Warming and nourishing, vegetable soup is just the ticket for cold, dark days. Expand your soup repertoire with these delicious and inventive recipes by Alice Zaslavsky.
When we think of soul-soothing, mood-lifting meals, vegetable soup may not immediately spring to mind. Lasagne, perhaps; roast chicken, definitely. If the day has been a total write-off, a generous slice of cheesecake might not go amiss, either. But while vegetable soup doesn’t sound especially inspiring, a bowl of hearty, homemade goodness can be exactly what we need when the world seems grey.
Admittedly, like most familiar meals, vegetable soup can get a bit tired when you revert to the same old ingredients and methods. But contrary to popular perception, it doesn’t have to be a bowlful of blah: with the right flavours, it’s more than capable of holding its own as a main course. It’s also an easy way to get your five a day – and if you make a vat of the stuff, you’ll have lunch sorted for days to come, too. What’s not to love?
Filled with more than 150 vegetarian recipes and cooking tips from 50 of the world’s top chefs, Alice Zaslavsky’s forthcoming cookbook In Praise of Veg (£25, Murdoch Books, out 12 November) will convert anyone sceptical about whether vegetable soup can really be exciting. The stylish book is billed as the definitive guide to making vegetables the centre of any meal – and below, Zaslavsky shares three inventive soup recipes that do just that.
Looking for a familiar soup recipe with a twist? Zaslavsky’s blonde minestrone with white pepper is a tasty tomato-free take on the Italian classic. Her light and flavourful miso soup with bok choy, potato and radish, meanwhile, makes use of Japanese ingredients such as kombu and dashi, and can be customised depending on how much time you have to spend at the stove.
Finally, for something both aesthetically pleasing and delicious, Zaslavsky’s Spanish-inspired one-pan romesco soup is a rich, jewel-toned dish that will look as beautiful on Instagram as it does on your table. Crusty bread at the ready…
Blonde minestrone with white pepper
Alice says: “Cavolo nero is to my mind far easier to work with than the frilly conventional kales. This soup is fairly set-and-forget, once you get past the chopping bit. And if you make it after a particularly frustrating work day, the chop-chop is about as meditative as a session of kickboxing, really. The minestrone also gets better with a day or two in the fridge, as the flavours all get to know each other better.
“Unlike the traditional red minestrone with pasta, the heroes here (aside from the cavolo nero) are the parmesan rinds and butter, which give everything a golden, glossy glow. Even if you’re on your lonesome, make up a full batch and take a flask of it to work every day, slurp away, and you might find that suddenly nothing seems as frustrating as it once did.”
- 50g butter (or olive oil)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2–3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, about 500g, diced, fronds reserved
- 3 celery stalks, sliced
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 bunch of cavolo nero, about 500g, leaves torn off and finely shredded, thinner stalks finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- ½ teaspoon celery seeds
- 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
- 2 litres vegetable or chicken stock
- 400g tin cannellini beans
- parmesan rinds (optional)
- lemon juice, to taste
- grated parmesan, to serve (optional)
Melt the butter in a large soup pot, then sweat the onion, garlic, fennel, celery, carrot, cavolo nero stalks, white pepper and celery seeds with the lid on the pot, until the vegetables have softened – this should take about 12 minutes.
Add the potato, stock, cannellini beans and parmesan rinds, if using. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potato is fork-tender.
Take the pot off the heat, stir in the shredded cavolo nero leaves, season to taste with salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper, then squeeze in some lemon juice to finish.
Garnish with a final twist or two of cracked black pepper and some grated parmesan, if you like.
Tip: If you’re after more parmesan rind than you have at your disposal, ask your local deli or cheese shop if they have any handy. You might find yourself the proud owner of a bunch of ready-rinds – a total win-win!
Dairy-free: I’ve given the option of using olive oil instead of butter. Pop in a few sliced brown mushrooms to up the umami factor, and sprinkle nutritional yeast flakes on top instead of the crumbled parmesan.
Miso soup with bok choy, potato and radish
Alice says: “Here you’ve got three options: a long-ways broth that gives kombu an overnight soaking and treats every ingredient with care and attention in a way only Japanese cooking can; a medium-ways version that is a bit like an ‘assemble your own’ meal kit; and a short-ways packet version that you can access by skipping straight to the shortcut at the end of the recipe.
“That’s because the hero here isn’t the broth – it’s the bok choy, its leaves softened without falling to pieces by staying poolside most of the time, just before taking a final dip in hot broth, while the stems cook away until they’re tender enough to bite through, but are still bright with flavour.”
