Cooked vegetables, with their starches and their pectin, are a pretty excellent thickening agent. By blending them into gravies, soups, stews, or sauces, you can add body (and flavor) without any dairy. If pureed finely enough, these dishes can taste and feel downright creamy.
I guess I’ve always known (somewhere in my brain) that I could make a creamy vegan soup using this method, but I am almost compulsive with my dairy use. Heavy cream, butter, and sour cream offer quick shortcuts to achieve luscious, rich body, but my sister has a dairy allergy, my dad is trying to cut out animal fats for health reasons, and my partner is lactose intolerant. If I want to continue cooking for these people I love, I need to learn to lean a little less heavily on milk, cream, cheese, and other dairy products.
Photo: Claire Lower
As Food52 points out in their article on the subject, all you really need to make a creamy vegetable soup is fat, vegetables, and some sort of liquid. And, as I learned while making this (incidentally) vegan marinara, a lot of fat—at least half a cup—is key. If your veg of choice doesn’t get things as thick as you want them, you can add a tablespoon (or four) of instant mashed potatoes.
You can do this with almost any vegetable, but leeks are a favorite of mine. They have a high amount of naturally occurring fiber and, when melted into fat, they can give sauces and soups a little bit of structure.
I’ve made this soup two ways: with and without instant mashed potatoes, and I think I preferred it without. The leeks provide enough body on their own, and keeping the ingredients list simple helps their sweet, gentle onion flavor shine.
In terms of broth, I’ve been using the roasted onion Better Than Bouillon (2 teaspoons in 3 cups of hot water), but any well-seasoned stock or broth will do. You can also get other herbs, spices, and aromatics involved but, again, there’s something satisfying about the pure leek flavor.
Once you make this leek soup, you’ll most likely feel emboldened to try your hand at other luscious dairy-free options. Sautéed carrots in lots of oil with ginger and garlic and then pureed with vegetable stock would be quite nice, as would sweet potatoes or any squash. If you want an autumnal vibe, add some rosemary, sage, and maybe a little cinnamon and nutmeg. But first, try the leeks. I think you’ll really like them.
Creamy leek soup without any cream (makes 2-4 servings)
- 1 large leek (about a pound before trimming), washed and sliced into 1/2-inch half moons (use the light green and white parts only)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 cups well-seasoned broth (I used 2 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon in 3 cups of water)
- Optional: Instant mashed potatoes
Add leeks, olive oil, and salt to a high-walled sauce pan, dutch oven, or whatever you like to make soup in and stir with a wooden spoon to completely coat the leeks. Set over medium heat and sweat for at least 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are completely soft. Add your stock, bring to a boil, then cut the heat down and let it simmer for about five minutes. Let cook a little, then blend in a high-power blender. (Work in batches if needed).
Don’t strain the soup—the blitzed vegetable matter is what gives it its body. If it’s too chunky, just blend it more. Return to the pot to reheat if needed, add a tablespoon of instant mashed potatoes if you want a really hearty soup, then serve with frazzled onions, a drizzle of flavorful oil, lots of fresh herbs, or a hearty crouton.