There's nothing as comforting as a warming bowl of homemade soup during the cold nights of winter. Or, if you're like my family, any night of the year, really. My kids are a big fan of vegetable soup, so I make a huge pot at least a couple of times a week. Not only is it a great comfort food, but it's good for you and, depending on how you prepare it, it can be a complete and filling meal.
Types of Soup
Every vegetable soup recipe can be boiled down to three basic types of soup. Once you understand what these soups are, you can experiment with your own creations and formulate recipes on the fly based on the ingredients you have.
So what are the three types of soup? According to Georges Auguste Escoffier, the father of classical French cuisine, soups can be grouped into the following categories:
- Clear soup
- Thick soup (thickened by starch from vegetables or vegetable puree)
- Thick soup (thickened by cream or roux)
Below is detailed information on the methods for preparing each type of soup.
When you think of clear soups, you think of light or mild-flavored soups with clear and unthickened broth. Unlike thick soups, clear soups are always transparent.
The simplest type of clear soup is vegetable broth. Just like stocks, broths are prepared by simmering flavoring ingredients in a liquid over a long period of time. The difference between vegetable broth and vegetable stock is that vegetable broth often contains flavorings like salt, herbs, and other powerful flavoring agents as opposed to the subtle and neutral flavorings of traditional stocks. My favorite clear soup is Japanese miso soup, flavored with miso paste, wakame, tofu, and scallions.
Probably the most complicated type of clear soup is vegetable consomme. A good consomme always starts with a good stock or broth, which is further clarified and reduced, making for a strong flavored and perfectly clear soup. Consomme is often served as an appetizer and is frequently served with a simple garnish of vegetables cut in brunoise or julienne.
Thick soups are opaque and, you guessed it, thick. There are a couple of ways to thicken soups, depending on what consistency you're going for.
The best way to thicken soup while intensifying flavor is to use parts of the soup itself as the thickener. This means using starchy vegetables or puréeing some (or all) of the soup. These types of soup are hearty, filling, and full of flavor. The idea is to use the appropriate amount of natural starches to give you the desired thickening power. A great example is this vegetable soup that relies on potatoes as well as V8 juice as the main thickeners. Simmering grains and legumes in soup also thickens the liquid slightly.
Thick soups thickened by cream or roux rely on an added thickening agent. This is either because the vegetables in the soup aren't starchy enough to thicken the soup, and/or because the vegetables aren't creamy enough when blended on their own. To add richness and creaminess, this cream of broccoli soup relies on cashew cream, and this cream of mushroom soup contains plant-based milk.
To add to the complexity of soup classification, there are also soups that rely on both vegetable puree and cream. This Thai butternut squash soup is thickened by pureed butternut squash as well as canned coconut milk.
How To Make Vegetable Soup (Without a Recipe)
A lot of times when people want to make soup, they look for a recipe. "Do you want vegetable barley...minestrone...or gazpacho?" But you don't really need a recipe to make a great vegetable soup. Even less experienced cooks can make vegetable soup from scratch. Here is a really easy formula. You’ll be able to use whatever you have on hand (no last-minute trips to the store for one ingredient!) and you just might love the result.
1. Choose Your Type of Fat
While not absolutely necessary, using fat will take your soup to another level. It is to saute aromatics, vegetables, or any other initial flavors. Pick whatever you have on hand that will go well with your other ingredients. For instance, I would choose olive oil for an "Italian-inspired" soup, coconut oil for a "Thai-inspired" soup, and vegan butter for a cream soup.
2. Choose Your Base
What do you have on hand? Vegetable broth? Cream or milk? Tomato purée? Broth mixed with tomato purée is delicious, as is stock with milk. Or even cream with tomato purée! You choose the flavors you want.
3. Choose Your Veggies
Mirepoix vegetables (onions, carrots, and celery) are a standard. Garlic is common too. There are also potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli ... use whatever you like.
4. Choose Your Spices
Sea salt and black pepper are your two most basic spices, so you will want to include them (well…at least the salt). Here are a few more popular flavor combinations.
- Basil, bay leaf, marjoram, and oregano pair well with tomato-based soups.
- Chives, lovage, parsley, and rosemary go well with potato-based soups.
- Parsley and thyme are a nice addition to cream soups.
- Chili powder, cumin, and paprika are typical for chilies.
But, that’s just "common" ones. Feel free to use any combinations you like!
Once you’ve decided on the ingredients, making soup is very simple:
- Heat your fat over medium heat.
- Sauté your aromatic vegetables (onions, garlic, leeks ...) until translucent.
- Add your base, veggies, and spices.
- Taste and adjust.
- Allow to simmer for an hour or two. Puree if you'd like.
- Taste and adjust again.
That’s it! You can make any soup using the ingredients you have on hand with the flavors you prefer, without any recipe.