Cozy, flavorful, and hearty, this Vegan Orzo Soup is super easy to make in 30 minutes or less! It has a lemon chicken soup vibe and it’s packed with veggies, vegan protein, and SO MUCH FLAVOR you might not have leftovers.
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Hey Internet, I’m really excited to share this soup with you today. Why? My husband RAVED about it.
He doesn’t often rave about things. He loves my food and all my recipes (though he will definitely tell me when something sucks, but he gives me suggestions to help me rework it), but I usually have to ask questions to get it out of him.
But this soup he told me was really amazing, and that to me is better than flowers or telling me I’m pretty. It’s all about the food for me.
So anyway, I hope you all are going to love this as my soups are usually quite popular. In fact my most popular recipes are mostly soup: vegan beef stew, vegan stew with dumplings, vegan matzo ball soup, jackfruit stew, vegan chicken and dumplings, vegan cream of mushroom soup, butternut squash carrot ginger soup, and so forth.
But yeah, I really like soup. In fact, it’s been in the 90’s a lot here lately (and tomorrow it’s supposed to be 100 degrees Fahrenheit, gulp) and I’ve been testing and loving this soup so that should tell you something.
Why This Recipe Works
This vegan orzo soup comes together so quickly you won’t even believe it. It starts the way most of my soups do: with a mirepoix.
A mirepoix is a fun-to-say French word referring to a base of cooked vegetables: onions, carrots, and celery that are the base of many dishes because they add a lot of flavor, thus called aromatics. I also add garlic because I’m a garlic fiend.
After that, we just add in some prepped broth and herbs for more flavor, then pop in the orzo when it starts to boil.
Orzo is a delicate small pasta that cooks relatively quickly, so we don’t want to over cook it. Once the broth is boiling, I add the orzo and turn down the heat. I let it simmer for 8-10 min.
When the orzo is almost done, we’ll add the last few things and season it if need be. Then serve! So easy.
The flavors here resemble a lemon chicken soup (I just love the lemon in this!!), so I used soy curls to create bits of vegan chicken in the broth. Soy curls are perfect for this, but I do give a few suggestions below if they aren’t your favorite.
One trick I use is to brown the soy curls beforehand in my pot, then remove them and start the soup as I normally would. Then they just get popped in the soup at the end. This gives them a nice chewy texture.
Finally this hearty but easy soup is packed to the brim with flavor using fresh lemon, dried herbs like thyme and bay leaf, and fresh herbs like rosemary and parsley. The result is an incredibly savory but refreshingly herby soup that you may want more than one serving of. Just saying.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Soy curls: I used soy curls for the “chicken” because they most resemble it and they’re very easy to prepare. However, you can substitute them for anything you like including chickpeas, white beans (like butter beans) cubed tofu, store-bought vegan chicken, or even jackfruit (learn how to prepare it for soup in under 10 minutes by checking out my vegan shredded chicken). Or you may simply omit them, but you may want to use a little less broth than called for (I’d use 4-5 cups in this case).
- Vegan chicken broth: My go-to vegan chicken broth is Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base because it tastes SO GOOD. Other vegan chicken bouillon products (like Orrington Farms) will work, as will prepared vegan chicken broth (like Imagine). In a pinch, vegetable broth will also work--in this case I recommend adding a bit of poultry seasoning, which is totally vegan and just contains the herbs typically used in preparing poultry.
- Onions, carrots, and celery: Called a mirepoix, this trio of aromatic veggies are a flavorful base in our soup. If you can’t have one of them, feel free to omit. For onions, I like to use yellow onions in soup. Sweet onions are also great. Red and white onions tend to have a bit more distinctive of a flavor and I prefer not to use them in soup if I can help it.
- Garlic: I’m a garlic lover and I add it to most things. I think it provides a lot of flavor here. You can reduce or omit it if preferred.
