During winter’s bitter, blustery days, a warming pot of soup is top of mind. If you’re craving a rich and comforting soup without adding the heaviness of cream, you’ve got plenty of options in your crisper or pantry. It’s time to think outside the box (or carton) with these seven easy, dairy-free thickeners.
1. In A Slurry
When it comes down to it, some creamy soups are just white sauces with more liquid added. Building a roux from flour and butter (or margarine), cooking for a few minutes to remove the raw flour flavour, and adding chicken or vegetable stock will give you a sturdy soup without a whisper of cream. Cornstarch, on the other hand, is mixed with a few tablespoons of liquid and then stirred into the soup after it has come to a boil. Either way, the tricks you use to thicken a gravy — flour pastes, cornstarch slurries or even add-ins such as arrowroot or tapioca — can give your soup a thicker mouth feel.
2. Koo Koo For Coconuts
For creaminess without cream, full-fat coconut milk will add a luscious sheen and body to your broth (you can use low-fat if you must, but it won’t give you as much richness). In Thai cuisine, coconut milk is added to flavourful curry pastes to produce creamy soups that pack a punch, such as this Thai Coconut Curry Corn Soup. If coconuts aren’t your thing, try subbing in soy or nut milk instead, although your soup will be a little thinner in consistency.
3. Against The Grains
Anyone who has ever made a Chinese congee knows the thickening power of rice — absorbing liquid and releasing starch to add a velvety texture when cooked. Add half a cup of rice at the beginning of the simmering period for your soup, and blend when the grains have plumped out. Pressed for time? Try using quick cooking rice instead to shorten the simmering time needed.
4. The Power Of Spuds
Don’t forget the humble potato — adding just one can add significant body and creaminess to your soup. Peel your spud if you desire, or leave it unpeeled and well scrubbed if you’re pureeing the soup afterwards. Just be warned that unless you’re using a full blender, you may end up with visible bits of potato skin sprinkled throughout. A smaller dice or thin slices will help the potato break down quicker in the boiling liquid. Sweet potato or yam can also be used, but keep in mind it will affect the colour of your finished product. You can also raid the fridge for yesterday’s mashed potatoes, leftover potato soup or baked sweet potatoes for a head start.
5. Back To Your Roots
Don’t stop at potatoes — chopped root vegetables, such as parsnips, turnips, rutabaga or carrots, all make economical and easy ways to add velvety texture. Beyond the basics, Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes, taro or water chestnuts can also be cooked and puréed for body. Try sneaking in some cauliflower or broccoli for some added vegetable goodness.
6. In A Nutshell
Soft nuts, such as cashews, add a creamy texture when soaked, such as in this vegan cream of celery soup. Nuts can be pre-soaked the night before, or cooked directly in simmering liquid to soften before blending.
7. Check Your Pulses
White beans, such as cannelloni, release a starchiness when cooked that will taste creamy on the palate without providing a dominant flavour. Soak and cook your own, or open a can for convenience, if you desire. Chickpeas or lentils, on the other hand, will impact the taste of your finished soup, but also provide a hearty helping, especially when paired with salty pancetta or bacon.
Looking for comforting soup recipes? Try one of these 21 Noodle Soups to Slurp Up This Winter.