Wednesday, September 19, 2012

(Anything but) Basic Vegetable Soup.

Vegetable soup with grilled Brie sandwich. © Ryan Schierling

It was September of 2005 – not even winter yet – and I had some crazy horrible flu paired with a ripping sore throat. I'm convinced my mother saved my life by insisting I go to the doctor. She had a hunch it was strep, so she gets credit for that crud not progressing into heart or kidney damage which could have killed me dead.

When I was finally feeling human enough to trade in my fuzzy slippers for proper shoes, I got a visit from my friend Jane. It was from her I learned of this magical vegetable soup she used to ward all manner of evil illness in her household. I had to know more.

The recipe she shared has become a Fall and Winter staple in our home. It is the perfect combination of root vegetables, aromatics and greens, all suspended in a savory "chicken soup will cure all that ails you" kind of broth.

The original recipe can be found here (Leanne's Basic Vegetable Soup) and it includes several variations. However, after initial delicious success with the basic version, the "optional additions" seemed quite unnecessary. The only one that made much sense to us in terms of flavor profile was the "Tuscan" version. And, as it turns out, an entire bunch of kale, packed with nutritional benefits, disappears seamlessly into the pot along with the protein-rich addition of white beans.

That is the way we make it now. It evolved to accommodate our preferences, and it has stuck. A huge stock pot full of this soup for wellness and warmth is made at least two or three times every year. Whatever is left in the fridge after a couple of days we freeze for later use (it freezes and reheats incredibly well). If you're feeling neighborly, this is also a wonderfully-substantive soup to deliver to a friend who is under the weather.

Unless we happen to have a homemade stock on hand, I usually use Better Than Bullion Chicken Base for the broth. This recipe requires at least 12 cups of liquid (water/stock), but I don't use the Better Than Bullion at anywhere close to full strength as directed on the label. Instead, I dilute a good tablespoon or so with the first water I add to the vegetables and then add more, a teaspoon at a time as needed, until the broth tastes like I want it to. The juice from the canned tomatoes also adds to the flavor of the broth. If you go light on the broth, you may have to be more generous with those pinches of salt. Much also depends on the amount of sodium in your broth of choice. The key is to keep simmering, adjusting and tasting until you have no place left to go except to ladle yourself up a big bowl and enjoy.

You may use a vegetable stock in the same way, or a combination of vegetable stock and a vegetarian chicken style broth/seasoning (such as McKay's), for a completely vegetarian/vegan option if you prefer.

They say the best food is always made with love. But there is also something inherently intentional about this soup. Yes, it is an amazing bowl full of vegetables that tastes light years better than anything you'll ever get out of a jar or can. But the act of making it is purposeful with the intention to nourish and sustain.

Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Leanne's Basic Vegetable Soup

1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large (or 2 small) turnip, chopped
4 red potatoes, chopped (do not peel potatoes)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme (strip leaves from stems and rough chop)
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
12 cups poultry broth, vegetable broth, or water with Better Than Bullion Chicken Base – to taste
1/4 head large cabbage (or 1/2 small cabbage), chopped
2 cups (16 ounces) frozen haricot verts (French green beans), cut in 1-2" pieces
1 14.5-ounce can white beans (cannellini, white kidney or great northern beans), drained and rinsed
1 bunch of kale, deveined and chopped
kosher salt, to taste 
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

In a large stock pot, heat approximately one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook till nearly translucent, then add the garlic. Don't let the garlic brown and sauté another couple of minutes.

Add the carrots, celery, potatoes and turnips, sautéing on medium heat for just a minute or two; add the extra olive oil as needed for the rest of the veggies. Remember, you're not cooking them, just sautéing them for the wonderful flavor this quick step will infuse in your soup. Add the fresh thyme and some salt and pepper.

Add the tomatoes and about 8 cups of broth/water. Cook on stovetop – bring from boil to simmer for about 1 hour. When the root vegetables are tender, taste the broth. You will be adding the remaining 4 cups of broth (or add water – depending on how concentrated or salty your broth is). 

Add the green beans, cabbage, kale and white beans. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer again. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper, to taste.

Serves 12

Serving suggestion: Grilled cheese sandwiches made with brie on sliced rosemary bread.


  1. Oh that sounds good! And now I'm in the mood for soup, which for us is quite normal as the days start to get shorter and the nights colder.

    Like the idea of throwing kale in there. Puts a little twist to the taste and texture.

    1. Believe it or not, it's starting feel like soup weather down here in Austin too.

      It turns out that kale is good for something other than garnishing a salad bar - haha! Good stuff in this soup.

  2. That looks like the ultimate comfort food. Paired with that grilled cheese... oh my.

    1. I would have to agree - it certainly hits the "comfort food" spot. Except that you feel like you've done something great for your body, which a fabulous baked macaroni and cheese couldn't - and, quite frankly, shouldn't - be so successful in doing.


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