If a pot of homemade soup brings to mind a big kettle of many ingredients simmering for hours, think again. There’s an easy formula for preparing vegetable soups that requires only a few ingredients and minimal cooking time, yet yields the same rich comfort that soup is intended to provide. You need about a pound of fresh vegetables, three cups of water and a blender or a food processor (though a potato masher can be pressed into service). The result will be two generous portions of velvety warmth or four more modest servings.
Adding personality is up to you. The basic soup can be enriched by replacing the water with stock, adding heavy cream or coconut milk, or stirring in some olive oil, basil oil or a nut oil. Lightly sautéed ginger, chiles, onion, garlic or shallots can be puréed with the vegetables. The soup can be dressed with a dollop of Greek yogurt, fresh goat cheese, pesto or chili crisp; you can add a scattering of croutons, capers, chives or other minced herbs, some grated cheese, diced avocado, scallions, toasted almonds or pine nuts, sieved hard-boiled egg yolk or crumbled bacon just before serving.
The following is the template for a basic soup, done with carrots and ginger, and suggestions for some other combinations. Though fresh vegetables are the backbone of most of these soups, some canned items, notably black or cannellini beans and San Marzano tomatoes, also work well (consider drafting leftover cooked vegetables). For most of the soups, a splash of acid — lemon juice or a few drops of vinegar — is essential for brightening the flavor.
Basic Vegetable Soup: Carrot-Ginger
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 pound carrots (about 8), peeled, trimmed, cut in chunks
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon finely minced carrot tops or other herbs, optional
1. Heat oil on medium in a 3-quart saucepan. Add ginger and sauté a few minutes, until softened. Stir in carrots. Add 3 cups water.
2. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a lively simmer and cook until carrots are very tender when pierced with a knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add 3 to 4 ice cubes to hasten cooling.
3. Purée in a blender or a food processor. Return to saucepan and bring to a simmer. Adjust consistency if desired by adding water or by simmering for longer to thicken it. Add lemon juice and season to taste with salt. Spoon into warm bowls or shallow soup plates, strew some herbs in the center of the bowl and serve.
Other soup combinations:
Asparagus: If stalks are thick, peel them. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Consider adding a poached egg to each serving.
Broccoli or broccolini: Use stalks and florets. Season with chile flakes, smooth with coconut milk, spark with rice vinegar and reserve a few tiny florets for garnish.
Cauliflower velouté: You’ll need a whole head, well-trimmed and cut up. Add some half-and-half or heavy cream, and scatter capers, pistachios or sliced, toasted almonds on top.
Creamy tomato: Simmer canned tomatoes with garlic, then go mellow with cream or spicy with chiles or sriracha.
Lentil and sausage: Start with two-thirds cup of raw lentils; they’ll cook in about 30 minutes. Then add more water and sautéed sausage. Or start with two cups of leftover cooked lentils. A splash of red wine would be nice.
Potato-leek: This is a classic. You may want to add some cream and float some minced chives or salmon caviar, or both, on the surface.
Sunchoke and potato: Earthier than potato-leek, this variety demands garlic in the base and Greek yogurt on top.
Watercress: Use the entire bunch, stems and all, then add cream. Reserve a few little sprigs for garnish to drop onto the finished soup. This one is superb cold.
White or black bean: A 14- to 16-ounce can of beans, rinsed, can simmer briefly in water with seasonings like garlic, chiles or onion before hitting your machine. Bits of something porky complement the white beans, and crumbled corn chips can dress the black.