How to make the perfect vegetable soup and the common mistakes to avoid

And Darina Allen's foolproof hack to delicious soup, every time
How to make the perfect vegetable soup and the common mistakes to avoid

Once you've mastered the technique, you can look forward to the best soup, every time. Picture: Bríd O'Donovan.

Prep like a chef

Gather your vegetables and wash them before chopping them into uniform sizes. They don't have to be perfect little squares, but they should all be cut into chunks that are as equal as you can slice. That will ensure that all of your vegetables will be cooked at the same time. 

Get all sweaty

Heat your saucepan up on the highest heat and add oil or butter and then your vegetables. Immediately, turn the heat down to low, turn the vegetables in the fat with a spoon and clamp on a tight-fitting lid. This will begin the sweating process, which is the key to a delicious soup. Sweat the vegetables for five to seven minutes, until they are softened, and glistening. 

Use the right liquid

Homemade stock is not essential here. Lots of us do not have the time. For a vegetable soup, choose a good organic vegetable stock cube or a few spoonfuls of vegetable stock boullion. If you have homemade chicken stock in the freezer, by all means, go ahead - your soup will be delicious either way. 

Season, but not too early 

When seasoning your soup with salt and pepper, it's important to season well. However, if you salt the vegetables at the very beginning, you might end up with overly salted soup. Best to salt at the very end - little by little - tasting all the time. 

Simmer don't boil

A rolling boil is fine for pasta but not for soup. Cook at a gentle simmer, where lazy bubbles break the surface rather than a hard boil. This will guarantee that the flavours from your vegetables are released slowly and gently, resulting in the best soup. 

Think about your ingredients and when to add them

Some vegetables should be added at different times for maximum flavour. A basic rule is that vegetables that grow beneath the ground (potatoes, carrots, onions) should be cooked first and ones that grow on top (spinach, broccoli, kale), at the end. 

If you are blending, whizz for longer than you think

For super-smooth soup, blend for longer than you think. When you think it has reached optimum consistency, whizz for another two to four minutes and watch your soup emulsify into velvety deliciousness. 

Don't forget the toppings

Soup is great, but toppings make it epic. Toast some stale sourdough and rub with a garlic clove before drizzling with extra virgin olive oil. Dry roast some seeds and finish with a teaspoon of soy sauce for a salty, crunchy topping. Herbs like basil, coriander and parsley add a fresh note to a rich soup and a grating of Parmesan over the top is welcome in any bowl. 

Use whatever measuring tool you have to make Darina's soup. 

Use whatever measuring tool you have to make Darina's soup. 

Darina Allen's Basic Vegetable Soup Technique

Well over half the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on this simple formula: 1.1.3.5. Doesn’t matter what you use to measure as long as you use the same for each ingredient — a cup or mug would be fine.

Serves 6

  • 1 part onion
  • 1 part potato
  • 3 parts any vegetable of your choice, or a mixture
  • 5 parts stock or stock and milk mixed
  • Seasoning

Water, chicken or vegetable stock may be used. Season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper. Complimentary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

So one can make a myriad of different soups depending on what’s fresh, in season and available.

If potatoes and onions are the only options, it’s still possible to make two delicious soups by increasing one or the other and then adding one or several herbs. We have even used broad bean tops, radish leaves and nettles in season.

For example:

  • 50g butter
  • 1 cup or 150g chopped potatoes, one-third inch dice
  • 1 cup or 110g peeled diced onions, one-third inch dice
  • 3 cups or 340g chopped vegetables of your choice, one-third inch dice
  • 5 cups or 1.2L homemade chicken stock or 1L stock and 150ml (¼ pint) creamy milk

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the vegetables and stock, bring it back to the boil and continue to cook until soft, and liquidise. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Adjust seasoning. Couldn’t be simpler.

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