I purposefully made this category of hearty plant-based soups large and first in the chapter since they’re the easiest to master. Plus you can always bulk them up with beans, fish, poultry, meat, or cheese. Using vegetable stock or water keeps them vegetarian or often vegan; for meatier undertones without actually using meat, try chicken or beef stock.

Boiled Water

Makes: 4 servings | Time: 20 minutes

Soup could not get any simpler than bread soaked in garlic broth. Whether you’re a seasoned home cook or just learning, you’ll make this recipe forever.

  • 6 to 10 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 thick slices French or Italian bread (slightly stale bread is fine)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Combine 4 cups water with the garlic, bay leaf, and some salt and pepper in a large pot. Bring to a boil, cover partially, and turn the heat to very low. Let the liquid bubble gently for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, brown the slices of bread in the oil, turning once, about 5 minutes total.

Put the bread in bowls and top with the cheese. Strain the soup into the bowls, garnish with parsley, and serve right away.

Roasted Garlic Soup Substitute 10 or more cloves Roasted Garlic for the crushed garlic. Or put the crushed garlic in the skillet with the oil and cook over medium-low heat until fragrant and just starting to color, about 4 minutes. Fish out the garlic, mince it, and add it to the pot in Step 1.

Tomato-Garlic Soup Add 2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned is fine; don’t drain) in Step 1. Don’t strain the soup, but fish out the garlic and bay leaf before serving.

Lime-Garlic-Coconut Soup Omit the oil, bread, and cheese. Juice and zest 2 limes. In Step 1, use one 14-ounce can coconut milk (or make your own; see page 372 and use about 1 ½ cups) and 3 cups of water, along with the lime zest. Omit Step 2. In Step 3, add the lime juice to the soup right before straining. If you like, ladle the soup over a small mound of cooked plain white rice, bean threads, or rice vermicelli. Garnish with cilantro instead of parsley.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Makes: 4 servings | Time: 30 minutes

This type of soup might be falling out of style, but I still love the rich, pure taste. The rice or potato makes the soup creamy and more substantial, but you could skip it. But even ¼ cup of cream is enough to lighten the color and smooth the texture of the puréed soup.

Other vegetables you can use: asparagus, fennel, celery, watercress, spinach, sorrel, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, or more flavorful mushrooms like cremini or shiitake

  • About 1 pound button mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • ½ cup white rice, or 1 baking potato, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ to 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
  • Chopped fresh parsley or chives for garnish

Combine the mushrooms, rice, and stock in a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles steadily. Cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes.

Cool slightly, then purée through a food mill or with an upright or immersion blender. (At this point, you can refrigerate the soup, covered, for up to 2 days; reheat before proceeding.)

Return the soup to the pot and reheat over medium-low. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add the cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Heat through again, garnish, and serve right away.

Robust Cream of Mushroom Soup A simple and noticeable improvement: Reduce the stock to 2 cups and soak 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms in 2 cups boiling water. Add the reconstituted mushrooms along with their soaking water in Step 1.