I always like the idea of vegetable soup more than the soup itself. For one, there is usually too much of it for my household of one, and the vegetables only get mushier with each reheating. (The exception to this is my stepmom’s beef and vegetable soup, which is mystifyingly flawless.) What I want is a savoury broth with tender-crisp, flavourful vegetables that have been cooked in a way that highlights their best qualities, and the only way to get that is to cook the veg separately from the broth.
This may seem fussy, and it’s true that I first observed this practice at Barr, which is a fussy—but extremely delicious—place. The soup came to the table in two components: perfectly cooked vegetables and (if I remember correctly) little meatballs in a bowl, and a little crock of broth. The broth was poured over the other ingredients, resulting in perfect bites of properly prepared vegetables swimming in deeply flavourful broth.
It made a lot of sense then, and it makes a lot of sense now. Think about it: Would you rather have a soggy, soft mushroom in your soup, or one that has been browned and crisped up on the edges? Do you want an overcooked, almost grey spring pea, or a vibrant, verdant one? A stewed onion or a caramelised one?
Maximising the flavour potential of each ingredient results in a better final product, and I think the extra steps are worth the outcome. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add vegetables to your stock for flavour, but a carrot or onion that has been simmering away for hours is not a carrot or onion you want to munch on. (Use these mushy guys to thicken sauces.)
Soup prepared this way also reheats extremely well. Just bring the broth or stock to a simmer, then add a serving of your pre-cooked vegetables and let them warm back up (without mushing out). You can also add more, varied vegetables if you wish, preventing flavour fatigue, which is the number one cause of uneaten leftovers.