I’m a huge fan of blended soups, year round. In the spring and summer, I like it raw i.e. gazpacho–but starting in the fall and in winter I prefer it piping hot. I wasn’t always this way, since I was about 90-95 percent raw between 2005 and 2007, but I’ve learned that hot steamed vegetables and vegetable soups ward off cravings for things like refined carbohydrates and sugar. Also, raw fruit i.e. bananas or avocados transported here from a tropical climate in the middle of winter never did me any favors in terms of staying fit or feeling energized enough to exercise. So over the years of revising my diet (I initally stopped eating raw after an argument with my significant other at the time who had cooked a vegan dinner for me and I dismissed it for not meeting the standards of the way I preferred to eat) I actually ended up losing weight after that fateful evening, since I made the compromise to cut out avocados and nuts if I were to integrate cooked vegetables and beans–and it turns out I “thrive”, so to speak, on a lower fat, reduced carb diet as opposed to a high fat, 95% raw, fruit-laden one. Granted, I always eat at least one raw meal or “snack” per day, even if it’s a handful of carrot sticks, sliced cucumber, or celery. It’s difficult, when you have a full-time job or are a student with a full schedule, to stay hydrated and maintain energy levels–and things like chopped veg or packaged “baby carrots” or cauliflower florettes have been lifesavers for me. When I worked part-time as a full-time student in college, I think most days I started with a quad-shot espresso, a double shot after school and/or before work, snacked on raw vegetables or an apple on the drive between Ashland and Medford (from my work to my night classes), brought a cup of coffee to the night class, and maybe ate some leftover cooked vegetables upon returning home if I had a paper to write for a different class, or some math homework, or something (there was almost always something). On days that I didn’t have night class I rode my bike instead of using my car, and thus burned more calories so I usually relied on something like a soy latte or a bit of trail mix to stay alert whenever there was a lull in the day.
Although I’d abstained from grains for 4 years prior to 2010, I’ve made compromises. For example, in January 2010 when I volunteered in Ecuador I ate quinoa because vegetables were expensive and raw vegetables not always safe to eat (though I did eat a lot of raw cucumbers and cabbage, and other things that come with a “wrapper”), and because quinoa is cheap and budgets for volunteer accomodation in Ecuador are very, very minimal. Ironically, quinoa is considerably cheaper than white rice in markets there, an explanation for which can be summarized as: white rice is a symbol of affluence, associated with developed nations, and quinoa is a symbol of poverty. I also ate oatmeal with chopped mango and papaya for breakfast, because the walk to the school I worked at involved a few miles (much of which was an uphill climb). I didn’t consider myself any less healthy for eating some grain, or any less vegan for eating the vegetables out of a soup made with chicken broth and subtly handing the broth to my ex-boyfriend to make it look as if I ate it all (to avoid offending the person who prepared the soup and so generously offered it to me). Living/volunteering abroad is material for its own article, so moving on…there was also the time when I had to taste-test every item on the menu at the restaurant I worked at in college (as was required of all employees). Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, since at most restaurants the majority of dishes are not vegan. At this one on the other hand, every single wrap, panini, salad, and beverage could be adapted to accomodate vegan customers. For example, cheese could almost always be replaced with hummus, aoili with veganaise (actually, come to think of it, there was a vegan aoili), milk with soymilk, cream with coconut milk…and all of the breads/wraps were vegan by default. Looking back on that time, I recall my then-significant other coming in handy in this situation also (I would order the wrap or panini to-go, take a bite to say I’d tried it, and he was happy for the free lunch–and I’d eat an apple or have another coffee or something). Thanks, ____, for bailing me out of eating wheat (and chicken broth).
Anyway, I thought this post required a detailed backstory in order to express my deep, profound love for blended vegetable soups. The recipes I’ve created or adapted are very low calorie (to put that in context, I think they’d measure in at 0 Weight Watchers points, or would be considered “negative calories” by some diet philosophies). Sadly, most blended soups offered at restaurants contain unneccessary ingredients like heavy cream, and the vegan ones often have a coconut milk base (which is totally unnecessary, and tastes revolting once you start making your own without it). I cannot stress this enough: a “creamy” texture and body can be achieved very easily through the utilization of cooked carrots and kale or collard greens. Even Indian dahl–which is normally lentil-based, is defined by the spices (FYI–cooked carrots and/or cauliflower or green beans provide the same texture as lentils, + more vitamins, minus the carbs. Get the spice ratio right, and the difference is undecipherable).
