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AWFUL Vegetable Soup -- Help

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Without a recipe (how hard could it be to make vegetable soup), I proceeded to try and make my grandmother's vegetable soup. She's not around to ask for help anymore, so I just did the best I could. Bought string beans, carrots, onions, lima beans, san marzano tomatoes, corn, peas, cabbage, and used two large chickens (to make the broth, not to use the meat.)

Simmered the chickens in water to cover, midway chopped them up a bit to get more of the flavor out, then strained the broth and defatted it. Sauteed one huge onion till translucent, added the veggies to the broth to cook, in order of how long they needed to cook to be soft. Added some salt and pepper to taste. UGH. No flavor. I never get enough chicken flavor for the broth, but thought with TWO chickens it would work out.

Should I just buy canned chicken broth? Use boullion cubes :( which I really don't want to use. I will never make vegetable soup again unless I figure this out first. Maybe I should have roasted the bones first? Help.

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  1. How long did you simmer the chicken? The longer, the more flavorful. Three hours wouldn't be too long really, especially with raw chicken. Maybe you just need some more salt, more than you think, a lot of times that takes care of it. Plus with veg soup, you really need some herbs: parsley, dill, sage, thyme etc. Also, no garlic? I like a decent amount of garlic cooked in with the onions, and also some grated fresh ginger.

    4 Replies
    1. re: coll

      I season my broth really well for soup, then add more garlic and thyme to the soup.
      I make my grandmother's recipe too; don't saute anything. It's always good, but it has to be well-seasoned.

      1. re: bayoucook

        I always just put all the veggies in raw too, to tell the truth.

      2. re: coll

        Forgot--yes I added three big cloves of garlic, but not more because I didn't want garlic soup, and I didn't have fresh ginger so added a little powdered (which was freshly bought) and I sauteed the ginger with the onion to bring out the flavor. I think I didn't cook the broth enough. Thanks, I think that was it. Plus I could have added some herbs, but I like the fresh vegetable taste rather than a lot of herbs, so would go light on that. I don't know if I have the courage to make the soup again. A lot of work for some greasy, watery tasting soup.

        1. re: Virginia Girl

          Next time try using a stewing hen, instead of chicken. Hens are older and more flavorful birds. You can also throw in a hunk of pork loin w/bone (e.g. pork chop) and simmer for at least three hrs. I use this combination as a basis for many soups and it always yields a nice, deep broth. You can even use the meat afterwards.

      3. Brown the chopped up veggies before adding them to the stock. Particularly the onlion - though not too dark. And add garlic and gresh herbs - a bouquet garnis if you don't want to leave the herbs in.
        Personally I'd leave out the chicken, but that's just my taste.

        1. As I was reading this I was thinking along the exact same lines as coll. Where's the garlic? And herbs are your friends, especially the ubiquitous bay leaf.

          That being said, there are several other things you could do to tweak your soup. You could add some drops of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, or a squirt of anchovy paste. Sometimes a bit of vinegar is what you need. Sometimes a bit of sugar.

          1 Reply
          1. re: clamscasino

            How did I forget bay leaves! At least 2 of them.

          2. If you didn't toss the bones yet, roast them until well browned, strain off some of your soup liquid and recook, extracting as much flavor as you can. Even add the chicken back as well. Also, I always saute the carrots, celery, onions and garlic. That way they don't taste boiled and watery. I think even your cabbage could benefit from sauteeing.

            Agree with the need to season. Instead of salt, I often use Better than Bouillon or More than Gourmet soup bases (thick paste). Each is quite salty but very flavorful, and much better than bouillon cubes in an emergency.

            1. Try roasting one of those chickens and adding the carcass bones to the rest of the simmering broth ( I don't know what you plan to do with the meat but you've got a base for another meal right there anyway). I make chicken stock out of leftover rotisserie chicken bones all the time and I know one key is a long simmering time to bring out the chicken flavor. My own personal tip would be to try to break or chop some of the larger chicken bones in half to bring out the geletin in the marrow for more flavor and body. If you like using uncooked chicken in your broth, perhaps a more intensely flavored part of the chicken could be used-like the chicken thigh. Or, for that matter, chopping the chicken up so that more meat is exposed if you used whole chickens. Sometimes, I clarify the chicken stock I make, which is is basically adding ground chicken meat and egg whites to the simmering liquid until the solids float to the top in a "raft" which is removed and then the strained broth becomes so much more chickeny and so clear and beautiful, like old-fashioned chicken soup.

