Do you love to cook soup? If so, you might be a genius, at least according to someone who should know. Abraham Maslow, architect of the famous “Hierarchy of Needs,” once said that “a first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.” And vegan soups get to be especially creative, as we experiment and discover how to swap out meat stocks and creams — and to add plant-based texture, flavor, and creamy yumminess to the soups we make.
Whether you’re a dedicated vegan, curious, or just someone who likes to explore new tastes and cuisines, you can find much to love in vegan soup-land.
Of course, many of the world’s great soups are already vegan or vegan-friendly. Italian minestrone, Indian dal, Canadian split pea, and Japanese miso can all be easily made without the use of animal products. A few simple substitutions will produce vegan soups that are indistinguishable, or actually tastier, than their meat-based counterparts.
My goal in this article isn’t actually to share anything earth-shakingly new. Instead, I’d like to remind you of what you already know: soup is awesome. Especially plant-based soup! And you probably would be happier and healthier if you had more of them.
Soup and Weather
Soups are delicious any time of year, but many of them have a special place in our hearts when it’s cold out. Something about the steam rising from our place settings, the way our hands can cradle a bowl or cup, and the chunky, grounding root vegetables that often appear in winter soups. They all combine to warm us up, body and soul.
And some tasty soups can also serve to cool us down in the summer thanks to spicy ingredients that open up our pores and encourage sweating.
Not all soups are served hot, of course. Gazpacho and borscht are two famous examples of soups served cold. Sometimes a cold soup is as simple as blending ripe fruit with some water and adding spices and chunks of other stuff. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than, say, a chilled watermelon soup. You can even save on washing up by using the rind as a serving dish.
Versatile Vegan Soups
While pancakes are morning food, and sandwiches are typically lunch fair, soups are appropriate any time of day — for any meal. You can reheat a veggie or bean soup in the office microwave for a filling and nutritious lunch. Or start a soup in the slow cooker or electric pressure cooker in the morning and come home to a fragrant kitchen and hearty dinner after work. You can even eat soup for breakfast, as Japanese miso soup, Chinese congee, and Vietnamese pho all demonstrate.
A filling soup can be a meal all by itself. Think of pasta e fagioli, an Italian peasant soup meaning “pasta and beans,” which contains lots of veggies and herbs in addition to the very satisfying pasta and beans themselves. Or take a thick bowl of pea soup and add a chunk of organic peasant bread and a side salad, and you have a hearty meal.
Soup can also be an appetizer or side dish as part of a larger meal. Tomato soup, corn chowder, and creamy squash soup are all lighter soups than can impart flavor and variety to start a multi-course meal off on a warm and satisfying note.
Many soups are naturally vegan or plant-based, but it’s also really easy to swap in beans or lentils in soups that traditionally feature meat. Since soup traditionally cooked over low heat for hours and used up the lowest quality cuts of meat that weren’t ideal as main courses, the main purpose of the meat in many soups was for flavor rather than texture. You can approximate the body of a meat soup by varying how long you cook the legumes. You can cook black beans, so they maintain their individuality in a Mexican bean and sweet potato soup. Or cook them much longer for a creamy, Cuban black bean soup.
If you or your dining companions will really miss chunks of sausage in your minestrone or pasta e fagioli, you can always toss in some vegan sausage. The nice thing about having these plant-based meat analogs in soup is that you don’t need a lot; even two or three bites of Field Roast or Beyond Sausage per bowl will provide the mouthfeel and flavor that you might be looking for.
Using Veggie Stock Instead of Meat for Flavor
You can buy bouillon cubes, powder, or paste to impart the same hearty and umami flavor that meat stock provides. However, you’ll want to check the ingredients carefully to avoid excess sodium and hydrogenated oils. It’s actually very easy to make your own DIY bouillon from common spices and some nutritional yeast and powdered mushrooms. And you can also cook up soup stock from vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, mushroom, spinach, leeks, and any herbs you like. To save money, use kitchen scraps like the tops of carrots, onion peels, and the ends of celery. You can freeze the scraps as you generate them and then pull them to cook with when you’ve collected enough.
