In the dead of winter, could there possibly be a more satisfying food than a steaming bowl of vegan soup?
Soup is one of the world’s most popular foods. Virtually every cuisine offers 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, tomatos, beans, and flavorful herbs.
- Dal—India’s most popular soup, made from curried lentils or mung beans.
- Gazpacho—Made from vegetables in a tomato broth. Notable because it’s served cold.
- Borscht—the quintessential bright red beet-based Russian soup.
- Hot and Sour Soup—While traditionally bird-hostile (contains both eggs and chicken stock), a delicious vegan version can be made with vegetable broth and tofu.
- Tom Kha Gia—A coconut-based soup from Thailand. Like dal, it’s often served over rice rather than eaten from a bowl.
- Vegetable Soup—An American-style soup featuring coarsely-chopped vegetables served in a flavorful broth.
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 Great Soup
As we explore various methods of cooking soup, here are some things to bear in mind as you read onward.
Perhaps the most important things 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 only in the last 20 minutes. And if it also features spinach, you would add that just a minute or two before serving. So be suspicious of any soup recipe that gives all its vegetables identical cooking times.
No matter what recipe or equipment you are using, 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 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 the flavor in soup comes boiling either bones or vegetables into a flavorful broth. Non-vegetarians often 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 the stuff directly from Amazon.com at a good price. Steitenbacher’s product carries a delicious flavor of more than a dozen of spices.
If you’re instead seeking a chicken broth flavor, consider Orrington Farms All Natural Vegan Broth Base & Seasoning. That too is carried by Amazon.com.
Nutrition and Salt
Most soups are loaded with 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 has two-and-a-half times more sodium than 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 has so much sodium per serving. If you eat soup on a near-daily basis it’s wise to be conscious of how much sodium you’re taking in. And if you suffer from high blood pressure you might decide it’s wise to avoid soup entirely.
Now that we’ve gotten our 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 Cookbooks
Soups 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.
Most vegan cookbooks contain an entire section devoted entirely 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, perhaps you want a cookbook devoted entirely to vegan soups. If so, try either of these:
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, you can do the job faster and more conveniently if you take advantage of modern equipment.
An Instant Pot is an electronic multipurpose device that combines a pressure cooker with digital sensors. Their Instant Pots can handle an incredible assortment of tasks, including:
- Cook in vegetables in minutes and beans in less than a half 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 unit 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 counterspace than an Instant Pot, and it’s hard to imagine a kitchen appliance that delivers more 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.
If you purchase an Instant Pot or one of its no-name competitors, 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 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 vastly 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. If money is tight, however, go with a slow-cooker, as they sell for a fraction of the price of a comparably-sized Instant Pot.
Choosing a Slow Cooker that’s Right For You
Crock-Pots are one of the most popular brands of slow-cooker. Even though it’s a trademark, many people use the term Crock-Pot to refer to any brand of slow-cooker. I’ve owned Crock-Pots and competing brands, and they’re all of comparable quality.
Slow cookers come in all sizes, and people often buy a model that’s much bigger than what the need. If you are cooking for just one or two people, seek out a slow-cooker with a capacity of just 1 to 1.5 quarts or liters. These units are better for small batches, 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 you can buy—good units start at under $20. You can use a slow cooker for more than soups and stews. If you have some extra time, they’re excellent for oatmeal and other hot cereals. They’re also great for reheating casseroles—just be sure to add a little water first.
Years ago, I’d have said a pressure cooker was a must-have for anyone who frequently makes soups and beans. But today, I don’t know why you’d get one when for just a little extra money you could buy an Instant Pot. So I’m really only mentioning pressure cookers here for the sake of completeness, and also because you can perhaps find a used one at a thrift store for practically nothing. Just remember that a pressure cooker involves steam heated to dangerous temperatures, so make sure your equipment is in proper repair before use.
There’s one final way to prepare soup that’s likely healthier than any other method. With well over two horsepower, a Blendtec or Vitamix has more than enough of power to liquify any vegetable that’s combined with a little 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 enable 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. Both companies pack in a recipe book with their blenders which prominently features a variety of delicious ultra-blended vegan soup recipes.
There’s one last cooking tool worthy of consideration for your soup making—an immersion blender. You dip these into your hot kettle of soup right before serving and blend some of the beans or vegetables. This makes your broth creamy rather than watery and dramatically increases its flavor.
Canned Soups and Soup Cups
There is a wide assortment of canned vegan soups on the market. You can also buy vegan soup cups, and your local natural foods store will carry dried soup mixes in their bulk section.
Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods offers 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. It’s probably best to think of these as convenience foods for when you need something in just a few minutes.