The Essential Steps to Vegetable Based Soup


It’s September already! That means the “Fall into Greens” CSA session is just around the corner! If you haven’t signed up yet and still have questions, stop by and talk to Mark and Gina tomorrow at market. They will have eggs for sale along with Lemon Balm & Mint infused water to help beat the heat!


The upcoming CSA will provide lots of veggies that are perfect for soup. I love soup for many reasons: it’s easy to prepare, easy to make in big batches, it freezes well and can be a catch all for items that need to be used up before going bad. As much as I don’t think anyone needs a recipe for soup, I also recognize that it is hard to build flavor and substance in a vegetable based soup.

Below is an overview without any specific recipes included. I would encourage you to use this as a starting point and to experiment yourself. I plan to include recipes on the blog and will frequently refer back to the this post. Have fun and eat well!

Essential Steps:

  • Fat: heating fat in a large stockpot is the first step to making a soup. Fat carries flavor so don’t skimp on this step. You can use butter, clarified butter (which has a higher smoke point), vegetable oil or animal fat (if you aren’t a vegetarian).
  • Aromatics: once your fat of choice is shimmering, add one or more aromatics. These ingredients can be cooked for a short period of time over low heat for a more delicate flavor or they can be sauteed for a long time over higher heat for a deep, rich flavor. Different cuisines use different mixtures of aromatics:
    • French – mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery)
    • Cajun – holy trinity (onion, celery, green bell pepper)
    • Latin and Spanish – sofrito (onion, garlic, tomato)
    • Chinese – green onion, garlic and ginger
    • Thai – basil, lemongrass and ginger
    • Indian – onion, garlic and hot chiles
  • Spices: if you are using any spices in your soup, be sure to bloom them in the fat with the aromatics (the flavor in most spices is fat soluble, meaning you won’t taste them as well if they are added to water). The options are endless – let us know what spice combinations you love in soup!
  • Vegetables: vegetables need to be added at different times depending on how long they take to cook.
    • Add root / dense vegetables with aromatics – carrots, squash, beets, turnips, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, asparagus, fennel, parsnips, peppers. Also, I like to saute some vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts or eggplant, first to get more flavor from them.
    • Add hearty greens and a few others mid way through the cooking process – kale, collards, mustard, chard, turnip greens, green beans, cabbage, fresh peas, fresh corn, tomatoes
    • Add delicate items off heat – spinach, frozen peas, herbs
  • Grains: most grains can be cooked directly in the soup. You need to consider 1) how long the grains will take to cook and 2) the volume change from the dried to cooked grains – for example, 1 cup of rice yields 3 cups of cooked rice. If you need a good reference for grain yields, check out this site. Here is a list of my favorite grains to add to soups:
    • Rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet, barley, buckwheat, farro.
  • Beans/Lentils: beans and lentils are a great way to add protein and body to a soup.
    • Dried beans should be cooked separately as they take much longer to cook than most vegetables. You can incorporate the bean cooking water into the soup and then add the cooked beans off heat after the soup is done.
    • Most lentils can be cooked directly in soup and only take 20-30 minutes. French lentils will hold their shape after cooking whereas red and yellow lentils will become mushy. Both are great in different types of soup.
  • Stock: next add enough liquid to create what you think looks like a soup (knowing you can always add more later). You can use water to make a soup but I think it is really worth the extra time and effort to make a vegetarian stock. There are many types to choose from and many can be made in advance and frozen if needed.
    • Vegetable stock:
      • Very basic vegetable stocks usually include some combination of onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, garlic, parsley stems and/or whole spices.
      • To oomph up the flavor, brown the vegetables in oil before adding water and the other ingredients.
    • Mushroom stock:
      • You can take take the basic vegetable stock recipe above and add dried mushroom or fresh sauteed mushrooms.
    • Kombu stock:
      • Dashi is the traditional Japanese stock made from kombu and bonito (tuna) flakes and makes a great base for many types of soup. If you want an entirely vegetarian version, you will need to remove the bonito flakes and add another type of seaweed, such as wakame, along with some mirin, soy sauce and sugar.
    • Red stock:
      • Red stocks include tomato paste in addition to other ingredients, usually similar to those in a vegetable stock. The tomato paste can be browned in fat to deepen the color and flavor.
  • Cook: bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Check vegetables and/or grains frequently for doneness as to not overcook.
  • Cool Slightly, then Taste: this step is perhaps the most important of all. You can elevate a decent soup to a wonderful soup if you season it correctly. This takes practice – add a little, taste, and adjust again if needed. Here are the basic flavor components you need to consider and adjust if necessary:
    • Salt: salt, soy sauce, fish sauce
    • Acid: citrus juice or zest, vinegar, wine/liquor
    • Fat: butter, oil, yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche
    • Sweetness: granulated sugar, honey, maple syrup, sorghum
  • Garnish:
    • Delicate fresh herbs: really great to add to dense, rich soups that need a boost of freshness. Basil, parsley, cilantro are all great additions.
    • Cooked pasta: unless you are certain that all of the soup will be eaten immediately, I would recommend cooking pasta separately and adding it at the end. Otherwise, it will get mushy.
    • Croutons or bread
    • Cheese
    • Toasted nuts or seeds

What else would you add to this list? We would love to hear from you!

4 thoughts on “The Essential Steps to Vegetable Based Soup

  1. Pingback: Charred Vegetable Stock | Tant Hill Farm

  2. Pingback: Weekly Farm Notes :: Sep 16th, 2015 | Tant Hill Farm

  3. Pingback: Weekly Farm Notes :: Sep 30th, 2015 | Tant Hill Farm

  4. Pingback: Barley and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard | Tant Hill Farm

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