- Dried thyme and bay leaves: These dried herbs do wonders for flavoring the soup. The bay leaves do a lot here--just remember to remove them at the end (I can usually find them quickly by running my wooden cooking spoon through the pot and searching for dark leaves--I pull these out BEFORE putting in the spinach).
- Fresh rosemary: I love the flavor this adds--I put a large sprig of fresh rosemary in the pot after adding the broth. You can remove the stem part at the end--the leaves usually fall off but they get very tender and edible during making the soup. If you’re worried, you can place them in an herb sachet made from cheesecloth. After simmering, just remove the bag.
- Orzo: Technically this soup would work with any pasta, not just orzo. But since this is a vegan orzo soup, I’m using orzo, lol. This would work with gluten-free pasta--just keep an eye on how it’s progressing during the cooking process since they all cook a little differently. You could even swap out the orzo for rice like I do in my vegan cream of chicken soup. Simply adjust the cook time for the type of rice you’re using (white short grain rice will cook up in a similar time frame to orzo; brown rice will take longer and may be better parboiled (partially cooked beforehand)).
- Spinach: I like to add baby spinach at the end, though you could certainly use adult spinach (just give it a rough chop) or another green. If using a heartier green such as kale or collard greens, put it in a few minutes earlier when the orzo is still al dente (chewy) so it has a chance to cook down a bit more. You may just skip the greens if you prefer--I added them as I love the texture of wilted spinach in soup and it adds a nice bit of nutritional value and color.
- Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper: Before you turn off the heat, taste the soup and see if it needs either of these. I added a pinch of sea salt and a very heavy pinch of black pepper (I used about a teaspoon) because I like the flavor. Season to your tastes or let people season their own bowls if serving a group.
- Lemon juice: I highly, HIGHLY recommend you don’t skimp on the FRESH SQUEEZED lemon juice for this, it adds so much flavor and brightness. It makes all the flavors pop and the citrus is really refreshing in this savory soup. Turn the heat off before adding the lemon as heat can dull the flavor of lemon juice. Try before you buy: squeeze a drop or two of lemon juice into a big spoonful of the broth and taste it before adding the lemon juice to the entire pot of soup.
- Parsley: A flavor boost but optional garnish.
How to Make This Soup Step by Step
If using soy curls:
- Add the soy curls to a medium bowl. Cover the soy curls with 2 cups of the broth and press the curls down gently gently. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- When they’re rehydrated, use your fingers or some kitchen shears to cut any of the larger pieces into smaller pieces more suitable for soup.
- Heat a large nonstick pot (you can use the same pot you’ll use for the soup if you’d like) over medium high heat. Working with one handful at a time, gently squeeze the excess broth out of the soy curls and throw them in the skillet. You don’t have to go crazy getting them dry--just gently squeeze them once over the bowl and add to the pan. DON’T DISCARD THE REMAINING BROTH! You can strain out any of the remaining tiny pieces of soy curl and add it to your soup as part of the 6 cups the recipe calls for.
- Stir them often with a wood or silicone spoon/spatula. If you notice them start to get really dark or burned, turn the heat way off. After they start to get a little brown, you can optionally drizzle them with a little olive oil. This helps the texture firm a bit more (gives a more authentic mouthfeel to meat because of the bit of fat it imparts) but it’s not necessary.
- Remove them from the pot and place in a bowl. It’s best to add them to the soup when the soup is nearly done so that the soy curls don’t absorb too much more broth and lose their texture.
To make the soup:
- Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil or avocado oil (or a similar oil) to your large nonstick pot and heat over medium high heat. OR if you’re oil-free, keep adding broth or water a tablespoon at a time while you cook the veggies and stir constantly to keep from burning or sticking.
- Add the onions, celery, and carrots to the pot and stir frequently for 3 minutes until somewhat softened. Add the garlic and dried thyme and cook for 30 seconds more, until fragrant.
