My Dad’s Vegetable Soup*

*Or, Enough Vegetable Soup for an Army

*Or, My Dad Actually Cooked this Vegetable Soup for an Army

Vegetable Soup from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

Well, howdy! I hope all of you in the US had an enjoyable President’s Day on Monday, while we here in Ontario enjoyed a statutory holiday with Family Day (translation: “Sit-on-your-butt-and-relax-inside-while-the-frigid-snow-and-wind-whip-around-the-house-outside-creating-snowdrifts-taller-than-the-HH-Day).  Before I get to today’s stupendous soup recipe, I thought it might be fun to share a bit of the food that the HH and I have been enjoying over the past couple of weekends.

You see, I handed in the final first draft of my cookbook manuscript last weekend, which occasioned a brunch celebration! I’d been reading and hearing about a place called The Beet for ages, and since we were already in that general area of town to pick up photos from the photographer, we decided to drop in.


The food was AH-MAY-ZING! The place offers an all-organic menu, with many vegan and gluten free (and vegan/gluten free) options.  I began the brunch with a juice called “Beet It”: a vibrant and zingy mix of beet, apple, carrot and ginger:


Next up was a main course of the Buenos Dias Wrap, a rice tortilla filled to bursting with quinoa, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo and Daiya cheese (which they gracious subbed instead of the dairy cheese):


And wrapped it all up with a rich, decadent raw chocolate cheesecake:


(The HH opted for the Huevos Rancheros with a hunk of local sausage and a big piece of Apple Crumble Cake for dessert. Two thumbs up from him as well.).

This past weekend was another brunch happening, this time to meet up with one of my favorite blogger buddies, the newly-settled, all-the-way-from-Australia, loving-her-new-job and Queen-of-all-things-chocolate: Hannah, or Wayfaring Chocolate!  We met up at Fresh in Toronto, another favorite spot for healthy, whole foods dishes.  After hugs and much chatter, we finally ordered once the server came by for the second time:


[Blog friends are among the best, y’all.]

My choice was the Powerhouse bowl (new to me), which was layered with avocado, chick peas, grilled tofu steaks [which I exchanged for tempeh], sunflower sprouts, toasted nut & seed mix, tomato, red onion & spicy tahini sauce. A stellar combination (despite the fact that the tempeh steaks resemble poo in this photo):


While Hannah chowed down on the Macro Greens bowl: steamed greens & broccoli, grilled sweet potato & tomato with bean sprouts and choice of dressing (she had salsa):


We had a grand time gabbing about (in no particular order) adapting to Canadian winters, working one’s dream job, family and computer experts, avoiding hospitals, cupcake cravings, funnel web spiders and drop bears. Thanks, Hannah, for meeting up! And I’d highly recommend either one of those restaurants if you’re ever in the Toronto area. 🙂

And now, from restaurant food to. . . .army food!

Although I  didn’t realize it back then, there was much about my childhood that was a little “different” from the typical upbringing most of my friends had (and I’m not talking about those chartreuse bell bottoms I refused to give up even when they were almost up to my knees, either).

To begin with, my mom worked outside the home throughout most of my grade school years (fairly unusual during the era of The Brady Bunch).  She and Auntie M both toiled in the same building on Monkland Avenue, at a company called International Film Distributors.  While Mom didn’t actually have anything to do with the films per se, she spent her days as bookkeeper to the boss, Mr. Diamond, who reminded me a bit of a rottweiler with his black hair slicked firmly back off his forehead, his face slightly square with flattened nose and eternal scowl, and a temper that could erupt without any warning.

Once in a while, though, he’d reward my mom with movie passes which she then handed off to us kids. (Now, don’t be envious of those free movies; the type of films IFD distributed always seemed to be lower-tier, or else those my friends and I had no interest in seeing; to wit, Three Days of the Condor, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Up the Sandbox, Dog Day Afternoon, or The Twelve Chairs. . . remember any of those?).

(“Mum, we don’t remember any of them ,either, but I’m sure we would have liked Dog Day Afternoon–I mean, what could be bad about an afternoon frolicking with other dogs?”)

In addition, my dad worked crazy-long hours; in contrast to my friends’ suit-and-tie clad, office-bound fathers, my dad often left the house before the rest of us were even awake, spent his day in a blood-stained apron sawing up cow parts, then returned home long after dinner was over. He repeated this pattern six days a week; on Sundays, he drove the rest of us back to his store  for grocery “shopping” excursions. He did, however, take one Monday off every two weeks; and it was on those Mondays that he cooked this vegetable soup.

