Eat Sustainably With This Delicious Vegan Soup Recipe

Reduce food waste—and your household carbon footprint—by cooking a delicious, freezable meal from whatever ingredients you have on hand.
Posted on
January 14, 2021
Eat Sustainably With This Delicious Vegan Soup Recipe

When you think about our food’s carbon footprint, the impact of carnivorous diet probably leaps to mind as one of the biggest culprits in our current climate crisis.

And you’d be right.

But meat consumption isn’t the only food-related climate issue: Food waste is a significant problem, too.

Food waste and climate change

Why is food waste bad for climate change?

The impact comes not just from the resources needed to get that food to your table, but also the effect of that discarded food decaying in landfills; add it all up and wasted food represents represents 8 percent of the world’s GHG emissions.

Fortunately, sustainable eating is easier than you think once you learn a few simple tricks. As a recipe developer, I often have lots of odds and ends after testing. I’m accustomed to experimenting with whatever I have on hand, and vegan soup is my favorite way to use up leftovers like root vegetables, greens and spices from my pantry.

Why is making vegan soup a great way to prevent food waste at home?

Not only is it a delicious and easy way to eat healthfully, but soup is also versatile and adaptable to any cultural flavor twists you enjoy. 

Vegan soup eaten with chopsticks

Plus, it’s forgiving—you can use up slightly wilted produce that’s past peak freshness without anyone being the wiser.

You can also add as you go, putting in forgotten ingredients and tweaking the flavor and seasonings gradually, without any negative impact on the final dish. It’s a creative playground where you can add a sprinkle of this and a dash of that, bringing out your “inner chef,” all while reducing your carbon footprint at home.

What are the 4 key ingredients in a delicious sustainable soup?

If you boil it down to the basics, a good soup is made of just a few key components. Let’s run through the recipe in its most stripped-down form, then detail the main parts one by one.

The aromatics (for flavor)

These ingredients form your soup’s flavor foundation. Onions, garlic, herbs and spices are among the classics here.

The liquid (to make it a soup)

Vegetable broth, tomato juice or a can of coconut milk are just some of your options.

The bulk (to make it hearty)

The body of your soup is where you can get spontaneous, adding whichever vegetables and kitchen odds and ends you want to use up.

The garnish (for presentation)

Optional but fun to have, this can be virtually any finishing touch you’d like.

How do I cook a healthy vegan soup from leftovers?

Part 1: Start by cooking the aromatics

Any good soup starts with highly aromatic vegetables and seasonings.

1. Heat some oil

First, heat a drizzle of your fat of choice (like olive or coconut oil) in a large soup pot over medium heat.

2. Add chopped onions or equivalent

Add in chopped onion: white, sweet or red onion, the white parts of a bunch of scallions, shallots, the white part of a leek, or even plain yellow cooking onions. The idea is to use up your oldest produce, so pick what’s been in your kitchen the longest.

Sauté until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. 

Vegan soup with beans in a blue bowl

3. Throw in some mushrooms

Next, if you have mushrooms, add them now.

Mushrooms can cook forever without any negative effect, and they benefit from the direct browning heat of the pan. Sauté until all the liquid has been released and evaporated, and they’re starting to brown.

4. Cook any other aromatics

Now, stir in any other aromatics you have on hand.

Minced garlic, ginger or tender herb stems are good additions. You can also include any dry spices you want to toast a bit for added flavor, such as ground cumin, coriander, chili powder or curry powder; or hardy dried herbs, like dried thyme, rosemary or oregano.

5. Season to taste

Season with a little salt and pepper, and sauté just until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. 

Part 2: Add a liquid of your choice

1. Deglaze the pan

It’s time to deglaze your pan, meaning add a liquid and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom with a wooden spoon.

2. Pick your favorite liquid

Which liquid to use depends on what flavor combination you want, but a low-sodium vegetable or mushroom broth is a great start. (Bonus points if you already made your own from scraps.)

