Why It Works
- Roasted cauliflower adds a creamy texture and a nutty flavor that forms the backbone of the "cheese" element of the soup.
- Roasted cashews with a bit of palm oil or vegetable shortening along with chipotle chiles and paprika provide color and more flavor.
- Puréeing part of the potatoes in the blender gives the soup a slightly sticky texture that completes the illusion of melted cheese while remaining dairy-free.
Loaded baked potato soup is one of those dishes that has some contradictions built into it. You want it to be clean-tasting, but still over-the-top with flavor. You want it rich, packed with cheese and dairy, but you don't want it so heavy or gummy that it glues your mouth together. And of course, you want it to have all the hearty, roasted flavor of a good baked potato, but still come in soup form. As a dish that's traditionally packed with cream and butter, making the whole thing vegan is an added challenge.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: When I say "fully loaded" baked potato soup, I mean loaded. Most so-called loaded soups are nothing more than baked potato purée with a cursory pile of bacon, chives, sour cream, and grated cheese sprinkled on top just before serving. I want that flavor in the soup. Nutty, cheesy tang, a touch of smoke, and plenty of chives or scallions with every bite. That's how I'd want my regular loaded baked potato soup, and that's how I'm gonna make my vegan version.
Fortunately, with some lessons I've learned from both making really good potato-leek soup and from the vegan nacho cheese sauce recipe I developed last year, a lot of that work is already done. It's largely just a question of tweaking and refining.
For my first attempt, I tried to go simple: I roasted a few potatoes until completely tender, made a batch of my vegan nacho sauce, thinned it out with a bit of almond milk, ran the potatoes through a ricer, and stirred them into the pot along with some sliced chives, scallions, and crispy vegan mushroom bacon.
The soup was good, but the flavor and texture weren't quite where I wanted them. My nacho-style cheese sauce, with its pickled jalapeños and heavy spicing, is simply too distinctive. I started to think of other ways to get a milder cheesy flavor. I know that many folks like to use puréed cauliflower in vegan versions of macaroni and cheese, which makes sense: It has a sort of nutty, slightly funky aroma that could form as the backbone to a deeper cheesy flavor.
I tried it, but it needed a boost. