Vegetable soup

Cropped version of Agricultural Research Service image, from USDA, in the public domain.


The following two recipes are from Soups, Stews and Chilis, a wonderful cookbook from America’s Test Kitchens, AKA Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. Typical of books from Cook’s Illustrated, the recipes begin with a long introduction that describes how the Test Kitchen tested and selected each component to develop the best results. The recipes in their books and magazines are uniformly excellent.

This Rich Beef Broth is simple and inexpensive, and can be the basis for several soups. Ingredients include mushrooms, soy sauce, and tomato paste, all important to add Umami or savory taste.

Rich Beef Broth (makes approximately 8 cups)
85% lean ground beef is preferable; 93% lean ground beef will also work, but it will be less flavorful. Be sure to let the fond form on the bottom of the pot in step 1, because it is important for the flavor and color of the broth.
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. white mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and quartered (I use baby portobellos)
1 large onion, chopped medium
1 lb. 85% lean ground beef
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
8 cups water
1 lg. carrot, peeled and chopped medium
1 lg. celery rib, chopped medium
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves

1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the mushrooms and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is browned and a golden brown fond has formed on the bottom of the pot, 8 to 12 minutes.
2. Stir in the ground beef and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the red wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until nearly evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Stir in the water, carrot, celery, soy sauce, salt, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook, skimming as needed, until the broth tastes rich and flavorful, about 1-1/2 hours. Do not overcook, longer isn’t better.
4. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer, discard the solids, and defat the broth using one of several methods. (The broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days or frozen for up to one month.)

Old Fashioned Beef Vegetable Soup with Barley (6 – 8 servings)
This is the best vegetable soup I have ever eaten! Look for whole sirloin steak tips, or substitute flank steak or blade steak well trimmed. Avoid meat that has been cut up for stir fry. I usually just cut up a sirloin steak if I can’t find steak tips. And the frozen mixed vegetables are my own addition.
1 lb. beef sirloin steak tips, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Salt and ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 lb. cremini (baby portobello) mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium onion, chopped medium
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tsp.)
1-1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry red wine
6 cups Rich Beef Broth (above)
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup pearl barley
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables (because vegetable soup should have lots of veggies!)

1. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tsp. of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 5 to 7 minutes, reducing the heat if the pot begins to scorch. Transfer the browned beef to a medium bowl. Repeat with 2 tsp. more oil and the remaining beef; transfer to the bowl.
2. Add the remaining 2 tsp oil to the pot and place over medium heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and onion and cook until softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute.
3. Stir in the broth, diced tomatoes, barley, carrots, celery, bay leaves, browned meat and any accumulated juice. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Stir in the 1/2 bag of frozen vegetables and continue to simmer another 10 minutes.
4. Off the heat, remove the bay leaves. Stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Enjoy!