Don’t get me wrong–I don’t mean to imply I’m a hater of coconut milk. To the contrary–I wish the rest of the world would jump on the dairy-free alt-cream bandwagon. Even Thai restaurants, bubble-tea shops, and Asian bakeries in Chinatowns in cities across the United States, have abandoned coconut milk in favor of dairy cream (a fact saturated with irony–considering that in the traditional cuisine of most Asian cultures, dairy is nill). Example: my friend took me to a creek-side Thai restaurant in the heart of Ashland, Oregon (where roughly 60% of the population doesn’t eat dairy) for my birthday last year, and we ordered Stoli-infused thai iced teas with coconut milk substituted for heavy cream (my idea, since the presence of coconut milk in the kitchen was a no-brainer) and for each $9 cocktail $3 was added to the bill ($24 for weak cocktails was–even though I wasn’t responsible for the tab–kind of a buzzkill…on principle). After that night, I decided to stop relying on cashews or tahini for a “creamy” texture in the soups and salad dressings I make. Now that I’ve stopped, both seem much too rich…a flavor/texture that leaves me unsatisfied because the “creaminess” dulls the natural richness of the vegetables and the kick provided by the meticulously calculated spice-salt-stevia ratio. To prove this theory, I utilized my NutriBullet (BTW any food processor or blender will work, just maybe not as quickly) to re-create all of the blended soups I’ve tried over the years and loved at restaurants around the world. Each example includes a description of where and when I discovered the soup, and how to eliminate the empty calories (sugar and fat) while achieving the same (if not more satisfying) flavor profile.
Curried Carrot Soup
I am a secret admirer of Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam. I was featured in an article entitled The 7 Best Paleo Blogs Out There in which she was #5 (I was #7), but my discovery of her blog predates that. I love her anime-embellished food photography, her food photography in general, and her recipes (some of which are vegan or can be adapted). Blog link: Nom Nom Paleo. Since I am currently on a quest to find soup recipes to adapt, I thought I’d surf the paleo blogosphere to see what’s trending now. Sure enough, one of my all-time favorite soups: Curried Carrot–turned up in the search results on a site called A Veggie Venture written by Alanna Kellogg. For a review of the recipe by Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo click here. The article is a worthwhile read due to Kellogg’s analysis/critique of the paleo diet regarding its claim to fame as the key to eating “whole foods” and sourcing locally. In that same vein, I would have gone further to say that coconut milk cannot be local or even a “whole” food–since the coconut milk we have available to us in cans is the manufactured result of coconut “meat” blended with coconut water (and preservatives)–so why should it be present in a “paleo” recipe? The simple answer? It shouldn’t. And the additional calories provided are empty and provide no beneficial nutrients for anyone who isn’t starving.
Original Recipe by Nom Nom Paleo – Paleo Carrot Soup
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 large leeks, white and light green ends only, cleaned, trimmed, and thinly sliced
1½ pounds large carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch coins
¼ cup diced Braeburn, Empire, McIntosh, or Cortland apple
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
4 cups chicken stock or Bone Broth vegetable broth
½ cup full-fat coconut milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Explanation for the Eliminations
Oil is never necessary in a soup, especially a blended soup. I have tried to wrap my head around this one, to no avail. In Latin America (Ecuador and Peru especially), oil is almost always added when animal fat is unavailable–and the result is an unappetizing mess of oil molecules floating to the top of an otherwise palatable broth. Nix the coconut oil in this recipe along with the coconut milk, and your tastebuds, waistline, and skin condition will thank you.
Method, adapted from Nom Nom Paleo
1.) Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, along with a generous pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Sauté the leeks in a small amount of water, without salt, until translucent.
2.) Toss in the carrot, apple, ginger, and cardamom, and stir until fragrant. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil over high heat.
3.) Turn down the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the carrots are easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Mix in the coconut milk.
