It's 6:30 on a dark, shivery morning. The furnace is rumbling away as I write, and I need a mug of something hot and comforting.

For most of you, I know, that means coffee. It's heresy these days, but I don't drink coffee. And all I really want -- quite desperately, actually -- is for an endless vat of vegetable soup to magically appear on my stove. I'd be perfectly content to sneak mugs, cups and bowls of that soup all day while I huddle under my electric throw with my Kindle and a cat or two.

But since my fairy soup godmother or my soup-making mother-in-law haven't shown up in my kitchen this morning, I guess it's left to me to satisfy my hankering.

You can enjoy a warm bowl of vegetable soup any time of the year with seasonal vegetables.(Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
You can enjoy a warm bowl of vegetable soup any time of the year with seasonal vegetables.(Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/MCT) ( Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times )

Last week, we talked about following recipe instructions. This week, we're serving up a dish that really needs no recipe. After all, if you chop a bunch of vegetables and add some broth or water and seasonings, you'll get soup. But it's nice to have a framework from which to work. And a number of you offered just that: vegetable soup recipes that allow for flexibility, depending on whim and the contents of your fridge.

One of my mom buddies, Marilyn Williams, of Fremont, shared her favorite big-batch veggie soup recipe. It starts with sauteed onions or leeks, celery and a big can of tomatoes, then finishes with eight cups of any and all vegetables you choose.


Advertisement

"I came across a wonderful vegetable soup recipe a couple of years ago and have made it many, many times for my family and vegetarian friends, always to rave reviews," Williams says. "Since I'm not a fan of Martha Stewart, it's a good thing I didn't discover that the original recipe was hers until after I tried it!"

I picked up a hint or idea to steal, er, borrow, from almost every vegetable soup recipe readers sent. Williams' submission includes a tablespoon of tomato paste for depth of flavor, and she always uses thinly sliced leeks rather than chopped onions.

Melodie Pohorsky picked up a bit of inspiration from her favorite celebrity chefs: She adds a pinch of salt and pepper every time she adds a new vegetable to a pot of veggie soup. "On my stove, filled with my delicious vegetable soup, is the biggest pot in my house," she says by email. "The first time I made this soup, I was expecting my youngest daughter in 1989. I had a jar of my Aunt Josie's home-canned tomatoes and a fridge filled with vegetables needing to be cooked before the baby arrived. It was the best pot of vegetable soup I have ever made or eaten!

"Since then, I have learned a few techniques that bring out the best in every single vegetable I include in my soup. I start out with some basic ingredients that are in every pot I make and add whatever vegetable looks the best at the store or what is in my refrigerator just waiting to be eaten."

Pohorsky sometimes makes a batch of brown rice or elbow macaroni and adds it to each bowl along with Parmesan cheese.

Joan Carter, of Newark, says it's always best to saute veggies such as onions, carrots and zucchini, along with garlic, first. "The caramelization makes a really big difference in the flavor, and it mellows the garlic a lot," she says. Regina Williams, of Santa Clara, adds a cup of uncooked pearl barley to her soup.

Heidi Denzler-Halsey makes vegetable soup once a week and eats it for lunch each day. "It never turns out the same way twice, since I don't use a recipe," she says.

She cooks seasonally, adding winter squash, sweet potatoes, leeks, fennel and chopped Swiss chard in the winter, and chopped eggplant, red and green bell peppers and summer squash in the summer.

Her best piece of advice, and one I'll likely follow: "Don't add broccoli. It gets bitter," she says.

Request line

  • Gram-ME needs some help birthday shopping for her granddaughter. "What cookbook would you suggest as a gift for a soon-to-be 21-year-old who really doesn't know much about cooking?" she asks. "Thinking of/looking forward to her future, she'd like a good, informational, easy-to-follow cookbook with normal, everyday family-type recipes. I know there's 'Betty Crocker' and 'Better Homes & Gardens,' etc. What, specifically, would you suggest as a good cookbook for a beginner?"

    Contact Kim Boatman at HomePlates@bayareanewsgroup.com. Find recent Home Plates recipes online at www.mercurynews.com/home-plates.