Vegetable soup from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

Even if I’d forgotten it was my father’s day off, I remembered the moment I strode through the door at lunchtime. On those days, I was greeted with the scent of carrots, celery, parsnip, peppers and a slew of other veggies gently bobbing in a massive pot on the stove, my dad leaning over inhaling the wafting steam. He chopped and tossed various vegetables, alternating with rice and seasonings, twirling between the counter and the stovetop like a weathervane perched on a farmhous roof. He always made a massive amount, enough to last the rest of the week for all five of us.

You see, when my dad was in his twenties, after he left Poland, he ended up for a time in the Russian army. (He still speaks fondly of the wonderful socialized medicine over there. Gee, Canada, you might take a lesson–?!).  In any case, between riding horses from town to town, chopping wood in the forest, guarding an outpost in Siberia and getting into knife fights with the enemy (there’s a thin scar still visible on his waistline), my dad worked as the barracks cook for a time, so he became accustomed to cooking in bulk.

There was something magical about dad’s steaming vat of soup, too, a flavor my mother could never reproduce no matter how many times she attempted the “recipe.” His method harkened back to those days when, as a soldier, he had to make due with whatever meager ingredients were on hand. Like so many of those traditional recipes, my father’s soup contained whatever forgotten, neglected or nearly wilted vegetables were on hand, with just ingenuity and thrift guiding his movements; yet every time, it ended up exactly the same, the soup simmering all afternoon until everything in the pot softened, colors fading like paint on the side of a barn.

How did he manage it? Even when he used barley instead of rice, or green pepper instead of red, or split peas instead of baby lima beans, the end result was the same: a hearty, golden broth, steaming with pale, colorful chunks that we slurped up with gusto.  In fact, the only consistent part of the recipe was that it contained no meat whatsoever, since in that case, my mom would refuse to eat it.

Well, this is my rendition of that soup.  It’s not exactly like my dad’s, but like any family recipe, I’ve tweaked it to make it my own. I hope you feel free to do the same; the recipe is very fluid (fluid. . . . soup–get it? I swear, I crack myself up). If you’re not a fan of rice, use your grain of choice; feel free to substitute similar chopped veggies for the ones I use here. The end result will invariably be a good one, and you’ll have a filling, simple meal that will both nourish and delight.

I’m linking this recipe to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.

Vegetable Soup from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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Last Year at this Time: Byesar (Fava Bean Humms) (gluten free; ACD  All Stages )

Two Years Ago: Pasta Arrabiata (gluten free; ACD Stage 2 and beyond)

Three Years Ago: How I Spent My Florida Vacation, Part I 

Four Years Ago Three Shindigs and a Midterm Break 

Five Years Ago: Soba Noodles with Chard, Ginger and Walnuts (gluten free; ACD  Stage 2 and beyond)

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

[Disclaimer: this post may contain affiliate links. If you buy using these links, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission from the sale.]



  1. What a wonderful memory and how interesting that your dad the butcher spent his days off making vegetarian soup – a sign of his affection for your mum or his need to get away from the flesh every once in a while or both – sounds like a great soup. My mum used to make a horrid watery vegetable soup that put me off the idea for quite some time.

    And yay for getting your cookbook draft in and eating great food out and catching up with lovely bloggers like hannah!

    • Johanna, I totally didn’t realize the irony there!! Yes, I guess even my dad had to escape the meat once in a while! 😉 It was lovely to meet up with Hannah and revel in her Australian anecdotes (and accent). And I’m a sucker for those drop bears!!

  2. Love the shout out to The Beet. It is our go-to resto when dining with monks since they serve familiar food. Also it helps that we live so close to it. In fact, we are threading there tonight to celebrate Rob’s birthday. I am already salivating the desserts. 🙂 next time you are in the area, let me know, I’d love to meet up.

    • Janet, that would be lovely!! It’s really a stretch for us (complete other end of the city), but we loved it and were so happy that we got to go there. Enjoy the dinner and Happy Birthday to Rob! 😀

  3. Thanks Ricki – definitely making this this weekend. And in crockpot too. Best of all 🙂

  4. Hey Ricky – for some reason the print this button is not working. I wonder if it is my computer related. Thanks.

    • Hi Ozlem,
      I just tried the “Print This” and it worked for me. . . .looks good on the draft version as well. I’m not sure why it didn’t work! Could you try again and let me know? Thanks. And anyone else reading this, does it work for you?