              1. The best way I have found to start a soup base for chicken or vegetable is to sauté one onion in a little oil, just until a light brown color. (caramelized?) Then purée in the blender with your choice of stock.

                I start all my soups this way, it is also my secret to some damn fine chowder.

                1. I never get enough chicken flavor for the broth, but thought with TWO chickens it would work out.......
                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                  Salt, Salt, Salt...Pepper Pepper--- Use Carrot, Celery, Onion while making the stock....Strain. Some fat is necessary for flavor ---- Garlic, Bay Leaf & Thyme...
                  Some fat is necessary for flavor...Did I mention salt and pepper?

                  Have Fun & Enjoy!

                  1. oh my gosh. I make vegetable soups sometimes with just cold water, no chicken broth at all. I can't imagine this happened to you with two chickens making the brotth.

                    I saute all the veggies. I like to saute the veggies and the herbs, and spices first. Then add to the soup. sometimes I use broth. Heck sometimes I use Knorr's and really I can get the best flavor when I add a Tablespoon of that stuff. Of course I don't add salt until later. If you use your own chicken broth it too needs flavor. You don't need to roast the bones. There is nothing wrong with adding boullion. If you cut down the salt otherwise.

                    I grew up with my mother making French Vegetable soup just about every week. It and french bread were on the stove. She used cold water, canned tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic powder, bay leaves, thyme, pepper, potatoes, at least 2 stalks of celery, green beans and whatever else was in the veggie bin or ready from our garden.
                    I don't know why people have to eek out about buillion. I'm willing to bet that most restaurants are using some form of it whether its beef, chicken or veal in some form or another. Personally I would not waste chicken stock on vegetable soup, you can get so much flavor without it. Make sure you season your pot well, I have found that some of the people that want to cook like me go soooo easy with their spices. I cover the top of the pot with herbs, I mean cover. Herbs de Provence is an excellent addition, and so is thyme. Red pepper flakes, parsley, stems and all. Lots of onions, I use white.
                    Shallots too, they are great. If I am going to add cabbage I usually wait until just before serving.
                    There's nothing as good as wonderful vegetable soup. Geez I think I'll go make a pot!
                    What's really yummy, is to take french bread toast it in the oven (thick slice, rub with garlic and olive oil, float it in the soup and pile on the romano cheese. sooooo goood!!!

                    I forgot, zucchini and add some peppers, bell pepper red or green. All the vegetables really help with a truly flavorful soup.
                    I guess I'm blessed Miss Virginia Girl, the one thing that I can make really well is soup. And I think it's because I over season, or shall I say I use way more seasonings than what most people think is what they should. I cover the pot top well, not measure.

                    Good luck, let me know if I can help further!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      When I want a more vegetarian soup, I use V8 instead of broth.

                      1. re: coll

                        I was going to say that, I use a whole can when I make beef and barley soup. An elderly Jewish woman wrote out her recipes when I shamelessly begged for it.
                        Soooo good.

                    2. I sometimes roast all my vegetables with onions and garlic, a couple tablespoons of olive oil at 425 F. for 1/2 hour, then add it into a heated chicken stock. I puree to a rough puree with an immersion blender.

                      1. Okay VG, your post made me crave vegetable soup. I am so easy.

                        Veg soup is one of those recipes that I sort of make with what I have. The fact that you are not getting any flavor especially after using the broth from two chickens tells me you are not seasoning your soup enough. Homemade chicken broth on its own is bland, it needs onions, garlic, celery, parsley spices to bring life to it. Well you know, canned tastes totally different it's "ready to eat" just about.

                        So I'm making a pot. I love vegetable soup. I know this, I over season, I know if you were watching me that's what you'd think.

