finally! learning how to make vegetable soup

LIKE THE BEST RECIPES, it’s a hand-me-down, delivered in the best oral tradition: told to me over a meal, and recorded on a paper napkin. At breakfast with my old friend Irene Sax one day—a longtime food writer, and my former “Newsday” colleague—I was panicking about my late-summer vegetable glut, and she said: “Vegetable soup. I make it all the time, freeze it, and eat it every day for lunch.” And then I realized: I don’t know how to make proper vegetable soup. Or didn’t, until then. The extra-easy recipe.

Yes, of course I make vegetable soups: onion soup, split pea, lentil, sweet potato-greens, carrot-ginger, and so on. But a less-specific catch-all “vegetable soup” wasn’t in my repertory. Irene (who co-wrote “Beard on Pasta” with James Beard, and until recently taught food writing at NYU) fixed that.

irene’s vegetable soup, my way

(I say “my way” because the “recipe” on that napkin didn’t actually give proportions of anything, just, “diced onions, celery, carrots…” and because Irene says, “zucchini doesn’t add much to the mix” so she skips it. Me? I’m looking for ways to use up my summer-squash harvest at the moment. When I showed her the photo, Irene said, “Mine is redder,” meaning more tomatoes, and that’s the point: Balance the “recipe” according to your taste, and the garden’s offerings.)


  • Olive oil
  • 2 or 3 medium onions, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 or 4 carrots, diced (about half a typical bag)
  • 3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • Broccoli or cauliflower, about 2 cups chopped small
  • Kale or chard or collards or a mix, maybe 6 big leaves, stems removed and foliage chopped
  • Summer squash, 1-2 cups diced
  • Shell beans, such as cannellini or chick peas (1-2 cups, pre-cooked)
  • Tomatoes, ripe raw ones, or large can of whole plum types
  • Parsley and basil, chopped, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Water
  • Green beans, fresh (cut up if large)


  1. Into a large pot (such as for boiling spaghetti, or a deeper stockpot) pour enough olive oil to saute onions and garlic.
  2. When the alliums are translucent, add carrots and celery, and cook until just tender.
  3. Add diced zucchini next, then broccoli, covering to allow them to cook slightly.
  4. When squash is tender, add leafy greens and herbs; cover briefly to let them wilt.
  5. Add tomatoes and pre-cooked garbanzos or cannellini beans, cover again.
  6. When tomatoes start to soften, add water to cover the entire mixture plus about a half-inch, cover the pot to bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer. (I underdo the water because I can always dilute the broth later, but freezer space is precious.)
  7. The soup will be done when it looks and tastes done—an hour or a couple of hours, your call. When it is almost there, I add the green beans for the final 15 or so minutes of cooking time, along with some salt and pepper and extra water to cover them if needed. No surprise: Irene adds her green beans earlier. What will your variation be?


WHEN SERVING, add some or all of these. Served with good bread, it’s a meal. I like mine with:

  • a dollop of pesto
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • a drizzle of good-quality olive oil
  • slightly undercooked pasta (add it when reheating; don’t let it sit in the soup)
  • more beans; garbanzos really are delightful in this soup
  • a crostini (toasted bread with cheese, perhaps, or spread with the pesto), sort of a giant crouton


  1. Laurel says:

    Sounds like the soup I make…I also add diced roast lean beef (the only meat we eat…cooked in the crock pot ahead of time), diced potatoes, barley, and usually some frozen peas and limas along with lots of kidney beans and cannelini. But the real kicker is 2 handsful of “herbs de provence” purchased by the pound from Atlantic Spice, and a bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme and greek oregano added at the final simmer stage. Plus lots of fresh ground black pepper. I make a 2 gallon pot and it lasts us a week. My husband doesn’t want anything else, so we eat it lunch and dinner, at lunch with fresh fruit for dessert, for dinner with crostini. Makes life so easy…(though I admit it lacks variety…)

    1. Tessa says:

      Red lentils are my favourites for any and all soups, thicken and flavoursome..I’m not keen on most beens apart from the greens ones..

  2. Lisa says:

    I like to add corn, which provides another layer of texture, and sometimes shredded cabbage, if I have it. I also use chicken broth instead of water, and sometimes will use dried split peas instead of beans, which will also thicken up the soup. My secret ingredient is a small piece of parmesan cheese rind (fish it out before serving).

  3. Farmer Candace says:

    Love these add ins! Wondering about freezing ideas, tip on containers, labeling and methods of storing and stacking. We have a deep freeze, and I often lose the frozen packages of summer wonders in there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.