When we first started getting a weekly veg box delivery, making soup out of the least likely-looking vegetables became something of a Saturday ritual. This generally didn’t involve following any particular recipe, just chopping things up and throwing them in a pan, topping it up with hot water from the kettle, a stock cube and perhaps a slug of wine, and then, once the vegetables were all cooked through, blitzing the whole lot with a handheld blender.
You might say there are no rules when it comes to making soup – you can throw in more or less any kind of vegetable and it will mostly turn out just fine.
However, there are some general principles that can be useful to bear in mind if you want to ensure that your soup is always up to scratch when you make it from scratch…
For one thing, remember the classic flavour champions of carrots, potatoes, onions, leeks and celery which make a great flavour base for any thick soup. If you want to avoid the stringy bits you often get if you try to blitz celery, add a large stick of celery to the soup while it’s cooking to extract the flavour but fish it out and throw it away before you blend.
Think about including a source of umami. Umami is the fifth taste (after sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness), and is the flavour that makes you go mmmmmmmmmm. Foods that have lots of umami are high in the amino acid L-glutamate and the ribonucleotides guanosine monophosphate (GMP) and inosine monophosphate (IMP), apparently.
Vegan foods that are rich in umami – and so will make your soup or any other dish taste particularly yummy – include mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, red wine, miso, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and kombu (a kind of seaweed). An easy way to do this is to add a couple of dried porcini mushrooms and/or a piece of dried kombo to your stock or directly to the soup pan.
I don’t always use a commercial stock cube, but when I do I prefer the Marigold low-salt bouillion cubes, or the loose powder that comes in a tub. However, don’t feel you have to go out of your way to get it – Kallo are another vegan-friendly brand to look out for, and some of the supermarkets’ own-brand stock cubes are vegan too, you just need to check the label or the most recent vegan product list for that retailer.
For those occasions when you don’t feel like improvising, I’ll be adding some of our favourite soup recipes here, starting with a crowd-pleasing classic tomato and basil.