Homemade soup doesn’t get any better than this recipe for beef vegetable winter soup, handed down to me by my mother-in-law almost 50 years ago. It’s crammed with tender beef and lots of root vegetables, celery, leeks and tomatoes. If you want a vegetarian option just leave out the meat – it will taste just as good.
Beef Vegetable Soup
When my son finished school in South Africa, we packed his bags and sent him off to England to broaden his horizons. One of the first jobs he got was working in the kitchens at a boarding school in Pitlochry, Scotland. I remember getting a phone call from him. ‘It’s beautiful here, but it’s so cold. Please send the recipe for your beef vegetable soup‘.
I can understand why he wanted the recipe. This soup is so filling and warming. It’s jam-packed with root vegetables, leeks, celery and tomatoes, and for extra flavour it’s got chunks of succulent, juicy shin beef, that has been cooked to fall-apart softness. It’s the complete meal-in-a-bowl.
There are 2 secrets to my beef vegetable winter soup.
- The first secret lies in how you prepare the vegetables. Instead of being chopped into chunks, the vegetables are grated before being added to the cooked beef. As the vegetables cook, they disintegrate into the gravy, the flavours combining to form a thick delicious stock.
- The second secret is to add a handful of dried soup mix with the meat. The split peas, lentils and barley soften and swell, providing extra flavour and texture. This soup is so thick, you could almost eat it with a knife and fork!
Ingredients for Beef Vegetable Soup
I like to make a huge potful of this beef vegetable soup, eat half for one meal and freeze the rest for another day. I normally just let it cool, pour it into a suitable freezer-friendly container and pop it in the freezer.
The ingredients below will easily feed 4 hungry people as a complete meal, with enough left over for a second meal. If you want to make a smaller portion just halve the quantities.
You will need about 400g good quality shin beef. Look for beef shin with a good marbling of fat and sinew. This all melts down into the soup as it cooks, forming the most delicious stock. Years ago you could buy shin beef with the slices of marrow bone still attached, but that is more difficult to come by these days. If you can get it, by all means use it. The marrow adds to the flavour of the soup. Just remove the bones before serving if you do use them.
Dried Soup Mix
You can get this from the soup section in any supermarket. It normally contains dried split peas, lentils and barley which add a a nice texture to the soup when cooked. I normally add about 2 handfuls, which is about 150g. If you can’t get it, you can leave this out,.
These should be finely grated and shredded. I pop them in my food processor and it doesn’t take very long at all. If you don’t have a food processor you can use the largest side of your grater, but it will take a lot longer.
These are the vegetables I prefer:
- carrots – peeled and grated
- potatoes – peeled and grated
- swedes – peeled and grated
- parsnips – peeled and grated
- leeks – washed and shredded
- celery – if you can get celery with the leaves still attached, then you can add the leaves too. Wash the celery and shred with the leeks
- tomatoes – grated. If you are using a food processor you can process the skins as well. If you are using a hand grater you may want to discard any skin.
Seasoning and thickening
When my mother-in-law made this recipe she used to thicken it with a packet of tomato soup mixed with flour. I prefer to use tomato paste (from a tube) mixed with the flour and then thinned down with a little water to make a runny paste.
For the seasoning, I cook the meat with 1 teaspoon of salt and adjust once the soup has been thickened. Don’t put too much salt in at the beginning. Remember – you can put it in, but you can’t take it out.
Finally – this beef vegetable soup loves ground black pepper. I start by adding about 1/2 teaspoon and then adjusting to my own taste.
How to make beef vegetable soup
Prepare the beef
Place the meat in a pressure cooker, add the salt and the dried soup mix and cover with 2 cups of water. Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes (follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your own presssure cooker) until the meat is soft and starting to fall apart.
Depending on your pressure cooker, 30 minutes may not be quite long enough. I use a Pressure King Pro electric pressure cooker, and 30 minutes is perfect for this model. If you think the meat needs a little longer, by all means give it a few more minutes.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook this on the stove top in a large saucepan with a tightly fitting lid. Just increase the amount of water to 3 cups (to allow for evaporation), bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 90 minutes. Top up with more water as necessary, so that it does not boil dry. Stir occasionally to ensure the dried soup mix does not stick to the bottom of your pan. The beef will be ready when it can be pulled apart with a fork.
I like to use my food processor for this step because it just makes it so much easier. If you don’t have a food processor you can use a cheese grater instead, but be prepared for lots of grating 🙂
- Shred the leeks and celery and place in a large bowl.
- Grate the carrots and tomatoes and add to the bowl.
- Finally grate the root vegetables and add to the bowl.
- Cover with 2 cups of cold water and leave aside until the meat is ready.
- Once the meat is ready, tip the bowl of vegetables (and the water) into the meat. Give it a good stir and then set the pressure cooker for another 30 minutes on high.
- Release the pressure and stir the soup.
- When cooking in a pressure cooker, you should not overfill with water. For this reason the soup will be far too thick when the vegetables have cooked. What you will have is a concentrated mixture of beef and vegetables and this will form the base for the soup. To thin out the vegetables, add extra water – up to 3 or 4 cups – and mix until you have the consistency of thin soup. You can then thicken the soup with the tomato paste and flour as described below.
- If you are using a saucepan, tip the vegetables into the pan, make sure there is sufficient water to cover them (the water should be level with the top of the vegetables), replace the lid and simmer for another hour until the vegetables are soft. Top up with water if needed. If you keep topping the soup up with water, you should not need to add any extra water at the end as we did with the pressure cooker method.
Thicken and season the soup
- Mix 1 tablespoon of flour with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste until there are no lumps of flour visible.
- Add 1/4 cup of water and mix to a smooth paste.
- Stir into the soup over a low heat and allow to thicken.
- Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
- Add lots of freshly ground black pepper to taste.
This soup thickens on standing, so if you have kept it in the fridge overnight for lunch the next day, you may need to add extra water to thin it out a little.
Can I freeze beef vegetable winter soup
Absolutely – I always make a double batch and freeze half for another day.
Allow the soup to cool and then pour into a suitably-sized plastic container and place in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To defrost – tip the contents of the container into a large saucepan, cover with a lid and place on a very low heat on the stove. Stir occasionally. This soup thickens on standing so you may find you need to add a cup or so of water to thin it down slightly.
You can also leave the soup in the fridge overnight, or defrost in the microwave.
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Recipe – Beef Vegetable Winter Soup
Beef Vegetable Winter Soup
- Pressure cooker or large saucepan with lid
- Food processor or grater
- Sharp Knife
- Chopping Board
- Potato peeler
- 400 g Shin beef
- 150 g dried soup mix
- 3 medium carrots grated
- 2 medium potatoes grated
- 1 small swede grated
- 3 medium parsnips grated
- 1 medium leek shredded
- 1 large stalk celery (including any leaves) shredded
- 2 medium tomatoes grated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons tomato puree
- 4 – 6 cups water
- Place the meat, salt and dried soup mix into a pressure cooker and cover with 2 cups cold water.
- Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes.
- While the meat is cooking peel and grate the vegetables.
- After 30 minutes, release the pressue and add the vegetables, plus another 2 cups of water to the pressure cooker.
- Cook on high pressure for another 30 inutes.
- Release the pressure and stir in 2 to 3 cups of boiling water and stir through until you have the consistency of a thin soup.
- Now thicken the soup with a paste made with 1 tablespoon flour, 2 tablespoons tomato paste and a little water. Stir well and allow to cook for 3 minutes until the soup has thickened.
- Taste for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary. Add about 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black peper (or more to your own taste).
- Serve with fresh crusty bread or buttered toast.
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