At the farm, we would host an open house each fall and make two vegetable soups straight from the farm. Served with salad and bread, it was the most effortless catering event I have ever seen. The members that visited the farm raved about the soup and always asked for the recipes.
I thought this was odd because the recipes were so simple. There were barely recipes to share. But I would walk them through the steps and write down the formula the best I could.
I wanted to convey the message that you can make a soup from any vegetable following a few basic techniques.
We would literally dump chopped vegetables in a pot, add water and salt, and heat it up to make a broth-based soup.
This isn’t the best method, as explained by Serious Eats. When you add raw vegetables to water, you limit their cooking because the water only heats to boiling, 212 °F, and there is more space between the vegetables compared to sauteing.
When you sweat or sauté the vegetables before adding water, the cooking method provides higher temperatures and reduces the space between the vegetables. These techniques produce different compounds, mellowing the sulfur flavors, and softening the texture.
The difference between sauteing and sweating is in browning. Sauteing uses higher heat. This causes the sugar in the vegetables to brown, adding caramelized flavors.
Sweating mellows the raw flavors without browning.
Chunky versus Brothy Soup
Broth-based soups have two styles. The simpler one is to use lots of vegetables and water only, so you have a chunky soup. The second style involves two steps. The first is to make a flavorful broth or stock. Then use this as a base for your soup. This style uses fewer vegetables in the finished soup, highlighting the flavors developed in the first step.
When my refrigerator is overflowing with vegetables from the garden, soup is a great way to improve the flavor using more vegetables and less water. The vegetables bring the flavor, and the water is diluting the soup. Start with less water and then add more as you go until the balance is to your liking.
I will usually use water, like in the recipe below. If you have broth or stock on hand, you can use them to add additional flavor. If you need a flavor boost, you can also try adding miso paste or bullion or even the flavor packet from Ramen noodles.
Be careful with packaged broth and stock products. They are not all the same. I have found some to use tomatoes or mushrooms, which are great for flavor, but you need to make sure they won’t overpower your soup flavor.
To add more calories and texture to your soup, add in a starchy ingredient like rice, beans, or pasta to make your soup a meal.
This recipe below is an example of a broth-based soup.
Asian Vegetable Soup
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 5–6 radishes, diced, about ¾ cup
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 & ½ cups sliced mushrooms
- 6 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 8 cups of water
- 8 ounces firm tofu, cubed
- 6–8 cups bok choy or other greens, leaves chopped, white parts sliced
- ½ cup sliced green onions
- Toasted sesame oil or chili oil, for serving
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat, and stir in the onion, radish, carrot, mushrooms, garlic, and ginger. Gently sauté just until soft. Add a small splash of water if the pan dries out in the process. Stir in the pepper, salt, and about 6 cups of the water. Turn up the heat to bring the soup to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the tofu and bok choy, gently simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir well, taste, and add water and salt if needed. Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls and top with sliced green onions. Add a finishing drizzle of toasted sesame oil or chili oil.
Blended Vegetable Soups
We served a butternut squash or sweet potato soup, the farm dictated what was available.
This method is for when you have a lot of one vegetable.
Soups like cream of broccoli are in this style, but you don’t need to add cream or dairy products of any kind to blend up a pot of vegetables.
The same rule to adjust the consistency of your soup applies here. Use less water and more vegetables. Add water at the end to your taste.
Cream of Broccoli Soup (gluten-free)
- 1 medium onion, washed and chopped
- 4–6 cups of chopped broccoli, including stocks and leaves, coarsely chopped
- 2 small potatoes or parsnips, peeled and chopped, about 1.5 cups
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2.5–3 cups water
- ½ cup half and half
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan cook the onions, broccoli, potatoes or parsnips, butter, thyme, and salt over medium heat for 2–3 minutes. Add water, just barely cover the vegetables, about 2 cups. Then increase the heat to high, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, let simmer for 15–20 minutes, and occasionally stir until the broccoli is soft. Remove from the heat and blend with an immersion blender. Stir in the half and half, and adjust the consistency if desired by adding a little bit of water. Taste for salt and pepper and add if needed. Ladle into serving bowls, top with the Parmesan cheese if desired, and serve. This soup is excellent reheated the next day.
The Immersion Blender for Soups
The best tool for puréeing soup is the hand-held immersion blender. This is one of my all-time favorite appliances. The ability to blend right in the soup pot, removing the need to transfer the hot soup from the pot into the blender and then back again, is downright amazing.
I use my immersion blender to make everything from smoothies to tomato sauce to applesauce.
Soup Garnishes Put on the Finishing Touch
Garnishing the soup adds interest and flavor. In fact, in a Vietnamese Pho recipe, garnishes turn a broth into a soup.
In warm weather cultures, they make soup quickly, not with the long-simmering times we see in European recipes. Adding a selection of aromatic toppings when you serve the soup quickly enhances the flavor in seconds.
A splash of hot sauce, soy sauce, or chopped fresh herbs, or sliced green onions add a burst of flavor at the end.
For a lean broth-based soup, try a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Other garnishes could include but are not limited to chili flakes, fermented vegetables, kimchi, lemon juice, vinegar, chopped pickled vegetables, or toasted sesame oil.
Use These Basic Soup Recipes to Create Your Favorite
Start cooking with inspiration from the produce in your fridge.
Soup is the place to transform leftovers giving them new life in another meal. Add protein or beans, rice, pasta, or another starch to bulk up the soup and make a meal.
Don’t forget the garnishes to dress up the basics.
Soup is the perfect template to use all of your vegetables from the garden.
Below is the recipe for the soup in the picture.
Tuscan Bean and Kale Soup (adapted from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat)
- ½ pound Andouille sausage, sliced
- 1 onion, diced
- 3–4 cloves garlic stalk, diced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups cooked beans (Rinse and drain if using canned. If you cooked them yourself, use the liquid too.)
- 3–4 cups chopped kale
- 2–3 cups chopped cabbage
- 3–4 cups water
- 4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- Extra-virgin olive oil
In a large soup pot, over medium heat, add sausage and cook until the sausage is browned. Add the diced onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cook and occasionally stir until the onion is translucent. Add the kale and cabbage and stir and cover until the greens are wilted. Add the bay leaves, beans, and their liquid and up to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes. Adjust the consistency with additional water if desired. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaves and serve with a spoonful of Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her on her blog Food Demystified, Twitter @juliehouse, and Facebook @fooddemystified