Holiday Soups

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

Soup as an appetizer or entrée is a winning menu item. Its appeal is universal. Soup can be easily prepared and is a welcome dish during the holidays.

All soups start with a good base, which is generally a stock. Make your own vegetarian stock, or use a commercial base. If using a commercial base or stock, read the label for quality ingredients and try to select lower-salt varieties. Salt does not contribute to the taste profile wanted from a flavorful soup and can toughen vegetables and legumes.

If preparing your own vegetable stock, make enough to freeze so that you have a steady supply. Build a vegetable stock with mirepoix, a chopped vegetable base. Try a mixture of 2 parts onions to one part celery and carrots, or 2 cups of onions, 1 cup of celery, 1 cup of carrots, and a sachet (a piece of cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter usually containing parsley stems, thyme, peppercorns, and a garlic clove). Use fresh or dried mushrooms, fresh fennel, parsnips, or tomatoes for flavoring. Additionally, white wine or vermouth can be used to enhance the flavor of the vegetables.

The basic thickener for soups and stocks is roux, which is made from equal parts fat and flour. Use vegan margarine or vegetable oil instead of butter or bacon fat and you have a vegan roux that can be used wherever a flour-based thickener is appropriate. Make a vegan béchamel sauce (a milk-based sauce thickened with roux and flavored with onion, whole clove, and bay leaf) with soymilk and vegetarian roux. This can be flavored to use as a sauce for vegan macaroni and 'cheese' or other vegan sauces or can be used as the base for a 'creamy' vegan soup (think 'cream' of broccoli, potato chowder, etc.). Make roux ahead of time and store in the refrigerator to be used when needed.

Soup Varieties

A basic chowder is a combination of mirepoix, roux, potatoes, and milk; anything goes after that. Use soymilk or puréed silken tofu for the milk and try potato, corn, lentil, bean, onion, or carrot chowder. Create an onion chowder with the usual base and add three or four different types of onion (think red, white, leek, scallion, or sweet) and diced red potatoes. 'Chowder' comes from 'Chaudière,' the name given to the thick stockpot that French fishermen used to create hearty soups. These soups cooked continuously for 3-4 days while the fishermen were out at sea and were meant to be a “meal in a pot.” Pair your potato and greens (use Swiss chard, collards, or spinach) or white bean and apple chowders with freshly-baked bread or bread sticks and a tossed green or fruit salad and you have a full meal.

Borscht is a beet-based Russian soup with many variations. Cook diced, peeled beets (they create their own broth) until soft and add lots of shredded cabbage, minced carrots and onions, and diced potatoes for a colorful soup.

French onion soup usually has a beef stock base. You can use a mushroom stock instead and add thin slices of grilled tofu instead of the traditional cheese. Or, just use seasoned vegan croutons and forget the cheese altogether.

Puréed tofu has a creamy, thick texture and a bland flavor, perfect for soups. If reconstituting canned soups that require milk, use half puréed tofu and half water instead of the required amount of milk. Make a fast 'cream' of broccoli with puréed tofu, a small amount of puréed cooked broccoli, and cut broccoli; season with white pepper and a bit of nutmeg. You'll have a vivid green soup that looks and tastes as if it was prepared with whole milk or cream. This can also be done with spinach, carrots, corn, and cauliflower. 'Creamy' tomato soup can be made with canned tomato soup, puréed tofu, water, and drained, canned chopped tomatoes.

Puréed root vegetables are also creamy in appearance. Cook carrots until soft enough to purée. Purée them with several peeled, cooked potatoes for a vibrant orange soup. This can be seasoned with granulated garlic, onion powder, and pepper or with mace and coriander. The same can be done with winter squash (butternut or turban), yams, and potatoes.

For a fast 'cream of' soup, purée some leftover broccoli and combine with vegan canned cream of broccoli (or cream of celery) soup and tofu. With a little stirring, you'll have a thick, “creamy” soup that won't separate.

Dried or canned beans make for easy-to-prepare vegetarian soups. Combine soaked, rinsed and drained beans or drained and rinsed canned beans with mirepoix, tomatoes, mushrooms, and seasonal vegetables. Allow to cook until beans are tender and the flavors combined. For a thicker appearance, purée a portion of the bean soup and add back to the pot, allowing it to heat. Puréed bean soups can be allowed to reduce or thickened with potato and used for a sauce over vegetables and pasta.

Vegetarian soups should be thickened to add texture and flavor. Mashed potato mix is actually easier to work with than flour or cornstarch and may have the extra added attraction of being fortified with vitamin C. Just be careful. If you add too much, you'll have soup the texture of mashed potatoes, so have a steady hand. Soy yogurt or soft tofu can be used as thickeners. They give a silky, full texture and the yogurt adds a pleasant tang. Puréed carrots and cooked, mashed sweet potatoes are also natural thickeners, perfect for wintry holiday soups.