Here’s a primer on oil-free, vegan soup stock from Simple Vegan Blog. And for oil- and salt-free vegan bouillon that you can freeze in ice cube trays and pull out whenever you want to jumpstart a soup, check out this recipe courtesy of Plant Based Instant Pot.
The Light and Heavy of Soup
Soups can be light or heavy. A light soup can be an easy and pleasant way to hydrate. If you’re looking to get your water in, focus on soups in the form of broths. These are mostly clear, with the water flavored by veggies, herbs, and spices.
Soups can also be so heavy that your spoon stands straight up in it — a feat apparently easier to accomplish than getting a broom to stand up all by itself. You can make your soup thicker by cooking it long enough to evaporate some water, by pureeing grains and starchy vegetables, or by using legumes such as lentils that naturally thicken as they cook and cool.
The Benefits of Eating Soup
There are more good reasons to include soup in your diet than you can shake a ladle at. First, hot soups warm you up and give you that nice, cozy feeling. Many of us have happy childhood memories of a family member demonstrating their love for us through soup.
1. Fight the Common Cold
Especially when you’re sick, soups can be wonderful sources of nourishment. They’re a great way to get lots of nutrients when you don’t feel like eating all that much. All that water helps to hydrate you almost without your noticing. And the steam and heat can relieve sore throats and decongest clogged sinuses and nasal passages. Add a little grated ginger to the soup to boost its nose-clearing power.
2. Get Your Veggies In
Soups are also a great way to get your veggies. For veggie-phobes, soup can be an elegant and tasty way to hide carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, beans, lentils, and whole grains. Many folks who “don’t like” vegetables, enjoy consuming them in this stealth manner.
3. Easy to Make
You don’t have to be an amazing chef to make amazing soup. Soups are among the most flexible and forgiving of meals. Unlike baking a bread or a casserole, which you can’t really mess with once you’ve stuck it in the oven, you can keep tasting soup and adding ingredients until you get something you like. They’re easy to make and can be very filling without costing a lot of money.
4. May Aid Weight Loss
Soups can also be helpful with weight loss. Because of all their water content, they can fill you up without necessarily providing a lot of calories. Unlike smoothies, which are less filling than eating the smoothie ingredients whole and therefore can cause you to overconsume, soups are actually more filling than if you just ate the ingredients not in soup form. The critical factor appears to be the fact that soups are generally hot, and therefore, we take our time to eat them. That gives our bodies time to send “I’m full” signals to the brain before too much food has gone down the hatch.
5. High in Nutrients
Soups can be extremely high in nutrients, depending on what ingredients you add. Greens, veggies, herbs, and spices can pack a nutritional punch in quantities that would be hard to consume in their raw or simply cooked form.
6. Use Up Produce
Also, soup can be the last stop on the produce train for veggies that have, not to put too fine a point on it, seen better days. Humans have been stretching their produce through soup for millennia. (Soup, archeologists suspect, was invented at least 20,000 years ago, soon after the invention of waterproof and fireproof cookware. Unfortunately, it probably took a couple thousand more years to invent the spoon.)
Droopy carrots and celery, older potatoes, wrinkly bell peppers, and wilted greens can revive in soup like nothing was ever amiss. As Russ Cooper wrote in MAD magazine, “Soup is food’s last chance to be eaten.”
11 Vegan Soup Recipes to Warm You from the Inside Out
Perfect Red Lentil Soup by Detoxinista
Red lentils are just about the quickest-cooking lentils out there. And they absorb way more water than you’d think they would. In this recipe, a single cup of lentils makes six servings. This is a nicely balanced plant-based soup, with the heat and spice from cumin and cayenne pepper countering the creaminess of the coconut milk. And lots of vegetables contribute to the overall yumminess and healthiness of this wonderful soup.
Vegan Potato Leek Soup by I Love Vegan
Take a virtual trip to the British Isles as you prepare and enjoy this creamy, delicious, and earthy, cold-weather soup. Traditional potato and leek soups employ dairy cream. But his version gets its buttery vibe from coconut cream and miso paste. Since leeks may be a seasonal item where you live, grab a bunch of them for this soup when they appear in your produce section.