You could also add canned tomatoes and their juice, carrot or other vegetable juices, the water part of a can of coconut milk (save the creamy part at the can’s top to add during the final minutes of cooking, to preserve the coconut flavor) or just plain water. 

3 different vegan soups lined up

Keep in mind that acidic ingredients like tomatoes can cause green veggies to lose their bright color.

This doesn’t affect taste, but if you want a pretty and colorful soup, stick to water or broth.

Part 3: Toss in the bulk to make your soup hearty

3. Start with soft vegetables

This is the largest part of your soup, where you use up whatever vegetable bits and leftovers you have hanging around. Maybe you have slightly wilted broccoli, a quarter of a cabbage or butternut squash, or a bunch of bendy carrots. 

You can add one or all of these things. Just remember that denser root vegetables and tubers (like potatoes) and the denser parts of a vegetable (like the stems of broccoli or cauliflower) should go in earlier.

Save delicate green veggies, like broccoli florets or dark leafy greens, for the last minutes of cooking. The root veg and potatoes will help make your soup luxuriously thick, or alternatively, you can throw in a handful of dry split peas or lentils for rich texture.

4. Dice the dense vegetables

If you want dense veggies like carrots, turnips or rutabaga to cook more quickly, dice them into small pieces or shred with a box grater. If you plan to puree the soup, the vegetables can be cut as coarsely as you like, adjusting the cooking time accordingly.

5. Add any hardy greens

You can also add shredded hardy greens, like cabbage or collard greens, at this stage.

6. Simmer the soup

Simmer the soup with the denser vegetables and legumes until they’re tender—anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes, depending on what you have. Acidic ingredients can delay the tenderization of legumes, roots and tubers, so don’t worry if they’re taking a long time—just keep simmering and topping up the liquid as it reduces.  

herbs in a pot to be used in vegan soup

7. Taste and season accordingly

Taste the soup at this stage—how is it doing?

If it’s too bland, you can increase the spices, press a couple more cloves of garlic in, and add a bit more salt and pepper.

Remember to save any lemon, lime or vinegar for drizzling over the soup at the end if you’re using green vegetables so they don’t discolor.

8. Add any tender vegetables you have on hand

Once your dense ingredients have softened, add the more tender vegetables: peppers, zucchini, green beans, corn, fresh peas (frozen should be added later), cauliflower or broccoli florets. Simmer until tender-crisp, 3 to 6 minutes.

Taste again! Does it need more salt? It probably does.

9. Cook your leafy delicate greens

Now for your leafy delicate greens: young kale, dandelion greens, spinach, arugula and the like. Stir until just wilted.

10. Add any and all cooked items

If you have any cooked items you want to add—leftover rice, grains or pasta, some torn-up stale bread, that half-can of beans—it’s time to toss them in. Give the soup a final taste for seasoning and you’re almost ready to eat!

11. Puree the soup in a blender

If you want a smooth and creamy soup, you can puree it now in a traditional blender, or use a hand blender to partially puree it. Or simply leave it brothy and chunky. 

vegan butternut squash soup with garnishes

Part 4: Finish with the garnish

It’s optional, but no soup feels truly complete without this finishing touch.

12. Sprinkle on your faves

Garnish with some diced avocado or guacamole, a sprinkling of cheese or dollop of yogurt (plant-based if you’re being extra climate-friendly), a dash of fresh herbs, a spoonful of kimchi, some pesto or herb oil or chili oil, toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds, croutons made from day-old bread, some pico de gallo, a drizzle of Sriracha or a smidgen of harissa.

The options (like the above list!) are endless.

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Annabelle Waugh
Written By
Annabelle Waugh

Annabelle Waugh is a food writer, recipe developer, food stylist and culinary instructor with a passion for sustainable, healthy eating. Her life’s mission is to create trustworthy, delicious recipes that anyone can tackle.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Ventures Inc., or its affiliates.

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