Red Soup

I can’t believe I’ve not written about red soup. This vegetable soup is a winter staple here that is quite hearty and enjoyed with a good stout or porter. Aunt Sue Gray coined the name red soup and that’s what her offspring, nieces, and nephews call it. The Watson side of the family has not heard the term but those that grew up with Nellie Sue on the old home place have surely eaten some because my grandmother Myrtle Hamby passed this soup down the line.

The version described here is reverse engineered but has been influenced by America’s Test Kitchens Vegetable Soup. I owe the correct amount of stock, use of Vegetable Better Than Bouillon soup base, and the sauté technique to the radio show and this recipe. As written, this recipe makes about 6 to 8 pint servings.


  • Chef’s knife
  • 5 quart dutch oven
  • several 2 quart prep bowls
  • monkey dish for garlic and spices


It is my custom to organize the ingredients by steps in the process so you can measure out and queue them for use. Knowing what will be used together saves prep bowls. Things added in a single step may cohabit in a prep bowl.

Sauté Stuff

  • 2 yellow onions, softball sized
  • bunch of celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 5 cloves or so garlic
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried chilies

Additional Vegetables

  • 1 pound low starch (red) potatoes. Two do the trick
  • 1 cup frozen peas — allow to thaw while the soup is cooking
  • 2 14 oz cans fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 cup frozen corn (optional)

And Stock Stuff

These are kitchen staples you should have on hand.

  • 5 cups water
  • olive oil for sauté
  • 1 tablespoon low salt vegetable Better Than Bouillon

Sous Chef Labors

Begin by cutting up everything that needs cutting. Two large yellow onions will half-fill a 2 quart prep bowl. Five ribs of celery should give a similar volume of celery dice. Use 2 thick carrots or 4 thin carrots. These should yield a cup or so of carrot dice. These amounts can be rough, that’s the beauty of red soup. You just sort of wing it.

  • Dice the onion, say 1/2 cm dice
  • Quarter and dice the carrots 3 cm thick
  • Dice 5 ribs of celery, maybe 3 mm thick slices
  • Smash and mince the garlic
  • Measure out spices and cup with the garlic in a monkey dish
  • Dice the potatoes, 1/2 cm dice

You can do the potatoes while the onions and celery are roasting. That step does not require continuous attention.

Sauté Step

This can’t be easier. Put the Dutch oven over low fire (2.5 to 3) and add olive oil to cover the pot bottom, plus the onions, celery, and carrots. Stir and cover. Let them roast for 20 minutes or so. During this period, the onions and celery will reduce in volume and the onions will develop an awesome sweet flavor. This method develops a great soup base flavor without close watching or constant agitation of the ingredients to prevent burning.

Starting the Soup

Once the vegetables meet your liking, add the garlic and spices. Stir everything up to mix in the spices and garlic letting everything get evenly distributed through the mixture. Let the garlic roast for a couple of minutes to soften and mellow the garlic. This step is not critical time wise, just a couple of minutes.

Next add the potatoes and stir everything up until the potatoes are well coated with oil and spice from the vegetable base. Again, this step is not critical and takes just a minute or two.

Add the tomatoes, 5 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon of reduced salt Vegetable Better Than Bouillon. Cover leaving the heat about 3 until boiling begins. Once boiling starts, simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 20 to 30 minutes depending of the potatoes variety and the size of the dice. It helps to keep the dice uniform so all cook evenly.

It is important that the boiling be gentle as this affects the release of the fats and flavors in the soup. Gentle is good, just a bubble or two every second. There should be no evidence of rolling convection in the pot, just a gentle bubbling at a low energy that is not causing splatter.

Finishing Up

Once the potatoes have the texture you prefer, the soup is ready for the addition of any frozen vegetables. Add the peas and corn at this stage, stir them in, and allow them to heat up. Basically, let the soup return to a boil then kill the fire and let it sit for a bit. Tinker with salt and pepper at this point. The soup should taste of tomato, have a sweetness from the tomato, carrot, and onions.

I find that the Better Than Bouillon supplies sufficient salt for most things I make with it. I usually don’t add additional salt. If you feel the need, add salt by teaspoons not to exceed 3. If it gets too salty, you can save the soup by adding some brown sugar.


This soup will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. My practice is to put up 2 pints in the fridge to be eaten in the near future and to freeze the rest in pint servings for future consumption.

I find that the flavor develops in the fridge and that the soup is better the second night that the first where it seems a bit flat. That said, this is a great recipe to make the day before you serve it to company. Gently reheat it and serve once it is up to 165 or so.


This soup seems to work well with porter or stout beers or a fruity white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. I don’t think I’d serve this with a hoppy beer but modestly hopped lager or ales should work. No Coastal Extreme Cat 5 for this soup.