Canned or frozen soups can form a base for hearty vegetarian soups. Add vegan mini-ravioli, tortellini, frozen vegan meatballs, or chunks of tofu as an extra ingredient, and top with shredded vegan cheese and shredded fresh spinach. Add extra beans and pasta to minestrone and vegetable soups. Purée extra portions of vegetables, such as carrots, celery, and mushrooms and add to vegetable, split pea, and bean soups.

Add cooked, diced potatoes and carrots to vegetable soups. For extra fiber, add cut corn, beans, and tomatoes to vegetable soups and chowders. Make a fast vegetable chowder by combining tomato soup with canned, chopped tomatoes, canned or frozen cut corn, cooked, diced potatoes, sliced mushrooms, and diced frozen or canned carrots. Thicken with tofu or vegan yogurt.

If you have a little more time, you can use canned, frozen, or from-scratch broths or stocks to create new soups. Add frozen or fresh snow peas, chopped green onions, or canned, sliced bamboo shoots and water chestnuts to create an Asian-influenced soup; season with low-sodium soy sauce and fresh or ground ginger. Garnish with canned or fresh soybean sprouts and pair with vegan spring rolls. Combine vegetable broth with frozen, chopped vegetables and rice to create a fast vegetable soup. For a creamier texture, allow the rice to cook right in the soup. Combine vegetable broth with tomato soup, add cooked beans and canned mushrooms, and flavor with basil and oregano for a fast, Mediterranean-flavored soup.

The holiday season is a great time for soup! Enjoy the recipes that follow!

Vegetable Stock

(Makes 2 quarts or 8 cups)

This stock can be made in large batches and frozen for future use. With this basic stock, you can quickly build an elegant soup. For example, you can quickly sauté a vegetable blend, add it to heated stock and serve with croutons. You can also serve a soup of stock combined with cooked pasta and garbanzos in the shell of a green or red bell pepper or a roasted butternut squash. Finally, you can heat stock and add sliced mushrooms and a dash of soy sauce or miso. Right before serving, add in fresh, cleaned spinach or bok choy leaves and fresh peas, defrosted peas, or edible peapods (also called snow peas). Stir quickly to allow greens to wilt and other ingredients to warm and serve.

  • 2 ½cups diced onions
  • 1 ¼ cups diced carrots
  • ¾ cup minced celery
  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 cup sliced fresh parsnips (substitute another ½cup carrots if parsnips are not available)
  • ½cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ¼ cups chopped leeks or green onions
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • ½cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons ground, dried thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • ¾ cup dry white wine or vermouth (optional) or ¾ cup cold water with 2 teaspoons white vinegar

Toss onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and parsnips with oil to coat. Place in a roasting pan and roast in a very hot oven (about 475 degrees) for 20 minutes, or until browned.

Place roasted veggies in a stockpot. Deglaze (get veggies and oil off the bottom of the pan) roasting pan with a small amount of hot water or wine. Add to stock pot.

Add leeks, tomatoes, garlic, and water and bring to boil. Reduce heat.

Add parsley, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and wine (or water-vinegar mixture) and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until desired flavor strength is achieved.

Strain, cool and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Notes: For a stronger flavor, stock can be allowed to reduce (to cook for a longer period of time until the volume is reduced) to concentrate flavors. Use stock as a base for soups, sauces, salad dressings, and for the liquid in cooked rice and grains, vegetables, and casseroles.

Calculated as 1 serving = 1 cup

Total calories per serving: 186 Fat: 14 grams
Carbohydrates: 15 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 32 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Mushroom Broth

(Makes 2 quarts or 8 cups)

Use this broth as a base for soups, sauces and gravies, and for the liquid in curries, stir-fries, and grains.

  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • ¾ cup or 6 Tablespoons dried mushrooms, reconstituted with 2 cups cold water (allow dried mushrooms to soak in cold water for about 30 minutes or until soft and then dis card soaking liquid)
  • ¼ cup peeled, sliced fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ¼ cups diced onions
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • ¾ cup diced celery
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 6 Tablespoons oil
  • 4 Tablespoons sodium-free tomato paste
  • 1 ½quarts (6 cups) water

Toss all ingredients except tomato paste and water with oil and place in a stockpot. Add tomato paste and water; stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 1 hour or until desired flavor strength is achieved. Strain, cool, and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Variation: If you have leftover mashed potatoes, you can create a 'cream of mushroom soup' by heating this mushroom broth and stirring in mashed potatoes until the desired thickness is achieved.

