Cheater’s Veggie Soup

A delicious fall soup that gets a great savory flavor from a few unexpected ingredients.


Cheater’s Veggie Soup

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Let me preface what I’m about to write with the fact that I’m an enormous Cook’s Illustrated fan.  I love their magazine and cookbooks and all their recipes are almost always surefire.

That said, when “Farmhouse Veggie Soup” won the poll last week, I was expecting to read a recipe involving slow-simmering stocks and farm-raised veggies.

After all, I have a hard time calling a recipe “Farmhouse” unless it’s actually cooked in a farmhouse.  Or at a minimum it should use all fresh ingredients.

When I think of a farmhouse veggie soup, I imagine an old grandmother slowly stirring a pot of stock that’s been simmering for hours.  She carefully stirs in hand-picked veggies from outside her back door while her lazy dogs lounge around the kitchen.

What doesn’t come to mind is a test cook in a cooking laboratory mixing soy sauce and powdered porcini mushrooms to get the same deep flavors that the grandmother gets.

It’s not to say that the later version isn’t completely delicious (it is), but calling it “Farmhouse” makes me feel icky.

So I’m renaming it Cheater’s Veggie Soup.  Because that’s really what it is.

Cheater's Vegetable Soup

Serves 6-8
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Dutch Ovenspice grinder

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A delicious fall soup that gets a great savory flavor from a few unexpected ingredients.

Adapted from a Cook's Illustrated Recipe


1 Tablespoon dried porcini mushroom powder
8 Sprigs fresh parsley + 3 Tablespoons chopped
4 Sprigs fresh thyme
1 Bay leaf
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Large leeks, 1/2 inch slices
2 Carrots, peeled and diced
2 Ribs celery, diced
1/2 Cup white wine
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
6 Cups water
4 Cups vegetable stock
1/2 Cup pearl barley
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 turnip, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 green cabbage, diced
1 Cup frozen peas
1 Teaspoon lemon juice

Serve with:

Crusty Bread
Lemon Thyme butter (1 stick butter mashed with 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, zest from 1/2 lemon, and a pinch of salt)


1) In a spice grinder, grind a handful of dried mushrooms for 25-30 seconds until they are powdered. Measure out a Tablespoon of the powder.

2) Use kitchen twine to tie together parsley and thyme sprigs with bay leaf.

3) Melt butter in a large, sturdy pot (dutch oven works well) over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, celery, white wine and soy sauce, plus a big pinch of salt. Cook until liquid is evaporated and veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.

4) Add water, broth, barley, mushroom powder, herb bundle, and garlic. Increase heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, partially covered.

5) Add potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes.

6) Remove soup from heat and stir in peas and chopped parsley. Remove herb bundle. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with crusty bread and lemon-thyme butter.

Some Whacky Ingredients

This recipe is kind of wild, but with good reason.  Most cooks know that the way to make the best homemade soup is to start with a really good homemade stock.  Without this, you’re already playing catch-up.

But this recipe ingeniously compensates for the lack of a homemade stock with a few ingredients that have a delicious, savory flavor: dried mushrooms and soy sauce.  Just a small amount of both of these gives the soup a really deep flavor so you can actually use store-bought stock and still end up with a fantastic soup.

The first ingredient, porcini mushroom powder, is a bit weird.  Luckily, it’s actually really easy to make.  Just stick a few dried mushrooms in your spice grinder and pulse them for about 30 seconds.  BAM.  Mushroom powder.

Mushroom powder is strong!

Soy sauce and white wine also give the soup some great flavors.

Normally, when you make a good stock, you let some herbs simmer in the stock, but for this soup, we’ll just throw the herb bundle straight into the soup when we add the store-bought stock.

Herb bundles are smart.

Starting the Soup

Most of the actual vegetables in this soup are pretty straightforward.  One thing I was really happy to see was the substitution of leeks for onions.  Onions can quickly overpower a soup so the leeks are a great change.  They have that same flavor profile, but aren’t quite as strong.

