Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hooray for Puree! The Shortcut to an Easy Creamy Vegan Soup

One of our favorite go-to dinners in our house is homemade soup. It requires relatively little planning on my part, is easy and quick to throw together (I usually go from nothing prepared to dinner table in about 20-25 minutes), and is a healthy and delicious way to use up all sorts of odds and ends lurking in the fridge or pantry. I've previously swooned about our love for soup, so if you're looking for my footprint for an easy dinner, click here!

Although chunky veggie or bean soups are usually the standard in our house, sometimes I crave a good creamy soup. Usually when people go vegan, they believe they will say sayonara to the velvety goodness of a broccoli or potato soup. I am pleased to say - they are wrong! First, you can always veganize your old recipe by using non-dairy milk (or, my favorite if I'm converting a cream soup recipe, soy cream). If recipe conversion isn't your jam, or you don't want to go to the store for something like soy cream, one quick search on the internet for "vegan creamy soup" should convince you that there are excellent ways to pull together a creamy soup with the same flavor and punch of dairy-based recipe.

While those recipes are delicious, I almost never make them because I believe they usually aren't my brand of cooking (my "brand of cooking" being failure to plan ahead or a general laziness to run to the store). For example, many of these recipes call for soaked cashews. I agree that soaked cashews make an excellent base for cream soups and nut cheeses - heck, when I make vegan quiche, I always use soaked cashews. I also like that you are getting the bonus of nutrients and good fats of nuts. But I almost never have cashews in my house, much less the foresight to soak them; plus, if you are nut-free, cashews won't do you any good, or if you're trying to cut calories, you might be nervous to add nuts.

So how do I get around this problem? Through experimentation, I have found that making a soup that has a starchy vegetable, then pureeing it, gets the exact same flavor and texture of a traditional creamy soup, without this soaking craziness.

Conveniently, most creamy soups are made with starchy vegetables. For example, years ago, I wrote about an easy, creamy butternut squash soup that is perfect for the holidays. The recipe is a perennial favorite, and yet it is has got to be in my top five of easiest fancy things I make for guests - roast some veggies in broth and you're done! You can basically apply the concept of that recipe to any combination of foods you are trying to soup-ify, and you'll probably have good luck.

I put this theory to the test last night. I was on my own for dinner, and I just wanted something comforting, easy, and delicious. Greg is a deep lover of soup, but he's also one of the most freakishly healthy people I know; he never liked animal-based creamy soups, so he doesn't seek out a vegan version. (I know, he's weird, but totally cute, so let's just go along with it.) After digging through my relatively bare pantry and fridge, I realized I had the fixings for a creamy soup for one, so I put my theory to the test and indulged in a delicious, thrown together potato and broccoli soup for one.

I'll show you what I did below, but with two caveats. First, this was enough for one person, though this recipe easily scales; just quadruple or do what you need to do to make this a family dinner. Second, I happened to make mine a potato soup, but I will include little tidbits along the way to let you know how you can take advantage of any veggies you have floating around your house.

First, I heated about 2-3 tsp. of olive oil in a stock pot over medium to medium-high heat, then added a quarter bag of frozen broccoli florets. Of course, if you're making this at home, use whatever frozen or fresh veggies you like.

Since my starchy vegetable of choice was these 5 red potatoes floating around my fridge, I needed to scrub and chop those first and gave the broccoli a head start. Obviously, if you're using a winter squash, you'll need to skin it, seed it, and chop that, too. If you are using something like corn, however, and you're just going to crack open a frozen bag for your  recipe, just throw that right in with the other veggies.

Saute all of your veggies together with your spices. For this iteration, I used about 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder, 1 Tablespoon of dried rosemary, 1-2 tsp. of dried thyme, 1-2 tsp. of dried sage, and about 1/4-1/2 tsp. of salt with some cracks of black pepper. Anyway, saute until the veggies start to pick up some brownish color (about 5-7 minutes). I often find that when I saute starchy vegetables, they stick to the bottom of the pan, even if I use oil. If this happens to you, try and deglaze the pan with a little veggie stock or water; that should do the trick.

After that, add your liquid. I had about 1 cup of vegetable stock on hand and added another 2 cups of water. Boil for about 12-15 minutes, or until your starchy vegetables are soft (as shown above). After that, puree away! I usually use a stick blender, but if you don't have one, then let your soup cool for about 15 minutes and run through batches in the regular blender. You can make the soup as smooth as you like or leave in chunks. I reduced my liquid a bit too far, so when I blended the soup I added about 1/3-1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk, but that was actually to loosen up the soup, not to give it creaminess or flavor; it had plenty of that on its own!

And that's it! I yielded one extremely filling, extremely satisfying bowl of potato soup. You can always mix in some nutritional yeast if you want some cheesiness, but personally, I thought this was delicious as it was.
Easy (and Very Free-Form) Creamy Vegetable Soup

Your starchy vegetable of choice (potatoes, winter squash, corn, etc.)
Other vegetables (think of what goes well with your starchy vegetable! Potatoes and broccoli are an easy match; corn works well with bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini; I chop in greens and even apples with my squash; onions and garlic taste delicious in everything)
Spices (same idea - potato matches well with rosemary/thyme/sage or even just an herbes de provence mix; corn works well with cumin/chili powder/cayenne pepper, or you can add some liquid smoke; butternut squash is delicious with curry or a little cinnamon)
Salt and pepper
Cooking liquid (I would use at least some vegetable stock for flavor, but water can get you the rest of the way)
Unsweetened non-dairy milk (optional, and only if you accidentally over-reduce your soup)

1) Heat oil in a stock pot over medium or medium-high heat. I usually start with about a Tablespoon; if you are cooking for a crowd, you might add a touch more, or be prepared to add some cooking liquid to deglaze the plan if veggies start to stick.
2) Saute veggies with spices, salt, and pepper until veggies start to brown (about 5-7 minutes). Deglaze the pan or add oil as necessary if there's sticking.
3) Add cooking liquid to just cover the veggies.
4) Bring to a boil and cook until the starchy vegetable is soft - about 12-15 minutes (though corn will probably only need ten minutes).
5) Blend together using a stick blender, or cool down soup for 15 minutes and run soup through a blender. If the mixture is too thick, loosen it up by adding small amounts of non-dairy milk (about 1/3 cup at a time) until the consistency is as desired.


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