Annabelle Waugh
Jan 14
Make Sustainable Eating Easy with the Only Soup Recipe You Need

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.

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 soup is my favorite way to use up leftovers like root vegetables, greens and spices from my pantry.

Why soup?

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. 

Bowl of sustinable eating soup
Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels

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.

The soup formula

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: These ingredients form your soup’s flavor foundation. Onions, garlic, herbs and spices are among the classics here.
  • The liquid: Vegetable broth, tomato juice or a can of coconut milk are just some of your options.
  • The bulk: 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: Optional but fun to have, this can be virtually any finishing touch you’d like.

Part 1: Start with the aromatics

Any good soup starts with highly aromatic vegetables and seasonings.

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

Bowl of vegetable soup containing beans and other legumes
Photo by Navada Ra from Pexels

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.

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.

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

Part 2: Add the liquid

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

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 bowls of soup broth
Photo by Bluebird Provisions on Unsplash

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

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.

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.

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

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.  

Various herbs in a cup on the counter
Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

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.

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.

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

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!

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. 

Pureed vegetable soup with a seed garnish
Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

Part 4: Finish with the garnish

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

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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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.

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.

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