4.) Transfer the soup in batches to a blender and process until smooth. Alternatively, purée the soup directly in the pot with an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
I recently discovered Blenderbabes.com, and must admit to being impressed by the writing, design, and food photography (it’s not every day I find a blog that’s a triple threat in that regard). I love that the concept is based on the use of high-powered blenders such as the NutriBullet or Vitamix, *yet we all know (if not, I’m telling you now) that any food processor or blender will work as a means toward creating blended soups/smoothies, etc., so don’t feel excluded or skip on blended recipes en lieu of a fancy blender. This recipe by Blender Babes is fantastic for its balance of flavors, but it can be improved in terms of nutrition and reduced in caloric value via the use of parsnips and kale in place of lentils. It may seem far-fetched, but hear me out: the combination of cooked parsnips and dino kale–when blended–results in a creamy texture reminiscent of traditional lentil dahl.
Original Recipe by Blender Babes – Blender Dahl
Yields 7 cups
1 cup lentils, dried 2 ½ cups parsnips, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
3 cups water or chicken stock or Bone Broth vegetable broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, peeled, chopped
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon curry powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ cup tomato paste
4 cups water or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh
2 baking potatoes, baked, unpeeled, quartered 3 cups cauliflower florettes
1 ½ tablespoons cilantro, fresh
Explanation for the Eliminations
Both instances of broth/water in the ingredient list imply that water can be substituted for broth to acheive the same result. This might work for the original recipe–but I’ve determined that when root vegetables are swapped for legumes, veg broth should always be used. It’s quite easy to make, even if you don’t have every ingredient on hand for the vegetable broth recipe I swear by. Oh, and cauliflower for potatoes is a no-brainer. Skeptical? Look no further than my first paleo-vegan post, re: Thanksgiving.
Method, adapted from Blender Babes
1.) Wash the lentils and cook parsnips with one clove of garlic in 3 cups of water or vegetable broth until liquid is absorbed. Set aside.
2.) In a two quart pot, saute onion and remaining garlic clove in olive oil until soft. Add spices and tomato paste. Mix well.
3.) Add remaining 4 cups of water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
4.) Place soup, lentils, parsnips potatoes cauliflower, and cilantro into the blender in the order listed and secure lid.
Blendtec: Press the WHOLE JUICE button.
Vitamix: VARIABLE, speed #1. Turn machine on and slowly increase speed to VARIABLE, speed #10, then to HIGH. Blend for 30 seconds.
*Food processor or run-of-the-mill blender: blend until smooth.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Blender Soup
I became privy to the blog Sarcastic Cooking while searching for a roasted red-pepper blended soup to adapt. From my pre-vegan days (prior to my 15th birthday in November 2005) I loved roasted red pepper soup. I never made it myself; rather, I bought it by the carton at Trader Joe’s. After eliminating dairy I failed at finding a roasted red pepper soup until starting college–where I found it in the prepared soup section of the local co-op (though it was cashew-based, and probably 1,000 calories a cup). So having adopted said sketicism regarding that soup, I started seeking out recipes that emulated its flavor/texture but did not utilize cashews or coconut milk. My acheivement of this did not take place until today, when I Nutri-bulleted a soup using this recipe by Stefanie of Sarcastic Cooking (not vegan but a resource in terms of recipes with veganizable potential)–give or take a few ingredients.
Original Recipe by Sarcastic Cooking – Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Prep Time: 7 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 17 minutes
Yield: About 7 Cups
Serving Size: Serves 4-6
2 x 12 Ounce Jars of Roasted Red Peppers, drained
1, 28 Ounce Can Unsalted Whole Peeled Tomatoes
½ Cup vegetable broth
1 Cup Heavy Cream vegetable broth + 2 cups cooked kale leaves or collard greens
1 Tablespoon Salt
½ Tablespoon Black Pepper
Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 Clove Garlic, grated
1 Shallot, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoons Fresh Chopped Basil
Explanation for the Eliminations
For those who don’t like greens but want to reap the benefits–try this recipe. First off, you won’t taste the greens. Secondly, the greens create a creamy texture when blended/processed with the peppers and tomatoes. Thirdly, cream is not a health food and really shouldn’t be considered obligatory in any recipe.
Method, adapted from Sarcastic Cooking
Add all the ingredients to the blender. Puree until smooth/liquefied, about two minutes.
Either freeze or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Soup will last in the refrigerator for four days and up to a month in the freezer.
When ready to serve, heat soup in a saucepan over medium/low heat for 10 minutes until heated through.
I would like to thank Nom Nom Paleo, A Veggie Venture, Blender Babes, and Sarcastic Cooking–for their recipes that inspired these renovations.