Vegetable soup is one of the great blank canvas dishes that allow cooks to create endless variations just by adding a few simple ingredients. Much like a chicken breast or a potato, a pot of vegetable soup can be twisted onto culinary paths both homestyle and gourmet. One of the key methods in determining this direction are the herbs and spices that are used to flavor the soup. There are very few combinations that won't work with vegetable soup; it all depends on the final product you're aiming for.

How to Make Vegetable Soup

Look online or in any cookbook, and you'll quickly discover that there's no definitive way to create a pot of vegetable soup. There are endless variations, all based on the individual cook's tastes and supplies on hand. No two people ever make the same vegetable soup, and, while they all have similar flavor profiles, each one gives a slightly different taste to the menu. The amazing thing is that they all start with the same basic recipe.

Choose a variety of vegetables that you think would taste good together. Clean out your leftovers from the refrigerator or go shopping in a farmer's market. This soup can be expensive or frugal, depending on how you source the ingredients. Once you have all the vegetables gathered, chop them all into bite-sized pieces, with or without peels.

Put some sort of oil or oil/butter combination in a heavy stockpot. Add dense vegetables such as carrot, celery or parsnips, as well as aromatics like garlic or onions. Cook them over medium-high heat until they've softened a bit, for about 5 minutes. Add any dried herbs you want to use to flavor your soup.

Pour in the liquid you want to use as a soup base. Try chicken broth, beef broth or even a vegetable stock for a vegan version. Cover the pot and simmer the soup for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are softened (but not mushy). Turn down the heat and add any soft vegetables you like, such as corn or peas, as well as any leafy greens or fresh herbs you think would add to the party. Simmer all this together for about 5 minutes; then serve.

Spices Based on Broth

All vegetable soups are built in layers, beginning with a specific type of broth. Each one gives a very different flavor profile. Beef broth soups are rich and hearty; chicken broth versions are lighter in flavor; and vegetable-based soups are clean and fresh with a sometimes complex flavor profile. Classic recipes often base their spice choices to complement the broth underneath.

  • Flavoring Beef Broth
    If your vegetable soup is based on a beef broth, look for bold herbs and spices with strong flavors that can stand on their own. Some of the most common are chili peppers, oregano, basil, bay leaf, rosemary and curry powder. Begin with small amounts of seasoning, tasting the broth before adding more to get the right strength for your soup.
  • Chicken Broth Seasoning
    Chicken gives a meaty sensation, but it's milder, allowing background flavors to come through stronger. Vegetable soup based on chicken broth can vary from delicate to robust, depending on the herb and spice mix you use. Try variations of onion, paprika, parsley, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds or chives to give your soup the right flavor.
  • True Vegetarian Soup
    True vegetarian or vegan vegetable soup often has a tomato base to give it a distinct flavor. The best soup seasoning recipe for this soup includes herbs and spices that complement a tomato base. Think of classic Italian flavorings such as oregano, parsley, garlic and onion, as well as the classics, basil and chives. If you're skipping the tomatoes and going with straight vegetable stock, the sky's the limit when it comes to herbs for vegetable soup flavoring.

Cuisine-Based Soup Seasoning Recipes

Vegetable soup is such a versatile dish that you can create versions to complement virtually any international cuisine you like. Vary the vegetables in the mix as well as the herbs and spices to make a truly authentic soup experience.

  • Italian-Style Vegetable Soup
    It's likely that you'll think of tomatoes and their complementary flavors when concocting an Italian-style vegetable soup, but that doesn't have to be the case. Traditional Italian side dishes include green beans with lemon, roasted artichokes and peppers, sweet peas with the salty bite of Parmesan and mixed dishes with zucchini and summer squash. All of these dishes go well with garlic, oregano, parsley and basil, and the same goes for your Italian vegetable soup.
  • Mexican-Inspired Vegetable Soup
    Think of the flavor profiles of your favorite Mexican dishes, and you'll have an idea of what to put into your south-of-the-border vegetable soup. Start with a chicken or vegetable broth; then add bright vegetables like corn, red and green peppers, tomatoes and reconstituted dried beans (black or pinto are especially tasty). Spice it up with the different heat levels of chili peppers, coriander, cilantro and other traditional Mexican spices. Make it simple by adding a jar of your favorite commercial salsa for the perfect mix of extra vegetables and spices.
  • Spicy-Asian Vietnamese Vegetable Soup
    Vietnamese cuisine mixes some of the traditional flavors of more familiar Asian dishes with a warm spiciness that impresses the palate. Use vegetables like butternut squash, green beans, onions and bean sprouts, and kick up the flavor with herbs and spices such as ginger, coriander, clove, mint or red pepper.
  • Eastern European Vegetable Soup
    Eastern European cooking is inspired by the traditional cuisines of Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and a handful of other countries, but they all have a similar flavor profile: warm comfort food that simmers for hours on the stove and fills the stomach in a satisfying way. Any vegetable soup made with this influence will feature potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables, cabbage, split peas, onions and pickles. The seasoning profile will invariably include garlic, red pepper flakes, paprika, bay leaves, dill, garlic and other hearty flavors. 
  • North African Variety Vegetable Soup
    A vegetable soup from Northern Africa includes a lot of the same flavor profile as that of Spain since they're in the same basic part of the globe. You'll find zucchini, chickpeas, onion, carrots and other familiar vegetables in this tasty soup. The difference in a North African soup comes from the intense flavor combination you'll find from multiple herbs and spices. If you want to recreate this dish, use turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne and mint for a bright pop of flavor.

  • Single-Origin Vegetable Soups
    Some cuisines celebrate one ingredient so much that they create entire dishes around them. These vegetable soups include the seasonings, herbs and spices that go best with each particular vegetable. For instance:

    *   _Irish potato soup_ is a tasty, creamy concoction that often includes chives, red pepper flakes, garlic or other ingredients often found on baked or boiled potatoes.<br><br>
    
    • Russian borscht, or beet soup, can be found with caraway seeds, dill, black pepper and celery seeds.

    • Thai cooks make a wonderful creamy carrot soup that includes garlic, chili sauce, coconut, Sriracha sauce and fresh basil.

About the Author

Victoria Bailey

Victoria Bailey owned and managed restaurants for 25 years, from an award-winning gourmet bistro to a pre-hipster artisan coffee house. She's constantly following food and wine trends and has even created her own private coffee bean blend. Bailey's work has been published in a number of industry magazines, and she literally wrote the book (well, one of them) on opening a neighborhood pizza restaurant.