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. Shirley B. says:

    yum yum yum! I find that if I add the squash that early, it cooks away to nothing but a bit of skin. I’ll add it at the end, when you add your green beans. I can’t wait for it to acutally be cool enough to make a pot of soup!

  2. Liz Stein says:

    I am always messing with my minestrone recipe. I would add a small rind (2x2in) of parmesan cheese with the water. When I haven’t got good bread to eat with it, a handful of leftover grains like rice, or some corn, or even small diced potatoes, makes the meal more filling.

  3. Katie C. says:

    I call this kitchen sink soup, as in everything but the kitchen sink. I add potato if I don’t add beans, and sometimes (frozen) corn too. In addition to what you already have, I also add fresh and dried seasonings depending what’s on hand and how spicy I want it: thyme, marjorem, rosemary, oregano, celery seed, (sometimes) chili powder, and a couple of squirts of tabasco! I know it sounds like a lot but it tastes great.

    This year is the first year that I’ve canned tomatoes, so when I make this soup in the winter, I’ll use a quart of those as my base.

  4. narf7 says:

    YUM! As a vegan my world revolves around veggies and soup is one of my favourite ways to ingest a good quantity of delicious veg in one fell swoop. Cheers for the recipe and aside from sauting zucchini and using it grated in soups (near the end) I use all of my excess making pickles, jams and cakes/muffins. Never any complaints there :)

  5. Deborah B says:

    I almost always have a container or two in the kitchen frig’s freezer where I have saved odds and ends from cooking, such as the extra tomato juice I drain off from a casserole, the unused tomato paste, and the dab of leftover squash or tomato that no one ate at dinner. When I make vegetable soup, I start with a jar or two of tomatoes, and then add my leftovers containers from the freezer. Then I go thru the vegetable drawers in the frig to look for ingredients. Of course lots of onions and garlic get added. I like to add some chunks of winter squash or sweet potato. And I always use a frozen bag of grated zuchini or summer squash.

  6. Lovely soup. I too add a small rind or two of Parmesan. In addition, I mash some of the beans to give body to the soup and add strips of escarole for complementary colour and a frisson of bitterness. Sometimes I have on hand home-made veggie broth made from odds and ends and will use that instead of water. If I have home-made paste made from my garden toms, that goes in too!

  7. Linda B Secrist says:

    tomake your veggie soup even heartier[esp. vegitarian] add barley or oatmeal during the cooking process. Thickens the soup and makes it OH so good. Old Pa. dutch method.

  8. Kristina says:

    This is such a great way to use up the extra stuff in your garden. I can a basic “base” soup…vegie broth with carrots, onions, tomatoes, celery…and then reheat it during the winter and add extras like cauliflower, kale, potatoes, beans, pasta, orzo, or lentils, etc. out of my freezer to bulk it up. I also make big pots of soup and just freeze the extras.

  9. Mary says:

    Every fall I make lots of “tomato soup base” that I freeze in pint or quart containers, to eat all winter. I chop and then simmer the tomatoes for a couple of hours, then put them through a food mill to get rid of seeds and skins. Then I saute onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic, all chopped, add the tomatoes and herbs (favorite is fresh thyme and basil) and a little salt and maple syrup, depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes, and simmer for a couple more hours. Then I add veggies and grains later, when it comes out of the freezer. Saves space, tastes fresher, I think.

  10. BlueSwimmer says:

    We call our version of this soup the Bowl of Health and have it with a dash of hot sauce whenever we feel a cold coming on. It is the best thing to have in the freezer for cold winter nights after long and stressful days of work.

    Yes to the rind of parmesan! I love to eat it once it gets all rubbery from being in the pot for a long time and it gives an extra flavor boost to the soup.

    Finally, we also sometimes add wheat berries, rye berries, or Job’s Tears (our favorite recent grain discovery) to add texture and make the soup more filling.

  11. sarah jane says:

    Who has stories about ‘ruining’ the soup? I mean, what do I have to definitely avoid? I love the magic of soup, but it is not just putting veggies in a pot and cooking, is it?

