Friday, August 23, 2013

Making a Vegetable Soup from Late Summer Bounty

Even if you don't eat Campbell's soups, it's hard to disagree with the company's longtime slogan, "Soup is good food."  I prefer making my own to opening a can. It's really so easy, economical and delicious that I don't understand why everyone doesn't do it. Even the extra time that goes into making it is a one-time effort, as the soup can last for days--even a week if you make enough. You can easily freeze portions of it for reheating later if you decide you're tired of having the same soup for lunch daily. You can also change the flavor profile after a few days, adding leftover roast chicken, pasta or roasted vegetables.

You can make the soup as simple as you want, with three or four ingredients, or throw in almost anything and everything that happens to be in your fridge (my favorite method!). When I make soup, I often recall "Stone Soup," the childhood tale about a dish that begins when travelers throw a large stone in a pot of water over a fire and solicit a little of this and a little of that from passers-by. In no time, the concoction turns into a delicious soup that feeds an entire village.

My soups are often vegetable-rich but low in fat and sodium, because at our house we're always trying to shed a few pounds and watching our salt intake. Sometimes I use a recipe for inspiration, but often I try to reconstruct a soup I remember from childhood, with embellishments.

The recipe below is a takeoff on a perennial Weight Watchers favorite of many  members--the famous Garden Vegetable Soup (here's a link to a close rendition of the original recipe from Dr. Oz). On the organization's current Points Plus plan, the soup has zero points, because it is almost entirely composed of vegetables. My version includes many of those vegetables, then adds a few optional ingredients that up the point count** just a little, but, I believe, improve the flavor a lot. Amounts are really variable. The more vegetables you have in proportion to broth, the thicker the soup will be. The beauty of the dish is you can add or subtract vegetables, vary the spices, the broth and the additions, and create an entirely different soup. (See my note on tinkering at the end.) Partly pureeing the soup leads to a thicker texture, which I like, but it may not be to everyone's taste. The resulting soup reminded me of a bowl of minestrone that I once enjoyed at Capp's Corner in San Francisco's North Beach.

Chopped veggies

Cooked veggies

Blended veggies

Summer Vegetable Soup

(Makes about 10 to 12 cups)


1 medium onion, diced
1 small leek or half a large one, chopped (mix of green and white)
1/2 large bell pepper (red, orange or yellow preferred)
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
1 small zucchini, diced,
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped (or 1 cup canned, or a combination)
2-3 large leaves Swiss chard, with stems, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh or frozen green beans
1 ear of corn, sliced from cob or 1/2 - 3/4 cup frozen corn*
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
8 cups low-salt chicken, vegetable or beef broth  
1 small potato, cooked and mashed*
1 bay leaf
1-2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped 
1-2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/2 Tbsp. fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed*
1 to 2 Tbsp. champagne, balsamic or other vinegar (or dill pickle juice)*
1/2 tsp. sugar or honey*
Parmesan cheese*

*Optional ingredients

Sauteing vegetables in my favorite cast-iron pan


Chop onion, leeks, pepper, carrots, celery and zucchini. Saute over low heat in pan coated with cooking spray, stirring frequently for 5 to 10 minutes until vegetables are just starting to soften. Heat broth on another burner with bay leaf. Add braised vegetables. Return pan to fire and add chopped chard, cilantro and parsley. Stir until chard is just slightly wilted. Add to soup pot, along with the corn and mashed potato (if using). Add basil, oregano, salt and pepper.

Cover and cook another 15 to 20 minutes until vegetables are almost done. Remove lid and let cool for about 10 minutes. Puree with immersion blender, making sure to leave some chunks, or, alternately, remove half of the soup and puree in blender or food processor, pulsing so as not to completely liquefy the soup. Return to the soup pot and reheat mixture on medium heat, adding green beans and garbanzos, if using. Stir in vinegar and sugar, if using (I find that these add a depth of taste that I like, but you could leave either or both out). Taste to see if additional salt or spices are needed. Heat until green beans are just tender. Add more broth if soup is too thick. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan and chopped cilantro.


  • Add 1 cup chopped cooked chicken or turkey.
  • Substitute 1 cup of chopped cabbage and 1 cup chopped spinach or kale for the chard.
  • Add a half cup of cooked brown rice or pasta to the soup at the end (in place of garbanzos or in addition).
  • Use black or pinto beans in place of garbanzos.
  • Increase the flavor of the soup by adding a Parmesan rind to the broth when you add the vegetables (but don't forget to remove if you're pureeing it).
  • Use tomato sauce, tomato paste or leftover meat sauce in place of chopped tomatoes.
  • Saute vegetables in a tablespoon or two of olive oil to add some healthy fat and flavor.
  • Add jalapenos, cayenne, a few tablespoons of mild or hot salsa, smoky paprika, cumin or other spicy additions to amp up the heat.

**Note: I can't vouch for the accuracy of my Weight Watchers point counts for this soup, as there is so much possible variation in the recipe. I would probably count 2 to 3 points per cup for the soup, with the addition of corn, garbanzos, potato and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

Buon appetito!