Soup of the Day: Garbage Soup for Your Soul

January is the long, long Monday of the soul. Everyone is sick, the days aren’t noticeably longer yet, we’re all buried under a few feet of snow, and temperatures are hovering around bone-chilling. On top of all that, I got four impacted wisdom teeth removed last week (the former homes of which have now turned a weird color and I think I’m being colonized by flesh-eating bacteria, don’t worry about it) and I have been woozy and stupid from pain medication for far, far too long.

So what’s the solution? Soup!

If you’re anything like my family, you probably have some old vegetables lying around that you bought in a fit of good intentions maybe sometime late last year. They might be getting floppy, or bits are molding. That’s okay! All is not lost. Pick ‘em up, chop off the egregiously gross bits, and let’s get going.

Also, put on a good song or ten. I danced around to Pete Seeger yesterday, because it seemed right, but if “Solidarity Forever” and “If I Had A Hammer” aren’t really your speed, I’m sure you can find something else instead! (Podcasts are also one of my preferred cooking soundtracks. We can talk about that later.)

I riffed off of a 101 Cookbooks recipe for this soup, though I tend to not follow recipes for soups. That’s the thing about soups: they’re so friendly. They’re forgiving. And when you’re not using noodles that can get too soggy, timing hardly matters!

Do you have an audience like I did? Self-moving vacuum cleaners are great for stray dropped bits. Not too much, of course. (The guy on the left ran headlong into my shin while going for an escaped parsnip. I think we’ll both be bruised.)

A picture of two dogs.

Ingredients: Whatever you can find in your fridge.

I used a few old parsnips, several half onions, a slowly molding cauliflower, lots of mushrooms (though I discarded the slimy ones), a kind of weirdly bendy carrot, and half a head of cabbage. Also, tofu! Chop it all up (yes, really, chop everything first, not in order of adding it to the soup. It’ll make it easier for you later, I promise). For this soup, make everything small and thinly sliced because it’ll float better in the broth.

A picture of chopped vegetables.

Spices are also whatever you can find. For this soup, I went straight for what Heidi Swanson suggested: lots of garlic, lots of ginger, salt, and white pepper. (I’d never cooked with white pepper before, but I’m fortunate to live in a home with a well-stocked, if eccentric, spice cabinet. It’s excellent, but a bit pricey. I recommend it if you can think of other things to do with it!)

A picture of spices for soup.

Add things to the pot in order of cook time. First, the onion, ginger, garlic, carrot, and parsnips, along with some olive oil; those are all the longest-cooking, plus your flavor base. Make ’em soft over medium heat, and then turn the onions translucent — probably about five minutes, though I tend to be impatient.

Next, add your pepper and plenty of water.

A picture of soup cooking in a pot.

Turn up the heat until everything’s simmering nicely, and let it stew for fifteen minutes. In the middle somewhere, add your middle-cooking ingredients — here is when I added the cauliflower.

A picture of soup with mushrooms in a pot.

After your fifteen minutes are up, add the faster-cooking things: ‘shrooms, cabbage. Also your salt and any other spices you want to add. Simmer for a bit longer, about five more minutes, aaaand….

A picture of soup in a bowl.


Enjoy several helpings super hot, and make sure that all of your family, friends, and neighbors tell you how delicious it was.

If you want more precise instructions, see below.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 parsnip, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 head cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons ginger, peeled and grated
  • 9 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 tablespoons white pepper
  • 8 ounces firm tofu
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 10 cups water


  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot until shimmering. Sauté onion, parsnip, carrot, ginger, and garlic until soft and onions translucent, about five minutes. Add water if pot dries out while sautéing.
  2. Add 10 cups water and the white pepper; turn up heat until simmering. Simmer for about eight minutes before adding cauliflower, then simmer for seven more minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms, cabbage, tofu, and salt. Simmer for five more minutes. Serve piping hot.

2 replies on “Soup of the Day: Garbage Soup for Your Soul”

The original name of the soup is “Immunity Soup,” so you’re exactly right! I wish I could say you should make a batch and freeze it for next time, but…I’m not sure how well tofu would freeze. (Does it freeze?)

All I can say is, it’s easy, so if you feel a cold coming on and you’re still mobile: do it! (Beware the strong garlic smell afterwards, though – that was an unexpected side effect!)

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