Pureed Vegetable Soups

Making soup from scratch can seem like a special-occasion project, but you don’t have to wait until your neighbor gets the flu to do it. Pureed vegetable soups are an especially great way to use up extra produce, even broccoli or carrots that look like they have had their day. Once you learn a few simple steps, you can use the same approach for almost any type of vegetable soup.

The three main components of a pureed vegetable soup are the:

  • Main ingredient, such as butternut squash, potatoes, carrots, peas, or asparagus
  • Mirepoix, which is the French term for a fine dice of flavorful vegetables, usually onion, carrots and celery, that form the base of the soup
  • Broth

First, plan how you are going to cook the main ingredient. If it’s a long-cooking food, such as winter squash, I prefer to cook it separately and then add it to the soup later. For example, I like to halve butternut squash, remove the seeds, and then roast it on an oiled baking pan at 400 degrees F. until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, then scoop out the flesh. (Don't let the prospect of cutting squash in half deter you—simply cook the squash whole. Before placing whole squash in the oven, be sure to pierce the skin with a fork or knife to allow the steam to escape.) Tender vegetables like asparagus or peas can cook in the soup. But no matter what your main vegetable is, be sure to cook it until completely tender for a smooth, velvety soup.

To start a soup, I usually pour enough oil to cover the bottom of a sturdy stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. I then add onions, carrots and celery chopped into 1/4 inch dice and cook, stirring often, until tender but not browned, about 12 minutes. Make sure the mirepoix is chopped fine so it cooks quickly and thoroughly—you don’t want any crunch in this type of soup. You can also stir in spices, chopped garlic, or fresh herbs as you cook the mirepoix.

Now it’s time to add the main ingredient. For raw vegetables like broccoli, trim any tough ends and chop  into even pieces about ½ inch in size. Cover with enough low-sodium stock or broth—about 2 inches of broth above the vegetables—so that the vegetable has room to move in the pot but isn’t drowning in liquid. You’ll need 1 to 2 quarts for most soups; just add water if you need more liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetable is thoroughly cooked or, with pre-cooked vegetables, has had the chance to pick up the flavors in the soup (anywhere from 5 minutes for peas to over 20 minutes for potatoes).

When the vegetable is tender—not al dente!—season the broth well with salt and pepper. Allow to cool slightly, then puree the soup until smooth, using a blender or an immersion blender. Taste again and add more salt and pepper, if needed, or flavor boosters like fresh lemon juice, chopped fresh parsley or chives, a dash of soy sauce, or a hit of cayenne pepper.

Reheat the soup, if necessary, and serve with a dollop of cream, sour cream, or plain yogurt. Next time you have an abundance of vegetables, a delicious pureed vegetable soup may just hit the spot.