Create your own simple vegetable soup recipe

Peppers make an ideal soup ingredient

Vegetable soup is very easy to make and offers a nutritious and healthy meal that all the family will enjoy.

It is a great way to encourage your children to eat vegetables, particularly the ones that they normally turn up their noses at (I’m looking at you Mr Cabbage).

In this article we'll discuss the way to make soup without using a recipe.

Okay, it looks like a recipe, but the idea is not to provide a list of actions that you blindly follow, but instead a framework that will help you produce all the different types of soup you might enjoy to eat.

A good way to think about it is to consider the different ‘building blocks’ that a good vegetable soup needs to contain.

The building blocks of a simple vegetable soup

First, onions or similar (i.e. normal onions, red onions, spring onions, shallots or leeks).

Secondly, garlic. My family and I cannot get enough of garlic.

Thirdly, the ‘hard’ vegetables. These are vegetables that are going to need quite a long time to cook. In this group, I include:

  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Potato (which, when it breaks down, will thicken the soup)
  • Celery (almost every soup, stew or ragu benefits from celery

Generally, the ‘hard’ vegetables will, like the onion and garlic, benefit from some time in the pan, cooking in the oil, before the stock and/or water is added.

Next, the soft vegetables. These can include:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (Savoy cabbage, cavolo nero, etc)
  • Chinese cabbage or pak choi
  • Kale
  • Chard

I tend to add the soft vegetables just before the stock goes into the pan. 

A tip for when you do, particularly if the pan is getting rather full: throw in the chopped cabbage, kale or chard then put the lid on the pan. This will cause the recently-added soft vegetables to shrink down rapidly, making space for more, or for the stock.

This is also the point when you can add any vegetables that you have roasted, if your plan is to make roasted vegetable soup. This works particularly well for all types of squash and pumpkin, which will caramelise nicely and give a glorious sweetness to the soup.

Finally, if you want to be ‘chef-y’, the fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro / coriander, basil). Simply chop them up and sprinkle over the top of the finished soup (though probably choose one per soup, rather than all of them).

Important note: for the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ vegetables, you don’t need to use all of my suggestions every time you make soup. Use some. Experiment. Add your own. Maybe celeriac works. Who knows? Welcome to ‘the framework’.

So how do I make this 'best vegetable recipe'?

Patience grasshopper. Here is my methodology:

  1. Chop everything up. Onion into small dice. Garlic finely chopped or sliced.  Everything else: doesn’t matter - freestyle it.
  2. Find a suitable pan. Generally a deep pan with a wide base works well. It is useful if it has a lid.
  3. Put your pan onto a medium heat. Add a glug of oil (I use either olive oil or rapeseed oil - again, EXPERIMENT). Put in a small sprinkle of salt (ideally sea salt) and coarse ground black pepper.  Season early and you don’t have to use as much of it later (important if you’re cutting back on salt).
  4. Add the onions (and leeks etc) and gently fry them until they soften and become translucent.
  5. Next add the garlic and, if you’re using it, celery.
  6. Keep gently frying for ‘a bit’ (yes, you’re going to have to experiment to determine your own ‘bit’)
  7. Add the ‘hard’ vegetables and keep cooking, for at least 5 minutes plus any additional ‘bits’ of your own
  8. Next add the softer vegetables. Remember my tip about shrinking down the cabbage.
  9. Finally add some stock (or boiling water if you want - see what happens). I tend to use a chicken stock (either homemade from the carcass of a previously-roasted chicken, or in cube form from the packet). You can use a vegetable stock if you wish to be 100% vegetarian.
  10. Up the heat. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat. Simmer.

There is no exact science (did you expect some?) as to how much stock to add, other than to say that you want sufficient to cover all of the vegetables. You want the initial cooking down process at least to take place without having to top up the water frequently.

With practice, you will find that you can add or subtract stock (or boiling water) as required in order to shorten all downturn the cooking process.

The secret to simple vegetable soup = time

Depending on which vegetables you put into the soup, and what sort of texture you are aiming for, the soup should simmer for between 30 minutes and 1 hour (or more if you want - it generally becomes even tastier).

Once finished, you can either blend your soup to make it smooth (you can then add cream or natural yoghurt if you wish). Alternatively, don’t blend it and keep it as a more ‘rustic’ robust soup. Add the fresh herbs, if you’re using them.

You can either enjoy your soup immediately, or - if you can contain yourself - wait until the following day, when the flavours will be even more intense.

Happy soup-making.