1-Pot Vegan Minestrone by Minimalist Baker
Nothing says fall like ripe, late-summer vegetables begging to be eaten before they spoil. And nothing does the trick like a giant pot of minestrone. This version is vegan and gluten-free, thanks to the addition of gluten-free pasta and only includes classic white or garbanzo beans without the addition of meat. The rich flavor and color of tomatoes dominate but plays very well with basil and oregano, and the supporting cast of whatever other veggies are at hand.
Collard Green Miso Soup by Sweet Potato Soul
East meets South in this ingenious twist on traditional miso soup, courtesy of Jenné of Sweet Potato Soul. The usual ingredients in miso soup — the scallions, ginger, tofu, miso, and soy sauce — are very welcoming of the collard greens in place of seaweed. And given the simplicity of this recipe, you can go from inspiration to hot and steaming in about 30 minutes.
Instant Pot Vegan Split Pea Soup by Veggie Inspired
If soup were a baseball league, then its Lou Gehrig would probably be split pea. Steady, traditional, and dependable, split pea soup has been providing energy, comfort, and joy since Socrates’ time. Most European versions include smoked meat, but we don’t need to go that route when we follow this recipe. We can get all the smoky flavor without the health risks by using liquid smoke and smoked paprika.
Coconut Ginger Carrot Soup by Running on Real Food
This warm and nourishing soup represents the pureé category. After the onion, garlic, ginger, and carrots are sauteéd until soft, they’re blended with water and coconut milk to provide an eye-catching orange that just screams, “Yes, you can have seconds!”
Chickpea Noodle Soup by Cookie and Kate
The Babe Ruth of soup is probably chicken noodle. It’s got so much history and culture behind it, not to mention an almost mythical hold on many people who grew up eating it. Luckily, Cookie and Kate created a soup that is as kind to animals as it is delicious, and with a name that pays homage to the original as well. The trick to a palate- and eye-pleasing meatless version may surprise you: curry powder and turmeric.
Easy Tomato Basil Soup by A Virtual Vegan
If you grew up on Campbell’s tomato soup from a can, there just might be some portion of your soul that waxes nostalgic for a bowl of steaming red goodness. A Virtual Vegan delivers with this soup that is, by virtue of being homemade and using fresh tomatoes, way better than the version you remember with such fondness. And if you want to pair it with a vegan melted cheese sandwich, no one will blame you.
Vegan Borscht by My Darling Vegan
Borscht is the dark horse surprise of the soup world. A lot of people turn up their nose when they discover the core ingredients in borscht: beets, caraway seeds, and cabbage. It’s quite pungent and often served cold. “No, thanks,” they say. Until they try it and become believers on the spot. This vegan version is meant to be enjoyed warm, and simply relies on the goodness of the veggies, apple cider vinegar, herbs, and spices to take the place of the traditional chicken stock.
Weeknight Tortilla Soup by Delish Knowledge
This innovative soup turns the traditional tortilla meal inside out. Instead of veggies in a tortilla, this one does it the other way: strips of tortilla floating on a Mexican vegetable soup. It’s a weeknight plant-based soup because it’s so quick and easy to make. Dice an onion, chop a few more veggies, and if you like, do the rest with cans: tomato, corn, and bean. Top it off with some avocado, lime, and cilantro for a luscious-looking and tasting soup that will have your family cheering for more.
Vegan Corn Chowder by Nora Cooks
The secret of this dairy-free chowder is a creamy combo of cashews and potatoes. The corn kernels can be fresh, canned, or frozen, so you can enjoy this New England staple all year round (and wherever you live.) If you’re allergic to nuts, you can leave out the cashews and let the potatoes do all the creamy lifting.
Give Us Our Daily Soup
Soup is one of the greatest gifts bequeathed to us by our ancestors, holding its own right up there with fire, stick figure drawing, and the phrase “Yabba Dabba Doo.” A good pot of soup is practically alchemical, transforming singular and ordinary ingredients into a new thing entirely. Soup has saved many items of produce from the compost or garbage bin and allows us to nourish our families and communities inexpensively and lavishly. And now that the modern era of plant-based innovation has blossomed, soups are being reinvented yet again to be healthier and more delicious than ever.
Tell us in the comments:
- What are your favorite plant-based soups?
- When and how do you like to eat soup?
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