                        Okay so I started it a little while ago, and I made it exactly like I said. I found some frozen peas and green beans so they went in too. I don't care for corn in this soup so didn't add that. I do like corn in the tortilla soup I make. But another thing struck me. This is one of those soups that the flavors really need to marry and come together. Let it sit in the fridge. I cook it for a few hours on the stove, on very low. I never let it come to a boil. Push it to the back, and then usually put the whole pot into the fridge, and reheat for the next few days.

                        I'm getting out my favorite bread book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and finding a hearty bread to make tomorrow in the a.m. The soup will be perfect by then. Oh I also added some Vermouth, if you have red wine, that's good too. Not sure if I'll add potatoes, or pasta. Never rice. But broken vermecelli or small pasta is nice. maybe you just didn't cook your soup long enough? If nothing else, try adding some boullion, and herbs de provence, bet that helps. I'll try to remember to take a photo.

                        thanks for posting, I love being motivated by my fellow hounds!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          I also always let my chicken broth sit for a day or two,because then the fat becomes solid on the top and easy to remove. I always take out the carrots and celery and keep aside (onions I dispose of). Then after de-fatting is when I add all the other veggies and meat and starch and reheat.

                          1. re: chef chicklet

                            Chef chicklet,
                            Why "never rice" ?? It's so nice, rice!

                          2. How about some EVOO?

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              well of course the veggies are sauteed in evoo, you know that, it does make a difference.

                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                Hmm, did the OP say the veggies were sauteed in EVOO? They probably were, but I try never to assume such things. And even if they were, a little bit more never hurts ... just ask Mario Batali! :-)

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Oh I'm sorry I meant the that I use evoo to saute, and I am sure Mario is correct!

                                  I made the soup yesterday, (it's hanging out in the fridge) and it turned out great.
                                  I can't wait to make the bread today and dig in!

                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                    Ahh, gotcha. No worries.

                                    I reread your post on your veggie soup and I think you bring up a good, and often forgotten, point about making soups (esp. veggie soups or minestrone) is to let the soup sit overnight so that the flavors can marry with each other and develop additional depth.

                            2. Something else that might make a difference might be just a wee bit of acid- lemon juice, or wine vinegar- drizzled in at the very end of cooking. Might not be the only tweak you try, but it's a good one.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: 4Snisl

                                To my mind, a bit of lemon juice is almost always the answer to any cooking question that take the form of "why isn't my (x) flavorful enough?"

                              2. Consider trying Vogue Veggie base and skip the chicken altogether...

                                1. I never start with raw chicken, always roast it, use it for at least one meal, pull any other meat off it (if not using it in the soup, make chicken salad, or quesadilla's) and use the bones to make a stock.

                                  for veggie soup i saute carrots/celery/onion in olive oil on a slow, low heat, then I add in any other veggies that i want in it, stir up together, add the broth and let simmer. i use my immersion blender to puree it a bit so it's thicker and chunky, and add a can of drained white beans after blending. of course season with S/P, herbs, etc.

                                  1. The secret to good broth is to cook it for a long long long long LONG time... until the meat is falling off the bones. You can simmer that stuff all day long and it'll just keep on getting better. Just add a little more water as needed if it gets too low.

                                    1. My favorite vegetable soup calls for canned beef broth--I often use Knorr beef OR chicken bullion cubes with equal success. (It's a recipe from Marcella Hazan--"Novara's Bean and Vegetable Soup", it gets altered a bit each time I make it).
                                      But my main point for replying here: the soup just isn't good until it simmers for 2-3 hours. Low and slow, then it's excellent.

                                      1. i never like to waste whole chickens on this sort of thing, since the meat becomes inedible unless you remove it when it's just poached, then put all the carcass back into the pot. parts are better, plus the collagen and gelatin from the bones get into the soup more quickly. cheap parts, like feet, backs and necks, make very flavorful stock. chicken stock needs between 2-4 hours for max flavor. let it sit in the fridge overnight to skim the fat.

                                        blah soup can sometimes be rescued through reduction too.