Calculated as 1 serving = 1 cup

Total calories per serving: 133 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 10 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 30 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Black and White Bean Soup

(Makes 2 ½ quarts or 10 cups)

  • 1 ½cups dried black beans
  • 1 cup dried white beans
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup diced onions
  • ¼ cup diced celery
  • ¼ cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) water or vegetable stock

Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight (or, for a quick method, wash beans, cover with boiling water, and let soak for one hour). Beans can be soaked together or separately.

In a stockpot, heat oil, then add onions, celery, and carrots and sauté (do not allow to brown). Add tomatoes, parsley, bay leaves, garlic, pepper, and thyme and stir to combine.

Drain and rinse beans and add to stock pot. Add water or stock and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat and allow soup to simmer until beans are very soft (about one hour).

For a creamier look, remove one pint of finished soup and purée in blender. Stir back into soup and heat through.

Notes: This soup gets even better the next day, so make a batch and freeze or make ahead to be served in one to two days. It will be a bit 'gray,' so you may want to garnish with thin slices of tomato, lemon, and chopped fresh parsley to liven up its appearance.

Variations: To make this into a chowder, add diced cooked potatoes, cut corn, and canned, drained chopped tomatoes. To create a 'pasta e fagioli' (pasta and beans) soup, add cooked pasta, such as small shells, orichiette, rotini, or ditalini and cooked red or white beans at the end of cooking.

Calculated as 1 serving = 1 cup

Total calories per serving: 200 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 33 grams Protein: 11 grams
Sodium: 11 milligrams Fiber: 8 grams

Spinach and Pasta Soup

(Serves 8)

  • 2 quarts (8 cups) mushroom or vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 cup canned, sodium-free diced tomatoes (with liquid)
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable juice
  • 4 cups cooked pasta (start with 2 cups uncooked pasta such as rotini or small shells)
  • 6 cups cleaned and stemmed fresh baby spinach or 2 cups thawed frozen, chopped spinach (if using frozen spinach, squeeze as much liquid out as possible)
  • 4 Tablespoons nutritional yeast or 1 cup vegan shredded mozzarella cheese

Place stock or broth, tomatoes, and vegetable juice in a large pot. Bring to a fast boil and then reduce to simmer. Stir in pasta and allow to heat for 3 minutes. Just prior to serving, bring soup up to a boil, reduce heat and quickly cook spinach by stirring until wilted (fresh spinach) or heated (frozen spinach). Ladle into bowls and top with nutritional yeast or vegan cheese.

Note: To 'fancy' this soup up, or to serve as a main course, rather than plain pasta add cooked vegan ravioli or other stuffed pasta and 2 cups cooked (drained) garbanzo beans (add the garbanzos and the pasta at the same time).

Total calories per serving: 241 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 30 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 74 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Holiday Chowder

(Makes 2 quarts or 8 servings)

This quick-and-easy soup takes only about 20 minutes to prepare!

  • 3 cups vegetable broth or stock
  • 2 cups silken tofu
  • 2 cups carrot juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped green bell pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped red bell pepper

Combine stock, tofu, juice, garlic, and soy sauce in a blender and blend until smooth. Add mixture to a large pot and gently heat, stirring, until mixture is hot, about 15 minutes. Right before serving, pour into serving bowls and garnish with red and green bell peppers.

Note: For a fancy presentation or as an entrée, serve in bread bowls.

Total calories per serving: 131 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 14 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 77 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Latke Soup

(Makes 2 quarts or 8 servings)

Although it does not have the “crunchiness” of potato latkes, this soup creates the flavor of these holiday treats (and takes a lot less time and oil to prepare)!

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 2 cups minced sweet onions
  • 3 cups prepared mashed potatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 8 apple slices

Spray a large skillet with oil and allow to heat. Sauté onions until they are caramelized, very soft, and very golden, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine cooked onions and mashed potatoes and set aside.

In a large pot, bring broth to a quick boil and reduce heat. Slowly add onion and potato mixture, stirring to create a smooth liquid. Stir in parsley and pepper. Allow to simmer until flavors are combined, about 30 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with apple slices.

Note: If you would like to garnish soup with crispy potato skins, you can bake potatoes, scoop out the potato for mashing, and re-bake the skins. Serve the potato skins as a side garnish for the soup. You may want to sauté extra onions and serve them inside the potato skins as a complex garnish.

Total calories per serving: 182 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 28 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 24 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, is The Vegetarian Resource Group's Food Service Advisor. She is the author of Vegan Meals for One or Two, Vegan in Volume, and other books.