  12. martha in Texas says:

    My father grew huge gardens, his gift and passion. Big soup “vegetable stews” with a heavy polenta-style cornbread. All variations were just “Abundance Soup” (his referent, as I recall, to Stone Soup –do you know that global folk-tale?) and sometimes “Abe’s Soup.” No fixed recipe, is still made down the decades–but none has tasted so good as his–taste that resonates thru memory as clear as yesterday.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Martha, for the recollections. Beautiful. Polenta-style cornbread is next on my list to master…thank you for suggesting. Love cornmeal. (Organic of course since now all our other corn is tainted with GM organisms…oh, dear, what has become of us!)

  13. Marcia says:

    YES to all of the above–but don’t forget the cabbage (chopped) and maybe some mini-tortellini or raviolini to bulk up the bowl!

  14. Miriam says:

    I love to cook vegetable soup. I live part-time in the Berks and when I arrive on Friday afternoon in the fall and winter, I put up a pot of soup. Your recipe is great! I also add a pinch of pepperoncino (red pepper flakes). Toss in any veggie hanging out in the bin of your fridge.

  15. Barbara says:

    One of my favorites is yellow squash soup made by simmering a pot full of cut up squash in broth or water, pureeing it with sauteed chopped onions and then adding a small amount of milk, cream, yogurt or goat cheese to make suitably creamy. After tasting it, I add whatever herbs we feel like. It could be prepared up to the dairy addition and frozen nicely. In fact, I may freeze up a bunch this weekend (as summer hasn’t quite left us in TX yet). I also make and enjoy my “refrigerator” soup of whatever has hung around too long in the fridge.

  16. Catherine L. says:

    Pardon my vegetarian pun, but you can “beef up” the nutritional value and taste of the soup by adding homemade or store bought vegetable broth instead of water. And lots of fresh thyme, basil and parsley doesn’t hurt either – by the way, thank you for the way to freeze herbs – LOVE the parsley log idea!

  17. Stephanie says:

    Saved and froze soaking water from dried porcini mushrooms. Used some in a vegetable soup recently and was very pleased with the taste.

  18. Yup, I’d also call that “Stone soup” too. :) I’m surprised it doesn’t call for some sort of broth (meat or veggie) base, but it sounds terrific to me. Might have to make it tomorrow!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Teresa. It gets surprisingly rich even without veg broth as the base — but you could use it if you like, or chicken maybe. (I am a vegetarian.) I would have used homemade veg stock if the first batch (with just water) hadn’t been so flavorful. I think the key is not to drown the vegetables in tons of water.

  19. Linda says:

    We make “End of the Garden Soup” each year. I use our electric turkey roaster. which allows you to let things cook away without worrying about scorching. Each year I try to have all the ingredients come from my garden (or my neighbor!), but had to buy carrots this year. I add things to the roaster in this order: olive oil (ha! that’s not from the garden!), onions, leeks, celery, garlic, when softened start adding skinned tomatoes that have been squeezed to eliminate a lot of seeds. The roaster is half full now, next carrots, potatoes, then green beans, then yellow squash, beet greens and corn. Lastly, add basil and parsley. My roaster will make 16 quart bags of soup. Family and friends pitch in and we all look forward to it in the winter!
    I really enjoy Away to Garden.com!

  20. Lynn says:

    The picture of your soup side tracked me from your garden resolutions. Something about the color, beautiful. Can’t wait to dig into whatever is in the fridge/pantry an make some vegetable soup!

  21. I make a super-easy curried winter squash soup, often from butternut, acorn or Delicata and sometimes a combination of two or more. After cutting the squash in half length-wise, I put the halves face-down on a lightly-oiled, lipped cookie sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes until soft. Once cooled, I scoop the soft squash out and put into a blender. For about 2 average -sized squashes, I add about 2 tablespoons of Patak’s mild curry paste (often found at organic grocers) and enough organic vegetable broth to easily blend the squash. After I blend all of the squash I put it into a pan to warm it, adding more broth to the desired consistency. It’s marvelous with a little plain yogurt and chives on top.

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