Tomato-Based: A Lesson In Soup Wizardry

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble…Oh, and KALE!” – Macbeth

I tried to write a post like this last winter, in which I gave a list of the kinds of things I throw in my soup pot to make it tasty. But I am going to try again, and do this better. You see, I love a great tomato-based vegetable soup, but it’s the kind of dish I hate having a recipe for. This is because it’s really hard to screw up a basic tomato-based broth soup. The more things you add, the more flavorful it becomes. “The more things you add?” You may be thinking… “So I can add a cup of chopped pickles to my tomato soup for added flavor?” Oh, gross, you know that’s not what I mean, stop being difficult.

Let me break down the category basics of what goes into a good tomato-based broth soup, so you can make it right every time, with what you have on hand, and impress all your friends as you whiz around the kitchen dumping things in a pot with no recipe like the fairy godmother of soup, or Hermione Granger, if she was domesticated. Soup wizard!

Lots of soup aficionados like to start their soup with a stock. However, I always start my soups with plain old water. If you simmer it for long enough, it becomes just as complex. Plus, I am lazy. Here we go!

Lovely home-grown garlic

1.Aromatics
Man, that sounds delicious, right? Really, what I wanted to put here was “fetid veggies” but that sounded much less appealing. But I always start my soups with one or two handfuls of fetid veggies (the stinky family) and some aromatics (carrotes, celery, etc…), sauteed in the bottom of the pot in a smidge of oil, or just some water for any of you oil-phobes, and the tiniest pinch of salt, for a few minutes. Here is a list of some of my favs:

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Shallots
  • Leeks
  • Carrots
  • Celery

2. Broth Base
Next, I add my broth base. This is always 5 – 6 cups of of water, and any or all of the following:

  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, no added salt
  • 1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes, no added salt
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste, no added salt
  • ½ cup wine or beer
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

*Note that because we are making a TOMATO-based broth soup, choosing a few different tomato starters to go in is necessary…

3. Legumes
After I have added my broth base, I add my legumes. Legumes sound swanky, but really it’s just a fancy way to label plants that produce their fruit in pods. For every savory broth based soup I make, I usually choose two of the following legumes, which are high in protein and fiber and low in fat:

  • 1 cup of dry lentils
  • 1 cup of dry split peas
  • 1 or 2 cans of cooked beans (rinsed and drained!), any and all styles. My favorite for brothy soup is kidney and cannellini. For thicker soups like chili, I dig chickpeas.

4. Grains
Since vegans wants a complete protein, I always pair my legumes with a grain. So along with my legumes, I add 1 cup of dry…

  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Wheat berries
  • Millet
  • Barley

5. Liquid ratio
Keep your liquid ratio in mind when adding any uncooked grains and legumes, which will absorb liquid as they cook. If you want to keep your soup brothy, add more liquid. If you want it to be thicker, like a chili, let it ride as is and keep an eye on it.

6. Veggies
Yum-o! The best part. Here are my favorite veggies to add…I try and choose what is seasonal, and often use frozen in winter when fresh veggies are out of season and extremely expensive.

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cubed squash (kabocha is my favorite!)
  • Sweet peas
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow squash
  • Edamame

7. Spices!
Here is where the real fun begins. I am not going to give you any spice measurements—you have to figure that out by yourself, as everyone likes different flavors. Not measuring your spices and doing it by “feel” will really allow you to become super comfortable with creating soup without a recipe. And it’s really impressive, and that’s what cooking is all about right? Not creating healthy, delicious, soul nourishing food, but impressing people! Kidding, obviously, but go ahead and experiment with different flavors. Start small—you can always go bold later. Also, go EASY on the salt. Some people don’t use it to cook at all, and I use it sparsely.

  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Coriander
  • Rosemary
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Saffron
  • Cumin
  • Chili
  • Paprika
  • Bay leaf
  • Black pepper
  • White pepper
  • Celery seed
  • Salt (stop over-salting! I beg you!)

*A note on “volatile” flavors. OH that expression is wonderful! But “volatile flavors” (aromatic spices) can change during cooking, so sometimes you may need to add a little extra spice near the end of the cooking process.

After I have added my veggies and spices, I bring the soup to a boil, and then simmer it for 1 – 2 hours, covered. Keep an eye on it, and stir often, to check on your level of liquid. If it’s too brothy, remove the lid and simmer uncovered until some of it cooks off to your desired ratio is reached.

8. Greens
Everyone—but vegans especially—should aim to eat greens on the regular. That means every day, several times a day if possible. Soup is a great way to sneak those greens in, but add them at the end so that they don’t lose too many nutrients or get wilty and slimey. I add 2 to 3 handfuls of greens about 10 minutes before removing the soup from the heat.

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Beet greens
  • Escarole

A few more notes on soup:

  • It gets better in the refrigerator as all of the spices and flavors marinate, so the best soup is actually a few days old, I think.
  • It makes an incredible breakfast

Okay, now tell me your favorite soup tricks and tips! Next week I will give a few actual recipes for creamier soups.

About the author  ⁄ Zoe

Zoe writes about food and sex on SexyTofu.com.

5 Comments

  • Reply
    November 20, 2012

    At the C.I.A. that I attended back in 1976, one of the first rudiments we were taught was how to prepare a “mirepoix” of vegetables, specifically Onions, Carrots and Celery. The proportions were 50% on the Onions and 25% on the Carrots and Celery. This was the base to so many soups and stews that in many restaurants the prep chef’s chop a bucket of it each morning to use in recipes thru out the day…it is still a proportion that I use for many of my “off the cuff” soups…and is a good base for yummy winter soups….have fun performing kitchen wizardry…..aloha, Annie

  • Reply
    November 20, 2012

    This is a miraculously marvelous post and it makes me want tomato soup immediately. Perhaps I shall soon enough! Winter is a great time to dig out my soup bible. No, really. It’s called The Soup Bible.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2012

    Excellent soup primer! Also, I just had pickle soup for the first time last week–surprisingly awesome!

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