Q: Can you make creamy soups without cream?
A: Yes, and the result is even more delicious.
The secret is a fancy-sounding but easy-to-understand thing called emulsion, which occurs when you force together two things that do not normally mix. For creamless pureed soup, those two things are oil and a water-based liquid (pureed vegetables).
To get these natural enemies to play nicely, you need to add an emulsifier. Following the example of Andalusian gazpacho, I use a bit of bread, which makes the texture richer and thicker.
I tested this method on a few veggie soups. First up, tomato. I sautéed onions and garlic with a pinch of oregano and pepper flakes in olive oil, then added a can of whole peeled tomatoes along with a single slice of bread. I simmered it for a few minutes, loosened it up with a cup of vegetable stock, then pureed it in the blender, drizzling in a couple tablespoons of olive oil as it spun. The result? A soup as creamy as any cream of tomato soup I'd ever had. Cream has a tendency to dull flavors. Not a problem in my cream-free version, which, even when made with canned tomatoes, tasted bright and fresh.
Next I tried it with mushrooms. Another success. I went through a litany of creamy soups—broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, pea, even chicken—all with the same results: great texture and brighter flavor.
The fact that my soups all taste brighter now is reason enough to love this method. That it's healthier is the icing on the cake (or should I say the cream in the soup?).
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