- Taste and season: Whether you are leaving the vegetables intact or pureeing the soup, make sure to taste the soup as it finishes cooking. A bland soup is no one's fault but the cook's! If it seems flat, add some vinegar or lemon juice. If it is too salty, thin out with some extra broth or dairy.
Choose Your Own Soup Adventure: Once the soup has finished cooking, you can jazz it up more, especially if you're not pureeing it. Add the last handful of leftover cooked pasta or a few crumbles of cooked ground turkey or beef. Lay cooked strips of chicken breast on top of each bowl. Add a 1/4 cup of rice, quinoa, or another grain, and simmer until done. Add a can of beans, chickpeas, or tomatoes, and simmer until warmed through.
- Puree if desired: Once the vegetables are very soft, you can puree the soup in a blender or with a stick blender if you like. Rewarm gently after blending.
Choose Your Own Soup Adventure: When pureeing the soup, you can add flavor and creaminess by adding beans, tofu, coconut milk, yogurt, or other dairy such as cream, mascarpone, or even cream cheese. Finish the soup with something acid like lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or fruit vinegar. Or drizzle on a little oil like chili oil, smoked olive oil, or something else a little special.
- Storage: The soup should keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
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