My kids are hit and miss on soup lately, much to my chagrin since I like to serve soup 3-4 times a week in the fall and winter and even often in the summer, like this Sausage Bean and Greens Soup.
I count my blessings that all three of them seem to love this creamy veggie soup every single time, and the fact that it’s one of my favorite meals since childhood AND super duper easy doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.
The Monday Mission this week was to memorize a recipe so you can cook “by heart.” This one definitely fits the bill, and I tend to change it up a little every time I make it.
Over the years, I’ve made some major shifts, most notably in how many pots I use (from two to one), making it gluten-free, and adding nourishing homemade chicken bone broth. Now I even have a couple dairy-free versions!
Cooking “by Heart”
It’s so exhilarating and freeing to be able to walk into the kitchen, NOT worry about searching for a recipe and jump right in.
Some that I can do by heart are very basic recipes, like chicken rice soup or stir fry, and others just have a few ingredients, like grain-free crepes. I can make spaghetti squash lasagna without looking, although it’s different every time, and I love late summer when zucchini is in season to make sausage zucchini bake without any paper.
potato vegetable is an old favorite!
Framework Recipe: Cream of Vegetable Soup (Even in Summer)
I should start off by confessing that we always refer to this soup as “cream of potato” soup in our house, no matter what’s actually in it. I have a hunch that goes over better with the kids than “cream of vegetable.”
I call this a “framework recipe” because once you have the basic system down, you can insert just about any veggies, herbs, or meat and have different dinners with just one major skill.
My dad calls it “garden soup” with potatoes, green beans, carrots and corn in August, and all summer long with different variations.
Start with a Roux
This creamy soup traditionally begins with a roux, a mixture of fat and flour. I change that up to make it gluten-free and add the starch at the end, with the same result.
I begin by melting fat, usually butter, about 3-5 tablespoons. If I’m going to use anything from the Allium family (onions, leeks, garlic), they get sauteed in the fat. I go back and forth on that category, because the onions really impart a strong flavor, and although I start probably 80-90% of my meals by chopping onions, it’s not my favorite in this very mild soup.
In these photos, I used a leek, which is much milder than an onion:
You would also want to add mushrooms or peppers at this phase of the game.
Then Add Vegetables to the Soup
The namesake potatoes and other hardy vegetables come next, including carrots, turnips, any other root vegetables, and sometimes cabbage.
Look at these gorgeous purple potatoes grown locally here in Michigan:
I then just barely cover the potatoes with chicken stock:
Salt and pepper are added next, almost a full tablespoon of salt. Soups really need the salt since I use homemade stock; everything falls flat without enough.
I turn the heat up to high to get the broth boiling and balance my steamer basket right on top of everything (this is why I wanted to only just cover the potatoes).
Don’t forget to use the broccoli stems, too – just cut them in small dices or slice thinly:
I used to put the veggies right in the water too and use the veggie water to thin the cream sauce (to add nutrients, I had heard!), but now I understand that it’s not recommended to reuse cooking water if (1) you don’t use organic produce and (2) you’re using broccoli, kale, spinach, or cauliflower (and a few other lesser known cruciferous veggies).
The chemicals from non-organically grown produce reside in the cooking water, and the antinutrients like oxalic acid and/or goitrogens (see this post for explanation) from the cruciferous veggies also sit in the water. Good news though – the antinutrients are reduced by cooking, so we’re on the right track!
It only takes about 10 minutes for the potatoes to get done when I chop them small, and sometimes I pull the steamer basket off before that point so the broccoli doesn’t get overdone.
Creamy with Herbs
When the potatoes are at least getting close to done, I pour in most of the milk plus any additional vegetables that don’t need very long to cook, like fresh green beans, zucchini, and kale.
I add some herbs for additional flavor, often a teaspoon of marjoram, sometimes tarragon, usually a background of parsley, and for this demonstration, a teaspoon of dill:
The last of the vegetables that were added will cook quickly as the milk comes up to a boil (stir often).
How to Make a Gluten-Free Cream Sauce (like a Roux/Bechamel)
Once boiling, I’m going to add my thickener. I use arrowroot starch, which supposedly thickens twice as well as wheat flour, so I use 3-6 tablespoons.
I have a jar that is always in the same place for this purpose: I can mix the starch into about a half cup cold milk and screw the lid on tightly to shake it up to mix thoroughly, rather than getting out a whisk.
I pour the starch mixture into the boiling broth/milk combination in the pot, stir frequently, and within a minute or two, it thickens up. If I want it thicker yet, I can always add a few more tablespoons of starch mixed with more cold milk (or water).
Never ever add a sprinkle of starch to a soup that’s already made (trust me, it’s not a good idea to save time). That’s where the classic lumpy gravy comes from!
