By Alan L. Rubin, Cait James

In many soup recipes, the first few steps ask you to sauté some vegetables to bring out their flavor and soften them. Typically, you start by cooking a combination of vegetables, such as onions, carrots, and celery, along with herbs and spices, in a small amount of fat.

You may sauté your veggies in a small amount of low-fat cooking spray oil or butter, or even a bit of fatty smoked meat such as bacon. You may also brown ground meats or cubed meats at this stage. As the ingredients cook, they begin to turn brown and caramelize, developing a rich and complex flavor.

Next, you add liquid, perhaps some vegetable broth, chicken or beef broth, milk, wine, or water. First, add just a half-cup or so of liquid to deglaze the pot. During this procedure, you can use a wooden spoon and gently dislodge any bits of caramelized vegetables stuck to the bottom of the pot. You want these flavorful morsels to blend in with the other flavors of the soup. Pour in the remaining liquid.

In the final, and longest, steps of cooking, you place all vegetable chunks, beans, grains, or meats, in the simmering liquid and cook to perfection. But not everything cooks at the same rate, so use the table to help you decide when to add ingredients.

Cooking Times for Soup Add-Ins
Ingredient Cooking Time
Beans, dried (presoaked 8 hours) 1-1/2 hours to 2 hours
Beef cubes 2 to 3 hours
Chicken, bone in, pieces 40 minutes
Chicken, boneless 15 to 20 minutes
Fresh vegetables 10 to 15 minutes (45 to purée)
Greens (spinach and others) 3 to 5 minutes
Lentils, dried 15 to 30 minutes
Pasta, dried 8 to 12 minutes
Pearl barley 50 minutes to 1 hour
Potatoes, white or sweet (diced) 30 minutes
Rice, brown and wild 45 to 55 minutes
Rice, white 15 to 20 minutes
Root vegetables (beets, turnips, and so on) 15 to 35 minutes
Seafood, shelled or boneless 5 to 15 minutes

These cooking times are only guidelines, so adjust them as you see fit. Experiment and figure out what works for you.

Soups are a great way to work in your veggies. Use soups as a way to maximize the bounty of summer vegetables at your local farmer’s market, especially at the end of the season. Look for these must-have ingredients that have a place in soups, salads, or even quick-cooking pasta sauces:

  • Beets

  • Greens (spinach, cabbage, and bok choy, among others)

  • Heirloom tomatoes (look for green zebras, Japanese black trifle, sun sugar, or amana orange, just to name a few)

  • Herbs (basil, chervil, dill, and cilantro, or whatever you want)

  • Mushrooms (exotics, such as morels, chanterelle, and wild mushroom blends)

  • Squash (chayote, acorn, pumpkin, zucchini, and yellow squash)