Vegetable soup hacks?
December 30, 2013 12:45 PM   Subscribe

It has literally been a couple of decades (maybe 3) since I threw a bunch of vegetables in a pot and made vegetables soup. What are your tricks and hacks for vegetable soup?

I am inclined to saute the onion and celery in olive oil, although I would be interested to hear if you disagree with olive oil (it's mainly that I have more olive oil than any other kind). I can't remember whether I used to use garlic or not. Do you use garlic? How about ginger?

I am inclined to use water & tomato paste as opposed to stock, so there's that.

I am inclined to use broccoli, carrots, a little squash, and red potatoes, and I am sure that I used to use other kinds of vegetables as well -- which veggies do you use? I'd like to use chard or bok choy -- have you used these? If so, in what order do you add them, and how do you prepare them to be added?

I think I used to throw a handful of rice in and/or orzo, but my current specs require that I refrain from gluten, so rice would still be okay but no pasta.

I recall using lots of fresh herbs, but I cannot for the life of me remember which ones, although I recall using thyme and I'm a big fan of watercress. Which herbs do you use?

Any other special tricks or tips, or herbs or seasonings that make your vegetable soup really special?

My goal is a rich red soup with lots of interesting tidbits and a hearty flavor, which I can serve with goat cheese (chevre) on top.

I bet this community has some awesome vegetable soup recipes. Pimp my soup, mefites!
posted by janey47 to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
If you're using vegetable stock or water, simmer a parmesan cheese rind (save them in the freezer!) in the soup, it'll soften up and add a ton of body and richness to the soup. I leave it it one big hunk so I can fish it out after the simmering.

If you're making a big batch, cook the rice separately and add it to each serving, otherwise it'll just keep absorbing liquid and you'll end up with soggy rice and not enough broth.

I usually saute onion/celery/carrot in a combo of olive oil and butter (olive oil for higher smoke point, butter for flavor). Add garlic, always, add ginger only if you're taking it in a direction where ginger makes sense (I dont' like tomato-y soups with ginger). Add the starchy veg next (squash or potatoes), sautee a bit, then add the broth. Greens last, they don't take long at all.

If you want to go minestrone style, add a can of diced tomatoes for part of the liquid. I'd do something like onion, celery, carrot, garlic, mushrooms, add water/parm rind, add tomatoes, add pasta or rice (cooked separately). Maybe throw in some basil or parsley at the end. Season with lemon juice and worcestershire (which has anchovies in it, so if you want vegetarian vegetable soup, skip it).

Or maybe celery, scallions, ginger, garlic, mushrooms, water, rice noodles, season with soy sauce or hot sauce, garnish with scallion greens.

Mm, now I want to make soup.
posted by hungrybruno at 12:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Add canned coconut milk, some ginger and curry-type spices, and a dash of fish sauce (if you have it). This makes something reminiscent of Tom Kha Kai.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:00 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fish sauce is divine in split pea soup, if you are not a vegetarian.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:06 PM on December 30, 2013

I'd throw in some split peas or lentils to give body. I used to use barley, but I'm gluten-free now, so that's out. I like Itallian Cherry Tomatoes in my soup. Standard veggies are fun too, green beans, corn, peas, carrots.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:09 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Marmite for umami. Anchovies if you eat fish.
posted by supercres at 1:10 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try out some curly kale! It stays a bit crunchy which is a nice contrast. I'd rip the leaves off in big chunks from the stems. The stems can be chopped and added to your saute along with harder veggies like carrots and celery. Same principle with chard, but I prefer the flavor of kale.

Chickpeas could be a good pasta replacement for you. Or rice noodles.

And you've got to put some bay leaves in there.