Dairy Free Creamy Soup
For a dairy free version, make the soup with 100% chicken broth and whisk in a bit of homemade mayo, which will add creaminess and mimic dairy a bit. We’ve also had success using almond milk in place of the dairy milk (I tend to use more chicken broth in the ratio because almond milk is so expensive, not very healthy, and not very creamy).
My favorite dairy-free option is to use about half a can of coconut milk (for a small batch) with ~2 cups of chicken broth. The creamy coconut milk is pretty thick, and adding arrowroot starch (mixed into cold chicken broth, preferably, since canned coconut milk is usually not very liquidy nor cold) makes it a super thick, hearty soup. I make a special batch in a next-door pot for my dairy-free daughter after cooking all the veggies together in the big pot.Print
This recipe is one way to make a cream of vegetable soup, but please switch it up based on the recommendations and basic structure in the post. Have fun with it!
- 3 Tbs. fat of choice
- 1 leek, chopped (optional)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 medium potatoes, diced
- 2 carrots, sliced (optional)
- 4 c. chicken stock (or boil potatoes in water, drain, and include extra milk for 100% meatless)
- 1 scant Tbs. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 2 c. broccoli (or more)
- Other vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, turnips, and more (what’s in your fridge?)
- 4 c. milk, reserve 1/2 cup to mix with starch
- 1 tsp. dill (marjoram, thyme, or tarragon are also nice in place of dill)
- 1 Tbs. fresh parsley
- 3–6 Tbs. arrowroot starch
- 1/2–1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut
- 1–2 packed cups chopped leafy greens
- Wash and cut potatoes (with or without skins – for taste’s sake, peel them, for health’s sake, leave the peels on).
- Melt fat in large pot.
- Saute leek over medium heat (or anything else from the Allium family), stirring occasionally while dicing potatoes. When the saute is nicely aromatic and a bit limp, add garlic if using, stir for one minute, then add the potatoes.
- Pour in the broth to cover and , at least a teaspoon per quart of liquid total (including milk) and pepper.
- Add any dense veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots. Balance in a steamer basket if you choose or just boil in the broth. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
- Pour in 3 1/2 cups of milk and seasonings; add green beans.
- Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 5 minutes, then add the greens. Whisk starch and 1/2 cup cold milk (no need to measure, just eye it up) thoroughly, bring the soup back to a boil and pour starch mixture in while stirring constantly over medium to medium-high heat.
- Refrigerate to store for up to a week. Freezes pretty well as long as you don’t mind the potatoes falling apart a bit. Reheat to serve.
- Adding peppers will change the flavor a great deal, but if you want to make a Mexican style creamy soup, add diced peppers when you are sauteeing the onions, and try chili powder and cumin in place of the herbs.
- You can do just about anything with this framework recipe. Add cheese for a cheesy chowder, ham or sausage too for a hearty main dish, or fry up some bacon and onions and use a little bacon fat for the roux, then add bacon to the soup and sprinkle with cheese for “loaded baked potato” soup.
- For a super kid-friendly version, try pureeing it so they can’t see the vegetables. 😉
- If you want to use a traditional roux, you’ll either need to drain your potatoes and veggies and make the roux / bechamel in the pot, or just start the roux and cream sauce in one pot and transfer the veggies and broth in.
It’s not fast food, but it’s a lot quicker than many of my meals.
If you don’t have broth thawed, you can always make it with 100% milk, or 4 cups milk and 1-2 cups water to thin it out. Boom – dinner:
I’d love to hear what kinds of recipes you don’t need a recipe card to make happen, whether it’s “just that easy” or one you’ve made so many times, you could do it in your sleep (and sometimes might on a bleary-eyed morning, right?).
Now…go find a great recipe or pick one of your already-favorites and commit to learning it by memory! (Alternately, you could tape just the ingredients to the inside cupboard door…)
Want to See me in Action?
Videography is one of the many humbling things I attempt to do.
This video gets totally and completely blurry in the third section. I thought, “I have to redo this!” but how do you take the milk back out of the soup??? So it’s blurry. I trust you amazingly intelligent kitchen stewards to be able to use your imaginations…
With that lovely disclaimer and steaming soup picture, welcome to my kitchen in 2013:
If you cannot see the video above, click HERE to view the video on YouTube.
Note: The soup that I made in this video really was a bit too thin – 8 cups of liquid and only 3 Tbs. arrowroot starch doesn’t really fit the ratio correctly. I used to use more like 4-5 cups of broth/milk, so you see how recipes shift over time – you just have to remember to “shift” all the parts of the dish!
This recipe is the latest installment in the fall 2013 Nourishing Soup Series. Here are the others: