Vegetable Bouillabaisse Soup

soupe bouillabaisse du pauvre, sans poisson

A bouillabaisse in South France is supposed to be a fish stew. This vegetarian version is cooked in a particular way so that you have the feeling of eating Provence mythic bouillabaisse fish soup. It might come from the use of saffron, or because vegetables are first sauté in olive oil.

Bouillabaisse is a typical French dish from Marseille. It comes from the South France Provencal dialect meaning “when it boils, lower the heat”. Bouillabaisse use to be a stew made by fishermen with unsold fishes or fishes not proper for sale. They use to cook them with vegetables in sea water. It became one of South France most popular dish.

As fishes might be a bit expensive or difficult to find depending on the region, another recipe appeared, called the poor’s bouillabaisse (la bouillabaisse du pauvre) or the one-eyed bouillabaisse (la bouillabaisse borgne). As the first one is vegetarian thus less expensive, in the second one poached eggs are added (poached in the bouillabaisse broth before mixing the soup), the egg looking like an eye in the soup.

In this soup, vegetables are sauté in olive oil and mixed at the end (except a few potatoes kept for decoration, that will make a contrast of textures). Therefore they can be chopped coarsely, which makes the soup quick to prepare. Vhite wine deglaze is optional. Saffron is added at the very end. Adjust saffron, garlic and orange zest quantity according to your taste. When purée, adapt the quantity of liquid and potatoes, depending on how dense you like your soup. It might seems of many adjustments but make this recipe yours, just as French families do in home cooking.

It is served like the classic bouillabaisse, accompanied by grated cheese, croutons rubbed with garlic (also optional if you are not keen on garlic. I prepare only half with garlic in order to offer the choice) and rouille. Rouille is a the Provencal sauce served with Bouillabaisse or other fish soups : kind of a mayonnaise with garlic (it then becomes Aïoli) and also spices (such as saffron) and mashed potatoes (not in all recipes). Once more it’s up to you, you can choose to serve just the soup.

French Vegetable Bouillabaisse Soup

French Vegetable Bouillabaisse Soup

soupe bouillabaisse du pauvre, sans poisson

Vegetable Bouillabaisse Soup

Sauté onion, leek and fennel in olive oil then add the other ingredients and cook. Saffron is added before mixing, keeping a few potatoes for decoration. Serve according to your taste with crouton, rouille, grated cheese, possibly poached egg.
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Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Soup
Cuisine French
Servings 6 shares


  • Blender


  • 2 fennel bulbs (900 gr) peeled and chopped
  • 1 large leek chopped
  • 1 onion (250 gr), peeled and chopped
  • 6-8 middium size potatoes 50 to 60 gr each
  • Zest of orange organic or untreated
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 50 gr tomato paste if not replace with tomatoes
  • 1 gr saffron
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 cl dry white wine optional
  • 1 to 1.5 liter hot water
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

To serve, optional

  • Grated cheese
  • Croutons or toasted bread
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Rouille or Aïoli


  • Start by peeling and chopping onion. Wash fennel bulbs and remove the stems. Chop them. Wash leek and chop it as well.
  • In a large saucepan or cast iron pan, heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté onion, leek and fennel. Add salt and pepper, stir. Let it fry over medium heat for about ten minutes, until vegetables softens.
  • Meanwhile, zest an orange (as thin as possible, ideally with a grater more than a zester) and cut garlic into strips. Wash and peel potatoes (cut them in half or quarter if they are big).
  • Possibly deglaze the onion – leeks – fennel white wine and stir a few minutes until wine evaporates.
  • Add hot water, garlic, orange zests, bay leaf, tomato paste and potatoes (which should be covered with liquid). Cook for 20-25 minutes until all vegetables are soft.
  • When cooked, add saffron and stir. Remove the bay leaf and a few potatoes (kept aside decoration). Mix the soup. Adjust the amount of potato mixed or decorative depending on your taste.
  • Serve the soup into a soup tureen (is that the right word in English for soupière?) or indivifual bowls, non mixed potatoes cut into pieces in a dish as a side or dropped in the soup. With as said above croutons (possibly rubbed with garlic), rouille and grated cheese.
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Bon appétit !

French Vegetable Bouillabaisse Soup

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Written by Florence RICHOMME