On a frigid winter day, nothing offers greater satisfaction than a steaming bowl of vegan soup. What’s more, soups are cheap and easy to make, so they’re perfect for the novice cook.
Every cuisine features at least one distinctive soup. Here are some of the most beloved vegan-friendly soups from countries around the world:
- Minestrone—an Italian classic made from pasta, tomatoes, beans, and flavorful herbs.
- Dal—India’s most popular soup, featuring curried lentils or mung beans.
- Gazpacho—A Spanish favorite made from vegetables in a tomato broth. Notable because it’s served cold, which makes it the one soup you’d eagerly consume on a hot summer day.
- Borscht—the quintessential bright red beet-based Ukrainian soup. It may be served hot or cold.
- Hot and Sour Soup—While traditionally bird-hostile (contains both eggs and chicken stock), you can make a delicious vegan version of this Chinese soup with vegetable broth and tofu.
- Tom Kha Gia—A coconut-based soup from Thailand. Like dal, it’s often served over rice instead of poured into a bowl.
- Vegetable Soup—An American-style soup featuring coarsely-chopped vegetables served in a flavorful broth often made from tomatoes.
Neither canned soups nor soup cups can compare to the textures and flavors you’ll get by making soup from scratch, so let’s now cover the basics of how to make a delicious soup.
Tips on Cooking Delicious Vegan Soup
As we explore various methods of cooking soup, here are some things to bear in mind.
The most important thing to know about soup is that different vegetables require different cooking times. If your soup features potatoes and broccoli, you’ll probably add the broccoli florets only in the last few minutes. And if it also features spinach, you would add that just a minute or two before serving. So treat with suspicion any soup recipe that gives all its vegetables identical cooking times.
No matter what recipe or equipment you use, always be open to experiment. In most cases, you can play around with your soup’s ingredients with wild abandon and still get excellent results. So if you feel like adding some carrots or curry powder, have at it. Throwing in a tablespoon of a random spice mix will more than likely bring some new and welcome flavors. Each time you change things up, you’ll learn another lesson about what works best.
Just like you do when preparing salads, let your soups feature a variety of brightly-colored vegetables. You’ll thereby have a more visually appealing soup that will also contain a greater variety of nutrients. If you drizzle on a few drops of roasted sesame oil before serving, it’ll impart a delicious smoky taste.
Much of soup’s flavor comes boiling either bones or vegetables into a flavorful broth. Non-vegetarians commonly use meat-based bullion cubes in order to quickly achieve a rich broth. Luckily, vegans also have numerous options.
I highly recommend a German made-vegetable broth powder called Seitenbacher Vegetarian Vegetable Broth and Seasoning. A vegan friend recommended it to me years ago, and my mother is now hooked on it. You can buy it directly from Amazon.com at a good price. Steitenbacher’s product incorporates the delicious flavors of more than a dozen spices.
Nutrition and Salt
Most soups are based on veggies or beans, and are therefore super nutritious. Since virtually any vegetable is perfect in soup, you can load up your soups with your favorites. Any sort of winter squash or root vegetable is about the best thing going when it comes to both flavor and nutrition.
Unfortunately, soup does tend to be loaded with salt—often in shocking amounts—even though it rarely tastes particularly salty. For comparison’s sake, one can of Amy’s Minestrone soup contains two-and-a-half times more sodium than does two ounces of Kettle Chips’ Sea Salt & Vinegar potato chips.
This is not to argue that you should never eat soup; only that salt has a way of disappearing into it and that there’s no other commonly-eaten food that contains so much sodium per serving. If you eat soup on a near-daily basis, it’s wise to look into how much sodium you’re taking in. And if you suffer from high blood pressure you might decide to avoid soup entirely.
Now that we’ve gotten these cautionary statements about salt out of the way, let’s look at how easy it is to incorporate more delicious soups into your diet.
Recommended Vegan Soup Recipes & Cookbooks
Soup is one of the easiest foods for a beginner cook to prepare. If you can chop vegetables and boil water you can make a delicious soup. Now just pair it with a good crusty slice of bread and you’ve got an easy and satisfying meal.
You can find thousands of vegan soup recipes online, but I always caution people about using recipes from the Internet since there’s no barrier to publishing, and so many recipes are badly written or improperly tested. The best collection of vegan soup recipes I’ve found online is by Laura Wright, author of The First Mess cookbook. All of Laura’s recipes feature stunning photos.
Most vegan cookbooks devote an entire section devoted to soups. The tenth anniversary edition of Veganomicon features twenty soups, including most of the classics. That ought to be enough to keep you going for a while.
But if you’re a soup fanatic, or you live in a place with especially long winters, you might want a comprehensive exploration of the topic. If so, try any of these cookbooks:
- Awesome Vegan Soups, by Vanessa Croessmann
- Accidentally Vegan Italian Soups, by Giovanni Caruso
- Soups On, By Mark Reinfeld
Kitchenware for Making Soup
For hundreds of years, the only way to make soup was in a big blackened bubbling kettle. While you can still certainly cook your soup in a kettle, the job’s much more easily handled if you take advantage of modern equipment.
