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Free-Form Vegetable soup master recipe with variations

I think of vegetable soups as basically tomato-ey and otherwise. There is a tendency, especially when you start experimenting with soups made from stocks, broths, and juices, for them to taste all the same because they have pretty much the same things in them. Make them different! Take the lists below as suggestions, using different bases, vegetable combinations, and garnishes at different times. 

Each quart of finished soup requires about 3 cups of raw vegetables and/or cooked beans or noodles and about 3 cups of some flavorful stock. A quart of homemade soup only serves about 3 people unless they are being polite.

Plan your additions so that the tenderest items go in last, and so that nothing will be over-cooked by the time the soup is ready. If you are making a very thick soup, simmer over low heat and stir it frequently to prevent scorching. If you use a meat or chicken broth, skim off most of the fat on it, the fat is what gives it the heavy taste many people dislike. However, if you are making a vegetarian soup without other fat, about 1-2 T of high quality vegetable oil per quart stirred in toward the end of cooking will improve it. 

Stock possibilities

Water left from steaming or simmering vegetables; green beans or corn are especially goodb
Water drained from cooked noodles or beans (is thick, needs seasoning)
Stock made from bones or scraps--you can use already cooked bones if that's what you have--strain it well, do not try to serve the exhausted scraps as part of the soup  
Water mixed with soy sauce or miso, 2 T soy product per cup of water  
Gravy (thinned with water or juice if very thick)
Pureed vegetables thinned with water or juice  
Water in which meat has been cooked  
Water with powdered vegetable broth added  
Tomato juice and/or carrot juice  
Juice from canned tomatoes or other canned vegetables sauces or pastes  
Soy, grain, nut or dairy milk
Yogurt or sour cream is a good base for cold soups or if added after cooking

Soup Making Notes:

About the cabbage family: long cooking or high heat cooking of cabbage, broccoli, mustard, kale, brussel sprouts or cauliflower, or their cooking waters, causes a breakdown of their sulfur compounds, which givesd that familiar, undesirable cabbage-y boarding house smell. 

The flavor, texture, and cooking time of the soup can be varied by changing the shapes into which you cut the raw vegetables. Leftovers should be added near the end or used to make stock. 

Ingredients, especially vegetables, may be sauteed in oil or butter before adding, may be steamed or may be added raw. This changes the flavor of the finished soup.

Soup Vegetables

all types of summer squash: zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, marrows 
tomatoes, fresh or canned: can be peeled and seeded for a lighter effect 
peppers, green or red 
chilis (small amounts) 
peas, fresh or frozen 
green onions, shallots, leeks 

all types of greens:
mustard, chicory, sorrel
broccoli leaves
carrot tops
beet or turnip greens
celery tops
beets (color the whole soup)

Starches and other vegetables

These absorb liquid while cooking, thickening the soup, and will cook apart to a thick soup if left for a while. If you want them whole, add the pre-cooked starch the last 10-20 minutes of cooking. Potatoes
turnips, parsnips, rutabaga
winter squash and pumpkin
noodles and pasta
cooked or partially cooked beans
lentils or split peas
canned peas
cooked grains

Texture Accents

These ingredients stay solid or chewy throughout cooking water chestnuts
celery root
Jerusalem artichoke
nuts of all kinds
cooked barley
bamboo shoots
cooked soy beans or grits

Thickening ingredients

Add these near the end of cooking, just early enough that they are completely cooked before serving. The soup will thicken. Start stirring. flour (before adding mix with cold liquid)
nut meals of all kinds (ground up nuts)
sesame meal- whole seeds can be used but are not well digested by the body
wheat germ--especially good in tomato-base soups
mashed potatoes
bread crumbs
corn meal

Soup meats

Raw meat, other than ground or minced meat, is a good broth base. If added to the soup, it should be added very early so that it can be thorough tender by the time the rest of the soup is cooked. The tougher, cheaper, bonier cuts are preferable because they have stronger flavor. Keep cooking temperatures at a simmer after meat is added. If you boil, rather than simmer, soups containing meat, it will toughen the meat. oxtails
neck bones
Stew meat
bones from roasts or other raw meat
chicken, esp. backs, necks (only if organic), wings
squid (low heat or it gets rubbery!)
turkey, especially carcass and dark meat
poultry gizzards and hearts (after cooking, remove, trim, slice, and return to soup)
tripe (see menudo recipe)

Before serving, remove the bones and skin from the meat, chop the meat and return it to the soup. Don't leave bones and skin, or too much fat, in the soup.

Seafood, fresh fish, shrimps, clams and oysters need only 5 to 15 minutes to cook in soup. If you plan to leave them longer, be sure to keep the heat very low to avoid a really fishy taste.

Ground meat also takes only a few minutes of cooking before it toughens.

Soup seasonings

1 tablespoon fresh cold-pressed oil per quart. Soy sauce
curry powder
fresh or dried green herbs
most spices, including cinnamon and other "sweet" ones
vegetable broths and seasonings

Best I've found is a vegetable-soy bouillon called Dr. Bronner's Balanced Protein Seasoning. Not the mineral broth, but the protein powder bouillon.

Protein Foods

Must be added at the very end or they will become curdled or stringy.
beaten egg--if you want this to blend without lumps or "egg drops", beat some of the hot soup into the eggs, then beat the liquid into the soup. However the Chinese have made a culinaryreputation adding the egg directly to the soup so it forms the little shreds called "egg flowers"
nutritional flake yeast

Other last minute additions

sprouts of all varieties
chopped parsley or Chinese parsley/ cilantro
left-over vegetables or soup
dumplings, either meat or grain