- 2–3 potatoes (not too big!), peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 30g bonito flakes
- 2–3 dried shiitake mushrooms (optional)
- 2 bunches of baby bok choy
- 12 small radishes, left whole, or baby turnips, quartered
- 3–4 tablespoons red miso paste (or powdered equivalent)
- 1 spring onion, finely sliced into rings
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
For the long-ways dashi broth:
- 2g kombu (2–3 sheets, depending on the brand; see tip)
- 2 litres filtered water
For the medium-ways dashi broth:
- 2 litres filtered water
- 1 teaspoon dashi powder
If making the long-ways dashi broth, gently brush the kombu sheets with a very mildly dampened cloth, just to shoo off any grit (too much water or friction will wipe off the umami flavour you’re going for). Pop the kombu in an airtight container, pour in your filtered water and leave to soak for at least 4 hours; real diehards leave it overnight.
When ready to cook, warm the kombu water in a large saucepan over medium heat, removing the kombu just before the water comes to the boil.
If making the medium-ways dashi broth, bring the filtered water to a gentle boil and mix in the dashi powder.
Pop the potato, bonito flakes and dried shiitake, if using, into the saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potato is almost fork-tender.
Meanwhile, slice the bok choy vertically into quarters or sixths; you want to be able to fish them out of your bowl and eat with company without making too much of a mess. Soak in a big bowl of water until needed.
Plop the radish into the broth. Shake the bok choy dry, then arrange them in the saucepan so that the ‘soup spoon’ leaves hang over the rim of the pan and the stalk ends simmer away in the liquid. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the midpoint of the stalk turns a bit translucent. Now tuck the leaves into the broth and remove from the heat.
Ladle 250ml of the soup broth into a small heatproof bowl, then mix in the miso paste until dissolved. Pour the mixture back into the pot and sprinkle in the spring onion. Taste for seasoning.
Arrange the vegetables in the bottom of your serving bowls, ladle the soup over and finish with a drop or two of sesame oil.
Tip: You’ll find kombu at Asian grocers and health food shops, or you can order some good ones online.
Shortcut: Miso soup is such an easy ‘just add hot water’ lunch; simply follow the packet instructions. Go miso soup paste over powder – it’s fresher, and often ‘purer’.
One pan romesco soup
Alice says: “Hailing from Catalonia, romesco is traditionally a vivid red sauce served alongside fish. Considering the hero ingredients, tomatoes and peppers, were both introduced to the region by merchants and sailors returning from the Americas, this would once have been quite a decadent dish.
“It can be as much of a soup as a sauce, with the simple addition of some extra stock, a little crispy crouton action and an entirely incongruous but delicious ball of burrata – a fresh Italian mozzarella-style cheese that should have no place here, but totally works.”
- 4 red peppers, quartered, seeds removed
- 1 garlic clove, bruised
- 250g cherry tomatoes, on the vine
- 400g tinned whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus extra to serve
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 500ml vegetable stock (see tip)
- 125ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 65g slivered almonds
- 4 small balls of burrata (optional)
For the garlicky croutons:
- 350g sourdough bread, cut into croutons
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 50g unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
In a large casserole dish or roasting tin, combine the peppers, garlic and all the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the paprika and cayenne pepper. Pour in the stock, olive oil and vinegar, scatter with the almonds and give it all a stir.
Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until all the ingredients are softened. Remove the lid or foil, and increase the oven temperature to 210°C. Bake for a further 15–20 minutes, or until the almonds are slightly toasted.
Meanwhile, for the garlicky croutons, pop all the ingredients in a bowl and mix to coat evenly. Transfer to a baking tray and roast near the top of the oven for the last 15 minutes of baking. Remove from the oven and stand until required.
In quarter batches, transfer the contents of your roasting vessel to a blender and whiz until smooth, transferring each batch to a soup pot. (Alternatively, transfer the whole lot to a soup pot and purée with a stick blender.)
Bring the soup to a simmer and season to taste. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of paprika and scatter the croutons over. If using the burrata, add one ball to each bowl and use a knife to pierce the skin to let the cheesy goodness escape into the soup. Serve immediately.
Tip: This soup also makes for a killer chicken parmigiana sauce – it’s pretty thick already, so there’s no need to reduce it down, either.
From In Praise of Veg: A Modern Kitchen Companion by Alice Zaslavsky (£25, Murdoch Books), out 12 November 2020. Pre-order here
Photography: Ben Dearnley