A comforting soup brimming with flavor and irresistible aroma begins with sautéed vegetables. While it can be extremely tempting to skip this step and dump everything into the pot at once, sautéed vegetables are truly at the heart of this soul-soothing dish.
Most recipes advise that you sauté vegetables before adding them to the soup. The high heat and oil soften and caramelize the vegetables to enhance their flavor. Excess moisture is released, giving the vegetables and soup a richer, concentrated flavor and aroma.
But when you’re hungry and the recipe calls for sautéed onions and garlic, should you bother – aren’t the vegetables going to cook anyway with the rest of the ingredients? Find out why you should always sauté vegetables before adding them to the soup:
Why Do You Sauté Vegetables?
Soup, curry, and stew are typically made with sautéed vegetables – and for a good reason. This technique significantly impacts the dish’s final taste, texture, and color.
- Simple: Sautéing is a relatively quick and straightforward way to cook vegetables with delicious results, as it enhances and locks in the vibrant color and flavor of the vegetables.
- Tasty: It tames a vegetable’s pungent or bitter taste and adds incredible depth of flavor and natural sweetness. Sulfurous veggies like onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots will develop a balanced, sweet, and mellow taste, forming a delicious base for other ingredients.
- Perfect texture: Rapid cooking and lack of moisture help maintain structural integrity. Sautéed vegetables are slightly caramelized, crisp-tender, and crunchy, instead of soggy and mushy. When added to soup, stew, or curry, they will hold their shape.
- Healthier than frying: Vegetables are able to retain most of their nutrients due to the short cooking time and exposure to heat. In addition, far less oil/fat is used with this technique.
The sautéing process involves frying food over medium-high heat in a shallow pan, using a minimal amount of fat (such as oil or butter). When the vegetables are exposed to high heat in a relatively dry environment, non-enzymatic browning occurs, namely caramelization and the Maillard Reaction:
Sugars and proteins in the vegetables react to the high and dry heat, causing them to brown and develop complex flavors and aromas. When vegetables are sautéed, all the flavor is sealed in, and they retain a crisp yet tender texture after being added to soups and other dishes.
Sautéed aromatics such as onion, garlic, ginger, celery, and carrots form the foundation for soup, as they help create layers of deep, exquisite flavor when browned (like French onion soup). As soon as the other ingredients are added to the sautéed vegetables, they will meld and absorb the fantastic flavors.
See my post on how to caramelize the perfect golden onions.
How Do You Sauté Vegetables For Soup?
Sauteed vegetables will impart superb flavor, texture, and aroma to your soup when you follow these simple steps:
1. Prep The Vegetables
Bring vegetables to room temperature and slice them into small, thin, even-sized pieces.
2. Choose The Right Pan And Fat
- For best results, select a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven that is large enough to spread the vegetables in a single layer without overcrowding them (which will result in steaming).
- Use a high-quality, neutral-tasting fat with a higher smoke point. Excellent choices include canola, grapeseed, peanut, and sunflower oils, butter and ghee.
- If you are making a meat-based soup, brown the meat first, remove it from the pan, and sauté the vegetables in the leftover fat drippings for maximum flavor.
3. Bring On The Heat
- Preheat your pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Once the pot has reached the desired heat, add oil or melted butter-just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pot.
- Allow the oil/butter to heat up for approximately 30 seconds, until it simmers.
4. Add The Vegetables
- Start by adding the crispier vegetables that generally take longer to cook. For soup, this is generally the onions, celery, and carrots.
- Avoid continuous stirring. Flip the vegetables for even heat distribution and prevent them from sticking to the pan.
- As the veggies cook, they will first get soft and juicy, then begin to turn golden brown. This will take around 8-10 minutes.
5. Add Garlic, Herbs, And Spices
- Minced garlic should only be added towards the end of the sauteing process, as it cooks within 1-2 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt, dried spices, and herbs. Continue to cook until fragrant, and frequently stir for about 1 minute.
6. Continue With The Soup Recipe
- The sautéed vegetables are ready once they are tender, slightly translucent, and lightly browned.
- Add the diced tomatoes (if appropriate for the recipe) and simmer for a few minutes before adding the broth or stock, water, and the remaining ingredients.
How Do You Avoid Overcooking Vegetables In Soup?
Nobody appreciates mushy, overcooked vegetables. Aside from the unpleasant texture and bland flavor, overcooking vegetables can also deplete their nutrients.
Here are a few general guidelines and handy tips to help you avoid overcooking vegetables in soup:
- Do not add all of the vegetables at once. Rather, gradually add each type of vegetable based on the texture and time it takes to cook – soft last.
- Begin with the foundational, aromatic vegetables like onions, celery, leeks, and shallots. These vegetables are usually sautéed for enhanced flavor. Only add minced garlic towards the end of the sauteing process, as it cooks within 30-60 seconds.
- Then add firm, hardy, or starchy vegetables such as cabbage, potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, turnips, and other root vegetables. Slice all the vegetables into uniform pieces to ensure they cook evenly and simultaneously.
- Medium-firm veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini should be added towards the end. Add tomatoes when the other vegetables are close to tender.
- Leafy greens and delicate vegetables such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, peas, and fresh herbs cook fairly quickly, so only throw them in within the last few minutes.
- Did you know? Acidic ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, tomatoes, and wine will add depth of flavor AND prevent potatoes and starchy vegetables from going mushy.
Can I Add Raw Onions To Soup?
While raw onion can be added directly to the soup, it is not advised. Raw onions take longer to soften, and they will retain a sharp, pungent, and sulfurous flavor which can be extremely unpleasant.
It is always better to sauté onions first – even for few minutes. Direct and dry heat will soften and caramelize the onions, producing a deliciously sweet, balanced, and mellow taste. Sauteed onions create a fantastic foundation for soup by adding natural sweetness and depth of flavor.
You Forgot To Sauté Onions Before Adding To Soup?
The soup will still be delicious and edible, however, it might have a stronger, pungent flavor from the raw onions. If you are not too far into the cooking process, quickly remove as much of the onions as possible, drain, and sauté them in a separate pan before returning them to the soup.
Will Onions Soften In Boiling Water?
Depending on the size, onions will begin to soften in boiling water within approximately 30-45 minutes. Sauteeing works better to soften onions.
Hopefully you now know whether you need to saute vegetables before adding to soup. One difference between a good soup and a great soup is sauteed vegetables! This step is a secret to sensational depth of flavor, texture, and aroma.
Direct heat and a touch of fat from oil or butter browns the vegetables, enhancing their natural sweetness. The rapid cooking is enough to soften the vegetables while maintaining a crisp and crunchy texture.