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I threw a whole bunch of vegetables in the crock-pot with water and realized I had forgot to buy meat for it. I cooked it anyways and it is extremely bland. Any ideas on what I can do to fix it now? I don't want all this to go to waste...

I basically just threw a bunch of random vegetables that I picked up from the farmers market in there: 3 squash, 2 zucchini, an onion, kale, a handful of green beans, 4 servings pearl barley (I had half a bag laying around I needed to use up), 2 handfuls black beans, half a head of cabbage. I put some salt & pepper, about 6 teaspoons of chicken bouillon, garlic powder. It's a big crock-pot and I filled it to the brim with water (besides all the veggies).

Any suggestions would be great...

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1  
How long have you been cooking this? Is it a pot of mush, or is there still some texture to the veggies? –  Shog9 Jun 21 '11 at 2:46
    
I cooked it on high for... 3 hours maybe? Theres tons of texture left. But, I cooked it on Sunday night and it is now Tuesday morning... My plan had been to eat a bit each day for lunch. –  cmcculloh Jun 21 '11 at 12:04

7 Answers 7

up vote 9 down vote accepted

With such a random collection of ingredients, I'm hesitant to suggest anything lest it conflict with one of the flavors. With that in mind, add extra ingredients a little at a time to make sure it doesn't go overboard or taste jarring with something already in there.

Suggestions to improve the flavor:

  • Celery salt or celery seed (preferably ground). Fresh celery is normally part of the mirepoix in veg soup, but it's probably not a good idea to add to a cooked soup, so we're adding the next best thing. It is amazing the difference celery can make.
  • White wine vinegar (for acidity and a richer flavor, and pairing with the cabbage and onions)
  • Dry vermouth or white wine. Some flavor compounds are more soluble in alcohol than water, so this can help bring to the front additional flavors that are already present but undetectable.
  • A jigger of sherry or cooking sherry (the latter has salt, so add it before salting the soup). This is a common suggestion when serving canned soups to guests, to make the soup taste fancier.
  • Rosemary, thyme, and parsley flakes/stems (adds aromatic and herbal flavors)
  • Worcestershire sauce (use carefully, it's potent stuff) -- this adds umami and spiciness
  • Paprika and a pinch or two of cayenne -- adds warmth and back heat, and smokiness
  • Dijon mustard (use sparingly). Adds front heat and a little richness to the soup
  • A little more salt and pepper
  • Parmesan or parmesan rind (for the rind, plan on simmering for a long time to extract flavor). Self-explanatory here.
  • Balsamic vinegar -- adds sweetness, acid, body, and umami. Use caution, it may conflict with the cabbage here.
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This is the one I ended up doing. The soup wasn't necissarily "good" but it's "good enough". One day I tried adding horseradish mustard, and it was actually good... –  cmcculloh Jun 23 '11 at 12:15
    
Lemon juice is often a good alternative to vinegar for getting the pH down to a tastier range. –  Wayfaring Stranger Sep 28 at 21:19

Remove most of the water (you can keep it aside and use it to make vegetable stock).

Put the rest in a blender, add grated Parmigiano and a little bit of butter (or a tad of fresh cream). Season with freshly ground pepper and/or some chili (very good to balance the sweetness of the squash), and garnish with parsley.

Serve with croutons.

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2  
This is a really good idea. It's more aggressive than some of the other suggestions, but it could solve the problem in fast stroke. –  BobMcGee Jun 22 '11 at 4:22
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Hrm... I think I'm going to try this with the last of the soup (enough for about 3 or 4 bowls). I wish I could mark this and the other as the answer... –  cmcculloh Jun 23 '11 at 16:48
    
@cmcculloh: cool, let us know how it turns out! –  nico Jun 23 '11 at 19:45

I cook a lot of vegan soups for my wife and I've come to some tips after too many watery soups.

  1. Fry the onions. Heat up the soup pot and throw a bunch of onions in the bottom and fry them until they brown. This adds an umami flavor to the soup. For rescuing a soup like this, chop them very fine, fry and simmer them in the soup for a while.
  2. Use a can of dark beer as your first cup of water. This also increases the umami flavor as it cooks down. With the chicken stock, I'd use a lager if you need to add more liquid to the soup, then simmer for a while to let the flavors blend.
  3. Add a can of tomato paste or diced tomatoes as part of your broth. A long simmer with tomatoes adds the acidity, adds body to the broth and more of that crucial umami flavor. Tomato paste has a tendency to give a 'beefier' flavor, so omit for chicken. Consider instead diced tomatoes or a roux.
  4. Oxo (or other) vegetable broth cubes. For a large pot of soup, add 3 or 4. This is a bit of a cheat around creating a mirepoix blend (homemade veg broth is better) but it could rescue your veg soup.

I've also had luck with thickening the soup with a roux, mix up your flour and water, pour it into the pan and stir while the flour browns. Stir it into your soup and use some spices, Rosemary, thyme, parsley, pepper, paprika, Worchestershire Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (I'd suggest something with flavor like Tiger Sauce) to liven up the soup.

Because you've got the more delicate veggies like the kale and the zucchini already in the water, I'd focus on thickening the broth or increasing the flavor of the broth.

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Ahem - Worcestershire, pronounced Wooster-sheer. /language Nazi :) +1 for good tips. –  ElendilTheTall Jun 21 '11 at 13:53

If it's a big pot, you probably just need more salt, and some more bouillon. My key is about a tablespoon of bouillon for two litres (quarts) of soup. Depends on the brand and the soup, of course.

If the vegetables still have some texture left and you can still cook it for another half-hour or so, you can add some celery roots and stalks and some parsley to give flavour.

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This is probably a little late, but assuming you still have some of this soup sitting around, let me tell you my suggestion.

I do this sort of thing on purpose. We will get a lot of produce out of our garden, and make a soup similar to what you are describing. We will intentionally leave it bland. The reasoning is that after several days of a particular kind of soup, we'll get tired of it. So we leave it bland, and dress it up when we dish it out. We will have some cooked ground beef, and add it right before we re-heat it. Or add some spiciness to it, or strain and puree it into a veggie dip.

This sort of bland soup is traditional in France (Soup du jour) - where they will have such a pot of soup sitting on the back burner, and add "random ingredient #5" to it as it comes available.

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You could also try adding some asian-style stock goodies to the soup:

  • Dashi-style stock (made from kombu and/or kezurikatsuo)
  • Shiitake dashi (dried mushrooms)
  • Fresh ginger and garlic
  • Soy sauce or hoisin (common in Vietnamese soups)
  • The juice of half a fresh lemon or full lime
  • Fresh, sliced hot peppers, fresh sliced green onion, bean sprouts
  • Hot sauce

And if the soup is complete mush, add a few of the above and blend it with a stick blender.

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Don't underestimate the value of V-8 juice to add flavor. My last batch i used the spicy V8, with a touch of red pepper...it really added a welcome bite to the soup.

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