Just Add Water: 15 Minutes to Heidi Swanson's Genius Green Soup

October  7, 2015

Every week, Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Make Heidi Swanson's spicy green soup, in no time, from water.

I realize it's a terrible disservice to Heidi Swanson's body of work to invoke an instant ramen comparison.

What I should be doing is telling you how I'd planned to casually leaf through her new cookbook Near & Far and pluck out some genius ideas, but instead I read every story, every surprising technique (spill spice oil over a frittata! wash arugula in wine!), and every unusual ingredient pairing (sweet potatoes with dill, strawberries with caraway, what's next?) for hours until I fell asleep next to it, curious and happy.

I could tell you how the photo spreads of tile patterns in Morocco and dreamy Roman vistas will inevitably create travel FOMO, but nestled into each page I found even more inspiration to simply make food.

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But, on top of all that, there was this recipe for a spicy green soup that doesn't require making stock or slowly building flavors or even, in a literal sense, cooking. You just add water, rather like a Cup O' Noodles.

Except instead of a salty space-age seasoning packet, you'll blend an herby spice paste, stir it into just-simmered water, taste, correct, and serve. By choosing ingredients whose aromas are dense and volatile and slashing them into tiny particles, the soup doesn't need (and would likely suffer from) sauté or simmer time.

"Part of the charm of this whole thing is the vibrancy of the green flavor and color," Swanson wrote to me. "You want to avoid any color shift in the herbs." (Though if you want to make future bowls of green soup even more instantaneous, you can blend extra spice paste and freeze it in little cubes.)

On its own, the soup is a punch of health, a soothing bowl of bright, fiery broth—it's basically a hot green juice, with extra chile. But, as Swanson told me, "The other thing that makes it great is the way it's wonderful on its own, but also great over just about whatever you've got on hand, making a one-bowl meal a breeze. I like it over farro or brown rice, or big corona beans with lots of toppings. Almonds for crunch, black olives, more herbs, green onions…."

From the list of possible bases and toppings she mentions in the recipe, on shoot day I chose soba noodles, roasted mushrooms, and wrinkly, oil-cured black olives, plus loads of lemon juice. Fine bits of nuts and greens landed on the noodles, while others swirled, suspended in the broth.

Heidi Swanson's Spicy Green Soup

Adapted slightly from Near & Far (Ten Speed Press, September 2015)

Serves 4 to 6

4 cups (1 liter) water
3 medium cloves garlic
3/4 cup (20 grams) firmly packed basil leaves
1 1/4 cups (35 grams) firmly packed cilantro leaves and stems
1/4 cup (7 grams) lightly packed mint leaves
1 thick 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 small serrano chilies, stemmed
1/2 cup (45 grams) sliced almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon runny honey
Poached eggs, hot white beans, soba noodles, or brown rice (optional)
Chopped black olives, lemon wedges, toasted almonds, shaved green onions, or roasted sliced mushrooms (or other oven-roasted vegetable), to top

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by Alpha Smoot

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • KT
  • Stephen Jackson
    Stephen Jackson
  • maria bella
    maria bella
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


KT December 11, 2015
Ok, so I wanted to like this recipe out of the box. To me, instant soup has always stood for quick, cheap, nasty goodness. Kind of like college spring break in a bowl. But this was to be more refined, more sensible. A soup that was quick and easy but still good for you. Well it was easy to make. And yes, I get the healthy. But has it lost too much of the cheap and nasty? Has it lost it's trail park soul? So I looked over the ingredients in the food processor again. What was this lacking? A troll through the pantry and I came back with at least year-old bonito flakes. (Corn flakes eventually go bad but do bonito flakes?) Anyway, into the mix and I tasted again-- now it worked. Now I got the green healthy with a kick of peppers and ginger, but also a faint whisper of cheap dollar store umami. Thanks Food52! Oh and marie bella, if you were that girl from years back on Clearwater Beach, I was going to call....but um..I lost your number ...and..
Stephen J. October 11, 2015
This is gorgeous and ridiculously simply for something with such a flavour impact. No doubt, palates that lack adventure won't see the beauty of this, but this could easily become one of my new go to recipes. Thanks for sharing and I can't wait to read the rest of Swanson's book!
maria B. October 8, 2015
really didn't like this at all.
Kristen M. October 8, 2015
I'm so sorry to hear that—can you describe what you didn't like about it?