Have fun! If it doesn't turn out the way you like it, blend it up with an immersion blender, and add some cream. That'll fix just about anything.
posted by fontophilic at 1:17 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Learn to deglaze your pan. It's really easy, and works really well.
posted by The River Ivel at 1:21 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My favourite vegetable soups are those that aren't just a random mash of veg, but allow one or two vegetables to shine. Yours sounds quite wonderful as tomato and lentil, tomato and tarragon or maybe red pepper and goats cheese. Maybe that's not what you're looking for today, but do consider it in the future!
posted by kadia_a at 1:25 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Add a couple of dried shitake mushrooms to the pot to fatten up the stock flavour. Fish them out at the end (their texture won't match the other veg) and re-add them after removing the stems and chopping the rest up finely if you wish.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 1:31 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am inclined to saute the onion and celery in olive oil, although I would be interested to hear if you disagree with olive oil (it's mainly that I have more olive oil than any other kind).
No way, olive oil is the best! I use 1/4 cup olive oil per 6-8 cups of water.

I can't remember whether I used to use garlic or not. Do you use garlic?
Always. Lots -- 3 or 4 cloves minced, raw, or a whole head, roasted. Add it after your mirepoix is translucent and cook for just a minute or two.

How about ginger?
Not unless I'm cooking a specific type of cuisine (like the yummy-sounding aforementioned Tom Kha Kai) -- there's no ginger in my standard pantry-raid vegetable soup.

I am inclined to use water & tomato paste as opposed to stock, so there's that.
If you're not altogether opposed to doing so, toss in a scoop or two of powder or paste stock concentrate to your standbys. Better Than Bouillon is indispensable in my kitchen. A tin of fire-roasted tomatoes whizzed with a stick blender also creates a very nice red base.

I am inclined to use broccoli, carrots, a little squash, and red potatoes, and I am sure that I used to use other kinds of vegetables as well -- which veggies do you use?
Sweet potatoes, the aforementioned tinned tomatoes, corn, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, and all manner of beans.

I'd like to use chard or bok choy -- have you used these? If so, in what order do you add them, and how do you prepare them to be added?
I haven't used chard, but I do use a lot of kale. I strip off the tough stems, give it a quick rinse and spin in the salad spinner, roughly chop it, and add it about 30 minutes before the soup is done cooking (if the soup takes longer than 30 minutes to cook). Chard is quite similar to kale, so it'd be close to the same deal, but I'd recommend either cooking the stems separately or leaving them out and only cooking the chopped leaves for 15 minutes or so. Bok choy cooks faster and the stems are more tender, so I just thinly slice it whole and stir it in about 10 minutes before serving.

Which herbs do you use?
Thyme, oregano, and bay leaves go into every vegetable soup. Rosemary if I have some fresh stuff. Fresh chopped parsley on top at the end, always.

Other stuff:
* MSG and red wine, forever.
* Saute the carrots with the onions and celery, and cook everything until it's toasty golden brown before you add any liquid or spices.
* Use leeks and/or shallots instead of or along with your onions. Fancy!
* Roast the vegetables before you put them in the soup.
* Throw in some dried mushrooms or save your mushroom stems in the freezer and add those instead.
* Drizzle some fancy olive oil, balsamic or apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice on top at the end.
* If you'd like to make some of your unwieldy flavoring add-ins easy to pull out before serving, stuff them in a tea ball or wrap them in cheesecloth. A little bundle of fresh thyme stems, bay leaves, and whole black peppercorns makes everything better.
* Collect all your vegetable scraps (carrot ends, onion heels, celery tops -- leave out your cruciferous veggies, though) in a bag in the freezer and when you have a bag full, empty it into a stockpot, cover with water, simmer for an hour or so, strain, and salt to taste. Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze in ice cube trays for long-term storage. Yum, homemade vegetable stock!
posted by divined by radio at 1:35 PM on December 30, 2013

If you want to make the soup rich, many of those things - including the tomato paste - can benefit from aggressive browning, either in the bottom of the pan or by roasting ahead of time in the oven.

