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Creamy Vegetable Soup Recipe: Create Your Own

One simple method, endless variations.

by Susie Middleton

from Fine Cooking
Issue 97

Making soup is the best kind of kitchen alchemy: You start with a few humble ingredients and wind up with a gem. That’s why I love making these puréed vegetable soups; the components and technique are simple, but the result is a silky, delicious soup that’s refined enough for any elegant first course. The technique is straightforward. First, cook some aromatics (like carrots, onion, celery, garlic, and leeks) to start building the soup’s flavor base. Next, add your favorite vegetable plus some liquid and simmer until tender. Finally, just purée everything in a blender. You won’t believe how easy it is to make something so lovely.

Serves 8 as a starter

Cook the aromatics

Aromatic vegetables become the flavor foundation of your soup. The best blend of aromatics starts with garlic and includes some onions, leeks, or shallots. From there, move on to your other choices, selecting those that are most complementary to your main vegetable.

In a 4- to 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, extra-virgin olive oil, or vegetable oil (or a combination) over medium-low heat. When hot, add 1-1/4 cups of your chosen aromatics (see options below) and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir well, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the aromatics are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tsp. kosher salt, as well as a spice (see options below), if using.

Choose 2 to 5 aromatics for a total of 1-1/4 cups

  • onions
    Onions, cut into medium dice
  • leeks
    Leeks, thinly sliced and washed
  • shallots
    Shallots, finely chopped
  • carrots
    Carrots, peeled, halved or quartered lengthwise, and thinly sliced
  • celery
    Celery, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (no more than 1/4 cup)
  • fresh ginger
    Fresh ginger, minced (no more than 1 Tbs.)
  • garlic
    Garlic, minced (no more than 2 tsp.)

Choose 1 spice (optional)

  • curry powder
    Curry powder: 1-1/2 tsp.
  • fennel seeds
    Crushed fennel seed: 1 tsp.
  • garam masala
    Garam masala: 1 tsp.
  • ground cumin
    Ground cumin plus ground coriander: 2 tsp. total
  • mustard seeds
    Whole mustard seed: 2 tsp.
  • saffron
    Saffron threads: big pinch, lightly crushed and mixed with some of the liquid
  • smoked paprika
    Smoked paprika: 1/2 to 1 tsp.
Simmer the vegetables

Add your choice of vegetables (see options below), 5 cups homemade vegetable broth OR 2-1/2 cups lower-salt chicken broth, thinned with2-1/2 cups water, and 3 Tbs. of your chosen accent liquid (see options below). Stir well, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender and the soup is full-flavored, 7 to 20 minutes, depending on the vegetable.

Choose 1 of the following vegetables for a total of 1-1/2 lb. prepped weight

  • asparagus
    Asparagus: 2-1/4  lb., bottom of stems trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • broccoli
    Broccoli: 1-3/4 lb., bottom of stems trimmed, florets coarsely chopped, stems sliced very thinly
  • butternut squash
    Butternut squash: 2 lb., peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • carrots
    Carrots: 1-3/4 lb., peeled, cut in half or quartered lengthwise if thick, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • cauliflower
    Cauliflower: 2 lb., trimmed, cored, and coarsely chopped
  • mushrooms
    Mushrooms (cremini or white button, or a combination): 1-1/2 lb. halved and thinly sliced
  • tomatoes
    Canned whole tomatoes: two 28-oz. cans, drained and coarsely chopped or crushed

Choose 1 of the following accent liquids

  • white wine
    White wine
  • vermouth
    Dry vermouth
  • sherry
    Dry sherry
  • cider
    Apple cider
  • oranges
    Orange juice
Purée and finish the soup

While cream is nice, I often prefer the results I get with whole yogurt or buttermilk, since their slightly tangy flavor brightens the soup. Some vegetables, especially cauliflower, carrots, and butternut squash, make such silky purées on their own that I sometimes leave the dairy out completely. A bit of citrus juice or vinegar, on the other hand, is absolutely essential: it gives your soup an additional touch of brightness and brings out the vegetable flavor.

Take the pan off the heat and let the soup cool for 5 minutes. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender. Wipe the pan clean and put the soup back in the pan.

Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper and add 1/4 cup of your choice of dairy (see options below) and acid (see options below); start with 1/2 tsp. of the acid, and add up to 1-1/2 tsp. as needed.

Choose 1 dairy ingredient (optional)

  • cream
    Heavy cream
  • milk
  • yogurt
    Thick whole yogurt, preferably Greek

Choose 1 acid (up to 1-1/2 tsp.)

  • lemons
    Fresh lemon juice
  • lime wedge
    Fresh lime juice
  • red wine vinegar
    Red wine vinegar
  • white wine vinegar
    White wine vinegar
  • cider vinegar
    Cider vinegar
  • sherry vinegar
    Sherry vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar
    Balsamic vinegar
  • rice vinegar
    Rice vinegar
Garnish and serve

Ladle into 8 soup bowls and sprinkle a garnish (see options below) over each serving, if using.

Choose a garnish (optional)

  • bacon
    Crumbled cooked bacon or pancetta: 2 tsp. per serving
  • basil
    Chopped fresh basil: 1 to 2 tsp. per serving
  • chives
    Chopped fresh chives: 1 to 2 tsp. per serving
  • cilantro
    Chopped fresh cilantro: 1 to 2 tsp. per serving
  • mint
    Chopped fresh mint: 1 to 2 tsp. per serving
  • parsley
    Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley: 1 to 2 tsp. per serving
  • croutons
    Homemade croutons: 1 to 2 Tbs. per serving
  • almonds
    Toasted, finely chopped almonds: 1 tsp. per serving
  • peanuts
    Toasted, finely chopped peanuts: 1 tsp. per serving
  • pecans
    Toasted, finely chopped pecans: 1 tsp. per serving
  • walnuts
    Toasted, finely chopped walnuts: 1 tsp. per serving
  • pine nuts
    Toasted pine nuts: 1 tsp. per serving
  • walnut oil
    Toasted walnut oil: 1/2 tsp. per serving
  • chili oil
    Chili oil: 1/2 tsp. per serving
  • sesame oil
    Sesame oil: 1/2 tsp. per serving
  • truffle oil
    Truffle oil: 1/2 tsp. per serving
Storing Soups

Most of these soups are best eaten within a day, as the vegetables tend to separate from the liquids. Carrot, butternut squash, and tomato soups can last up to 2 days in the refrigerator and up to a month in the freezer; if frozen, reheat slowly and whisk if separated.

Top photo: Scott Phillips

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