Springtime Thoughts Lightly Turn to Soup

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Levy's latest book is "30 Low-Fat Vegetarian Meals in 30 Minutes" (Warner Books, 1997)

Spring soups showcase the colors and tastes of the season and naturally celebrate fresh vegetables.

Many classic French soups that are popular in spring evoke country images. Soupe a la paysanne (peasant-style soup) is made of carrots, turnips, leeks, celery and fresh peas. Soupe cultivateur (cultivator’s soup) features similar vegetables but has sliced potatoes instead of peas and is flavored with onion instead of celery. Consomme printanier (springtime consomme) is composed of carrots, baby peas, asparagus, green beans, sorrel and lettuce cooked in chicken broth and is garnished with fresh chervil sprigs.

To make savory springtime soups quickly, it’s useful to have a flavorful soup base on hand. All you need is 10 to 15 minutes to cook the vegetables in the broth. They should be tender and not crunchy but do not need to be very soft.


As a soup base, meat or chicken broth is traditional, but in spring, I prefer the more delicate taste of vegetable broth. In fact, some chefs like to start soups with water, which becomes infused with the pure essences of the vegetables. This, however, assumes you simmer the main ingredients long enough to flavor the water.

For quick soups, it’s easiest to use prepared broth. Canned broth is widely available, and some markets carry frozen stocks as well.

If you’re using a light broth--or even water--you can have a tasty soup in short order if you follow these time-honored tips from professional chefs: include onions, carrots, thyme and a bay leaf. These aromatic vegetables and herbs will create an appetizing soup in a hurry. To this base, add one or several other diced fresh or frozen vegetables: asparagus, peas, potatoes, leeks, green beans, corn, lima beans or spinach. Just before serving, finish the soup with chopped fresh parsley, chives or other fresh herbs.

Springtime soups are not pureed, so the colors and tastes of the vegetables are distinct. They are usually not thickened, either, so their consistency is light. Precise proportions aren’t terribly important when you’re making these soups. As a general rule, cover the vegetables generously with broth. You can figure you’ll use 1 to 2 cups of liquid per serving. If you find the soup too thick, add more broth before serving.

Even lazy cooks agree that vegetable broth is easy to make at home and doesn’t demand much time. Frugal chefs know it costs next to nothing. Simply save trimmings of vegetables when you prepare them for other meals. Use the ends of carrots, onions and zucchini, the tough bottom inch of asparagus stalks, the dark green leaves of leeks, the leafy tops of celery and the stems of mushrooms and parsley.

Keep the trimmings in bags or containers in the freezer and add to them whenever you have more. Make broth when you have about 4 cups or whatever amount is convenient for the size of your saucepan. The trimmings need only be simmered in water to make a tasty vegetable broth.


Liquid from cooking mild or sweet-flavored vegetables can be used as another economical, nutritious soup base. Save the leftover cooking liquid from carrots, members of the onion family, mushrooms, asparagus, dried beans, peas, frozen corn or potatoes. Although many old-fashioned recipes call for enriching soups with butter, cream or meat, today’s health-conscious cooks omit these ingredients. Fortunately, fat-free soups made of fine-quality vegetables and herbs can be delicious.


2 carrots, diced

1 onion, diced

1 bay leaf

1 large sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth or 3 1/2 cups homemade

1 1/2 cups hot water

1/2 pound thin asparagus

1/2 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas


Freshly ground pepper

This soup is intended as an appetizer, served with crusty country bread. To make it more substantial for a light entree, include filling vegetables like potatoes or corn or add about 1/2 cup quick-cooking barley or rice to the soup when it comes to a boil.

Combine carrots, onion, bay leaf, thyme, broth and hot water in saucepan. Cover and bring to boil. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat 10 minutes.

Cut off and discard lower inch of each asparagus stalk, then cut each spear into 3 pieces. Add asparagus and peas to soup. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Discard thyme sprig and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

4 servings. Each serving:

78 calories; 1,010 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1.51 grams fiber.


3 onions, coarsely chopped

1 carrot, diced

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 leek, dark green part only, rinsed and sliced (optional)

1 1/2 to 2 cups mushroom stems or sliced mushrooms (optional)

6 cups water

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

5 parsley stems (optional)

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon peppercorns (optional)

Salt (optional)

Broth can be refrigerated 3 days or frozen.

Combine onions, carrot, celery, leek, mushrooms, water, bay leaf, thyme, parsley stems, garlic, peppercorns and salt to taste in saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, 45 minutes to 1 hour.


Strain broth, pressing on solid ingredients in strainer to remove all liquid. Discard solids.

1 quart. Each cup:

4 calories; 2 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 0 carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.05 gram fiber.