A soup with a lot of tomatoes and potatoes and what not is also going to need a lot of salt... be aggressive.
posted by ftm at 1:41 PM on December 30, 2013

Hominy can go quite well in things like this, maybe try using it to replace your pasta.
posted by dilettante at 1:45 PM on December 30, 2013

My secret spice ingredients in my veggie soup that everyone loves are curry powder and spicy smoked paprika. For whatever reason, you would have no idea that these are in the soup, but give it a nice complex flavor.
posted by *s at 1:59 PM on December 30, 2013

Nthing adding a little apple cider vinegar. Gives a basic soup some zip.
posted by mochapickle at 1:59 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you cook split peas or lentils in a rice cooker, they either get mushy or turn to powder. Either way, you can mix the result with a little stock and some sauteed carrots and have a damn fine lentil or split pea soup.

Brown some onions, then add a quart of stock with root veggies such as chopped carrots (and a ham bone or cubed ham, if you are not opposed to meat in the dish). Add appropriate spices (bay leaves, a few peppercorns, garlic if desired). Simmer while the lentils/peas cook, then mix them all together when done. Simmer longer if desired to redude the liquid. I did this yesterday, total cooking time was about 2 hours, but it was thick, yummy, and tasted like it had been simmering all day.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:37 PM on December 30, 2013

My hack is to not have the vegetables that make the broth be the same vegetables that make the soup. The former are spent once the broth is done, and I toss them in the compost. The actual soup is put together just before serving. A spoonful of rice/noodles (skip if using potatoes or yams), a bunch of cut up roasted vegetables (yes garlic), your savory broth, and a splash of cider vinegar/sriracha/greek yogurt (or cheese and a quick run under the broiler).
posted by headnsouth at 2:43 PM on December 30, 2013

Frying the onions more than usual, so they're golden or even starting to brown, adds a lot of extra flavor french onion soup style.
posted by anadem at 4:06 PM on December 30, 2013

Putting a glob of pesto to each bowl before eating really elevates veggie soup from something you eat out of obligation or desire for low calories to amazing awesomeness.
posted by genmonster at 4:45 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Grilled corn on the cob (when it's in season) and slice off the kernels. Makes for a nice crunchy pop.

Okra for thickener (and it tastes awesome but some aren't down with the slime while cutting).

Use good quality tomatoes and good broth (I use beef in mine) and it makes a world of difference in the overall taste of the broth.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:51 PM on December 30, 2013

A handful of red lentils for body, even if you aren't wanting full on lentil soup.
posted by snorkmaiden at 4:55 PM on December 30, 2013

Just made this one yesterday. Yum. My best trick is to chop the veggies in the food processor using pulse, one after another. (I.e., onion first, then peeled carrots, then the red pepper.) Saves lots of time. Also, I think Eden is the only outfit that puts out no salt beans and tomatoes in BPA free cans.

1 medium onion
3 medium carrots
1 red bell pepper
4 cloves garlic
2 15 oz cans or 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (no salt added - do not drain)
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans (no salt)
1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans (no salt)
1 15 oz can white kidney beans (no salt)
1 10 oz pkg frozen green beans
1 10 oz pkg frozen corn
1 bunch Swiss chard
2 tablespoons tomato paste (no salt)
2 tablespoons Mrs. Dash
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
2 teaspoons Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy, or maybe balsamic vinegar

Chop onion, carrots and bell pepper and put in a large stock pot. Cover with water and bring to a low simmer. Mince garlic and add to pot, along with tomatoes, Mrs. Dash and other spices, and chopped stems from the chard. Add red and white kidney beans and garbanzo beans. Add more water, if needed, until soup is desired consistency. Let simmer on the stove top for an hour or two.

Chop the chard leaves roughly. Add the green beans, corn and swiss chard to the soup and simmer another 15-20 minutes. Add black pepper and liquid aminos if needed to adjust seasonings.
posted by bearwife at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2013

If you have access to an Asian market, Whole Foods, or possibly a co-op, miso makes a great addition to almost any soup at the end of simmering. I've never tried it with a tomato base, but I don't see why it wouldn't add its usual richness.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2013

Response by poster: This is so awesome, everyone! I can't even begin to start marking "best answer"s -- they're all great!

This will definitely be the Winter Of Soup in my home.

All suggestions will be tried! Keep 'em coming!
posted by janey47 at 11:39 AM on December 31, 2013

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