The key part to remember about chopping leeks is to make sure you cut them in half horizontally and run them under water to clean the dirt out between the layers of leeks.  Then you can just dice them up.

Don’t be intimidated!

Also dice up some celery and carrots and you’re ready to get started on the soup.

Starting the soup…

Using a heavy pot, like a dutch oven, melt some butter over medium-high heat and then toss in your leeks, carrots, and celery.  Also add in the white wine, soy sauce, and a big pinch of salt.

Cook this until the liquids all evaporate and the veggies are starting to soften.

Then go ahead and stir in the water, mushroom powder, herb bundle, stock, garlic, and barley.

Stock and water!

The barley is especially important.  As it plumps up, it really thickens the soup nicely.

Action shot!

Bring this to a simmer and let it simmer for about 20-25 minutes so the barley can start to cook.

The Starchy Stuff

While that’s simmering away, you can prepare the starchy stuff in the soup:  potatoes, turnips, and cabbage.  Ok.  Cabbage isn’t exactly a starch, but you add it with the starchy stuff so it gets lumped in for purposes of this soup.

The starch business.

Once your soup has simmered for 20 minutes or so, then you can stir in those veggies.

Love these flavors.

Continue to simmer the soup until the veggies are all tender and the barley is cooked.  This will probably be another 20 minutes or so.

Finishing the Soup

To finish off this soup, once all the veggies are soft, kill the heat and stir in some frozen peas and fresh parsley.  Now would also be a good time to taste the soup for seasoning.  It might need another pinch of salt and pepper.

Some green stuff.

Serve this up immediately with some really crusty bread.

Crusty bread is key.

It’s a perfect soup for the fall and you can actually make it on a week day thanks to some of the shortcuts in the recipe.

I’m not sure that I would exactly call it “Farmhouse”, but I would call it a keeper!

12 Responses to “Cheater’s Veggie Soup” Leave a comment

  1. Hey Nick,

    Not sure if you noticed, but you spelled wine- whine- in the ingredients list. It cracked me up because my friends and I get together for wine and whine night on occasion. LOL

  2. I too love Cook’s Illustrated, I am a charter member as a matter of fact. I saw this soup and wondered how good it was. I guess I will give it a try. BTW-try the chicken thighs with the salsa verde made with capers anchovies and parsley. it was a really good way to render all the fat out of the thighs and the sauce is awesome!

  3. This soup sounds really good – regardless of what it’s called =)

    I love the new layout of the site too!

    And as for porcini mushroom powder – I made a recipe for steak sauce with it during the summer and it was by far the best steak sauce EVER! So I can only imagine the depth of flavor it adds to this soup!

  4. I’ve been slacking on picking up new issues of Cook’s Illustrated recently, so thank you Nick for keeping the busy masses up on what they’re doing!

    I’ve tried many ways of including mushrooms to draw out the savory flavors of things over the years, but I hadn’t heard of the powder method. Love the simple soup, and even if I don’t get a chance to try it out, the mushroom tip definitely goes into the inventory.


    1. If you read David Chang’s new quarterly “Lucky Peach” he gets talking about ramen broth, and there is a recipe in the magazine for the ramen broth he is using at his restaurant. It appears his secret is mushroom powder as well. Seems like a great way to add some deep umami flavor to me, I might just have to try it,.

  5. What is your favorite store-bought vegetable (or vegetarian) stock? I haven’t had much luck finding one :(

    1. Pacific Natural makes a mushroom broth that is delicious! College Inn also makes a great broth – white wine and herbs. Aside from that I use Knorr bouillon cubes.

      I have a blog post on Bake or Buy about vegetable stock – check it out!

  6. Yum! I made this and it was delicious! I’ve incorporated using the ground dried mushrooms in other dishes. Such a great idea.

  7. Found this recipe when I googled “Best vegetable soup” and it didn’t disappoint! It is like a warm hug in a bowl, but wonderfully light tasting at the same time. It does make ALOT, but I think it will freeze well. Which means future me is going to patting past me on the back for weeks to come!

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