  5. Mmmm, comforting soup for this ridiculously chilly weather! Another great memory Ricki. I love a man who can do something in the kitchen!
    I’ve heard of the Beet too. Can’t wait to try it! I’m off to discover Hannah 🙂

    • Yes, that was his one specialty (plus what he called “Mixed Grill”–every kind of meat you can imagine on the grill). 😉 I loved The Beet–we should go sometime!! 🙂

  6. That’s what I love about soups – it’s such a great way to clean out my fridge. I love that this makes such a big batch – I could freeze this and eat it all winter long.

  7. Another enjoyable post and recipe, Ricki! You always say how I defy the wisdom of keeping posts brief, but I think you do an awfully good job of that yourself. 😉 Loved every word though! And your version of your dad’s soup looks fantastic! Congrats on getting in your first draft!


    • Thanks, Shirley. Yes, I think this one was even a bit long for me!! But I guess we do what comes naturally, right? And thanks for the good manuscript wishes–now just to complete all the edits (gasp) 😉

  8. Hi Ricki -Sorry I was working intermittently. Must be my computer because it still does not work. Weird because the other day I printed the blueberry bar you posted here and it worked. It just says Blak page on the new page it opens and it is indeed blank. Hmmm…

    • So strange! Let me try on my hubby’s compute–okay, just did and it works on his, on a different browser, too. What browser are you using? I’m hoping to hear from other blog readers to see what their experiences are and will report back.

  9. I always love your stories 🙂 Aren’t memories so fun? Congrats on the cookbook draft, you must be thrilled. Have you an idea on the release date?
    Your soup looks great of course- I made a similarly hearty one a week or so ago with red lentils, split peas, barley, leeks, potatoes, carrot, celery…Somehow those throw-it-all-in-a-pot recipes turn out fantastically when it’s soup! I’m sure yours is much more thought out than mine was though.

  10. P.S Forgot to say I enjoyed your cauli, parsnip,white bean mash tonight for supper 🙂 Loved it, especially with the hint of roasted garlic in it. Enjoyed alongside some tofu loaf from the freezer, sautéed courgettes + red onion gravy.

  11. Liz Handler says

    This soup sounds great, and I will be making it soon. I make a “soup starter” in the fall. I cut corn off the cob, chop up whatever squash is intent on taking over the garden that week, toss in some celery, onions, garlic, slightly squished tomatoes, beans, etc, and cook them up in some extra virgin olive oil, & add a little water when they’ve cooked a bit.
    I then let it to cool and put it in freezer bags. This way, when the need for veg soup hits, I have a ready made mix of late summer organic veggies to add. It also makes it easy if my kids and grandkids show up for dinner. Add some potatoes and a can of white kidneys and some stock, make up some garlic toast and voilá-dinner!

  12. The Beet looks amazing. I’m especially hungry at the moment because I haven’t had lunch and am in my study with Callie so she won’t bark at the man working on our fireplace. I’m sitting here reading about food and my stomach is growling!

    Your dad’s soup looks so hearty and wonderful. What a great food memory. My Dad also cooked in the army and his dish of “fame” was American chop suey.

  13. There is way too much amazing food in this post, and you two are adorable!

    Totally pinned this recipe 🙂

  14. I adore you I adore you I adore you. Thank you (and the wonderful HH) for providing me with the perfect sparkling bright brunch-light in what could otherwise have been quite a lonely and mopey weekend of hurty-ness and recovery. Your succinct description of our hours of conversation made me laugh out loud. Thank you for being incandescent. xoxoxoxox times a million.

    Just watch out for those sneaky drop bears.

  15. there’s something so satisfying about a good bowl of veg soup! and what a cute picture!!

  16. You DO crack me up. Very funny. Can’t wait to make this. What a sweet memory!

  17. Liz Handler says

    I just pinned this, but the picture that came up was of your beet/apple smoothie. Odd.

    • VERY odd! But you can pin directly from the actual photo of the soup on this post; just hover your cursor over the top right corner of whichever photo you want to pin, then when the “Pin It” icon comes up, click on it and it will pin that exact photo for you. Let me know if it works! 🙂

  18. It makes me smile to see you and Hannah getting together again while she is up there. So jealous! 😀

  19. 12-15 servings? You mean a cups of soup, right? This was enough for a week of entree size work lunches. Did the liquid evaporate during cooking or should I be worried about my portions? 🙂 Indeed, one should use the large onion as the ingredients list; I used a small one and felt it fell a bit short. But, this is a very comforting soup that has a bit of uniqueness for vegetable soup due to the dill. I’m looking forward to my lunches this week!


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