Instant Pots and Pressure Cookers
An Instant Pot is a multipurpose device that combines a pressure cooker with digital sensors. These devices can handle an incredible assortment of tasks, including:
- Cook vegetables in minutes and split peas in less than half an hour, just like a regular pressure cooker
- Cook rice
- Steam vegetables
- Slow-cook soups and stews
- Warm up refrigerated leftovers
- Make soy or coconut yogurt
You won’t need to babysit your Instant Pot for any of these tasks, since the onboard timer and heat sensors handle everything. Given their compact size and multiple functions, there’s no better use of limited counter space than an Instant Pot, and it’s hard to argue that any other kitchen appliance delivers greater value for the money.
Of all the things an Instant Pot does, it’s most useful when it comes to cooking beans, soups, and stews. That’s because in pressure cooker mode, it’ll cook your beans in a fraction of the time needed by a conventional kettle. And if you want to make a slow-cooked soup that simmers for hours, an Instant Pot will handle that task just as capably as a slow-cooker.
Note that Instant Pot is a trademark, and that numerous companies make comparably excellent devices with identical features. Generic versions of these appliances are called multi-cookers.
If you purchase an Instant Pot or a no-name multi-cooker, these cookbooks will interest you:
- The Complete Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook, by Barb Musick
- The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook, by Nisha Vora
- The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot, by Kathy Hester
Soups and stews account for a large portion of the recipes in each of these cookbooks.
You could also buy a regular stove-top pressure cooker instead of an Instant Pot. But I consider these products obsolete, since for just a little extra money you can buy an Instant Pot. I’m only mentioning them here for the sake of completeness, and also because you can might be able to find a used one at a thrift store for practically nothing. Just remember that any sort of pressure cooker heats compressed steam to dangerous temperatures, so make sure any used equipment you buy is in proper repair before use.
You can go old school and cook all your soups in a kettle, but slow-cookers do the job better and with less hassle. They’ll slow-simmer your soups and stews to perfection. And since slow-cookers are insulated and use stoneware, they’re much more energy efficient than cooking soup on a stove-top.
That said, an Instant Pot can function as a slow-cooker and so much more. So if you can afford an Instant Pot, buy one instead of a slow-cooker. However, if money is tight, slow-cookers sell for a fraction of the price of comparably-sized Instant Pots.
Choosing a Slow-Cooker that’s Right For You
Crock-Pots are the best-known brand of slow-cooker. Even though it’s a trademark, people often use the term Crock-Pot to refer to any slow-cooker. I’ve owned Crock-Pots and competing brands, and they’re all of comparable quality.
Slow-cookers come in all sizes, and many people buy a model that’s far bigger than what they actually need. If you are cooking for just one or two people, buy a slow-cooker with a capacity of just 1 to 1.5 quarts or liters. These units consume less energy, require less space, and are easier to clean.
No matter what type of slow-cooker you purchase, make sure it features removable stoneware. That’ll enable you to more easily and more thoroughly clean up after every batch. I also prefer a nice heavy glass lid to a cheap plastic lid, since I’m not a fan of scalding steam hitting plastic and than dribbling back down into my food.
Not only are slow-cookers incredibly useful, they are also among the cheapest kitchen appliances. Good units start at under $20. They can cook more than just soups and stews. If you have some extra time, they’re excellent for oatmeal and other hot cereals. They’re also ideal for reheating casseroles—just be sure to add a little water first.
No matter what method you use to prepare your soup, you may wish to pick up an immersion blender. You dip these into your pot of soup right before serving, to quickly blend some of the beans or vegetables. This makes your broth creamy rather than watery and dramatically increases its flavor. Cleanup takes just seconds.
There’s one final way to prepare soup that’s likely the healthiest method of all. With well over two horsepower, a Blendtec or Vitamix has ample power to liquefy any raw vegetable that’s combined with some water. This in turn liberates all the nutrients, rendering your soup almost perfectly digestible. These brands may look like ordinary blenders, but they bring a massive amount of power that enables them to do things that ordinary blenders can’t.
Blendtecs and Vitamixes are at least ten times more expensive than a low-end blender. But either of these appliances, if used regularly, can massively elevate the quality of your diet. When you buy one of these units, both companies pack in a recipe book that includes a variety of delicious ultra-blended vegan soup recipes.
Canned Soups and Soup Cups
Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods features an entire line of all-vegan soup cups—just add boiling water, stir, cover, and wait five minutes. McDougall soup cups are perfect for camping—there’s no easier way to warm up with a hot meal. Of course, any sort of soup cup product is no match for what you can cook up using fresh vegetables. It’s best to think of these brands as convenience foods for when you need something ready in just a few minutes.
Finally, for the cheapest instant soup option of all, your local natural foods store may carry dried vegan soup mixes in its bulk section.