Vegetable soup: a compendium

Well the impatiens in my garden have keeled over, I’ve pulled out my winter coat from the depths of my closet, my windshield is routinely covered in frost, and tomorrow is DECEMBER.  I guess this means the cold weather is here to stay, huh?  And what better way to welcome it than with a comforting bowl of vegetable soup.

I think that if I were to come up with a list of my favorite comfort foods, any kind of noodle soup would rank solidly at #1.  And though there is a lot of chopping and waiting involved, concocting a vegetable soup is pretty much fool-proof.  It’s not only delicious, but packed with nutrients too.  And then you have the leftovers to store in your freezer and enjoy all winter!  Really, I can’t think of anything negative about soup.

Of course there are endless possibilities when it comes to soup, and sometimes inspiration is the hardest part.  I have racked my brain (and googled) to come up with a comprehensive list of basic elements of a good vegetable soup:

A successful soup will be simple in its execution; avoid adding in too many vegetables or proteins as this will muddle the flavor.  But do experiment with different combinations of the above, plus your own imagination — mine is by no means an exhaustive list (especially in the seasoning column)!

Putting it all together

To me, measuring the ingredients would be kind of antithetical to the whole purpose of soup — so don’t worry about amounts, just throw whatever you have together!  If you end up with more veggies than you’d like, well then just top it off with more water.  Problem solved.

Begin sauteing your aromatics in your oil of choice — butter if you want something rich, olive oil if you’re more health-minded.  I would recommend always using garlic plus maybe one other — I usually default to leeks (I don’t have a good reason why, but I think they taste better than onions in soup).  If you are making an Asian-inspired recipe, ginger would be necessary too (as would vegetable and/or sesame oil).

Once the aromatics have cooked down, toss in your chopped veggies, salt, pepper, and seasoning.

If you are using cabbage, I like to add it at this stage too since it is stiffer than other greens.

As for the seasoning, you’ll note that this is my longest column and yet I did have to edit it down significantly from the original.  I literally have an entire full-sized cabinet in my kitchen devoted to herbs and spices and the possibilities for your soup are truly endless.  Use what you have and think in terms of “themes.”

Classic:  parsley, oregano, thyme, dill, bay leaf
For more earthy flavors, add (sparingly):  rosemary, sage, tarragon, smoked paprika
Asian:  cilantro, lemongrass, cumin, Thai basil, lime (add fresh cilantro/basil at the end)
Curry:  cumin, cinnamon, cardamon, coriander, cloves, turmeric, fenugreek, bay leaf
Southwestern:  cumin, oregano, chili/powder, bay leaf

When your veggies have softened and your spices are highly fragrant, deglaze the pot with a few tablespoons of liquid.  A nice white wine is always good, if you don’t have that use white wine vinegar.  Red or marsala wine will offer a heavier flavor.  If you want Asian flavors, you would obviously want to use soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Cover this mixture with liquid — stock will provide more depth of flavor, but water is good too as long as you let it simmer thoroughly.  I usually use about half and half.

Bring to a simmer and stir in your greens (if you haven’t already) and protein.  Add a conservative amount of pasta, rice or other starch — I always accidentally use too much — toward the end, being sure to leave just enough time for it to cook.  You can also cook them separately and toss them in as needed to avoid absorbing all the liquid.

You should allow your soup to simmer for no less than an hour; the flavors will intensify the longer it cooks.

I recently made a classic “no-chicken” noodle soup, with leeks and garlic as my aromatics, celery, carrots, mushrooms and cabbage as veggies, deglazed with vinegar and seasoned with oregano, thyme, rosemary and dill.  I only had one can of vegetable broth and used plain water for the rest.  I added in some thin egg noodles and the soup came out great!

Two nights ago, I made this soup:

Aromatics:  garlic and leeks
Seasoning:  thyme, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper
Vegetables:  about 10 chopped grape tomatoes, for a bit of flavor
Green:  curly kale
Protein:  cannellini beans
Deglaze:  white wine vinegar
Starch:  wide egg noodles, a little bit of barley
Liquid:  low-sodium stock and water

Served with some soft garlic knots:

Next to a roaring fire with a good IPA:

Sends you RIGHT into a food coma.  mmmmmmmmmmm.

I think I’m gonna go have some of the leftovers for lunch…right now.

-R

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One thought on “Vegetable soup: a compendium

  1. Pingback: Snow day! | Bounteous

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