- Slowly pour in the broth. Now place the bay leaves and the sprig of rosemary in the broth and lightly press them down so they are submerged for a few seconds. They’ll float back up but that’s OK. Bring the whole thing to a boil.
- Add the orzo and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes, checking and stirring occasionally.
- When the orzo is nearly finished (takes about 10 minutes for me), add back the cooked soy curls (if using). Let those heat in the soup for about 1-2 minutes.
- Now remove your bay leaves and the stem from the rosemary. It’s totally normal and OK if the leaves of the rosemary fell off. They should be tender enough to eat now. If not, simmer your soup for a little longer.
- Add in the spinach and stir it around till it wilts. This will take about 30-60 seconds. I know it looks like a lot of spinach but it really shrinks when it cooks, I promise.
- Taste the broth. If you’d like, add some sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Remove from heat.
- Add the fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste once you’ve removed it from the heat. I like about ¼ cup lemon juice (2 smallish lemons’ yields, usually) in my soup.
- Serve immediately and garnish each serving with a generous amount of finely chopped parsley. Enjoy! This is really good with a hunk of bread, if you like carbs as much as we do lol.
- Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days. The pasta will absorb some of the broth and the lemon flavor may fade a bit. When reheating, feel free to add a bit more vegan chicken broth and a fresh squeeze of lemon (add this after it’s reheated). It freezes well, too--just let it cool down before freezing.
Frequently Asked Questions
I highly recommend adding the lemon juice before serving, and the parsley after (so it doesn’t totally wilt). Serve immediately. It’s really good with some fresh cracked black pepper on top. If you want to get fancy, add a sprinkle of vegan parmesan cheese (we like the Violife brand) or a drizzle of cashew cream for a bit of creaminess in the soup. My husband loves to dip bread in this soup--carbs on carbs, am I right? Hah. It’s not for everyone, but he sure likes it.
This soup will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Keep in mind that pasta tends to absorb the broth in the soup, so you may want to add a little additional broth when reheating your soup (around ⅓ cup usually does the trick for me). The lemon flavor may fade a bit too, that’s natural. Squeeze half a fresh lemon over your reheated soup before eating to refresh the flavor. This soup also freezes well!
Yep! If you add more, you’ll probably need more broth. Similarly, if you add less, reduce the amount of broth. For example: if you use ½ cup orzo, I’d reduce the broth by about 1-2 cups. (You can always add more broth, but don’t add too much until you know you need it. I like to keep a measuring cup of extra broth on the counter by the stove in case I need it. If I don’t use it, I freeze it for later use.)
Swap out the soy curls for another protein. Chickpeas would be great in this--add canned chickpeas (drain and rinse first) to the pot around the same time you add the orzo. You could also experiment with store-bought vegan chicken, or seitan like my seitan chicken (dice before adding to the soup).
Don’t skip the fresh squeezed lemon juice, it adds a lot of nice flavor! If you don’t have fresh lemons, you could add a little white wine vinegar (like a teaspoon) and a little pinch of salt if needed.
Want to add extra vegetables? This would be great with thawed frozen peas (add them when the orzo is almost cooked) or even thawed corn in the same way. If adding a heartier vegetable like cauliflower or broccoli florets, I’d add them when you add the orzo so they have a chance to cook down. Kale would work instead of the spinach--add a few minutes before the orzo is done, when it’s still a little chewy.
More Recipes Like This
I sure love soup. If you like this vegan orzo soup, I’m sure you’ll also like one of the following.
- Vegan Beef Stew
- Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Jackfruit Stew
- Vegan Tom Kha
- Vegan Cream of Chicken Soup
- Instant Pot Vegan Corn Chowder (stovetop instructions also included)
- Vegan Zuppa Toscana
- Vegan Potato and Leek Soup
- Instant Pot Vegan Butternut Squash Carrot Ginger Soup (stovetop instructions also included)
- Vegan Chicken and Dumplings
- Vegan Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup
- Hearty Lentil Vegetable Soup
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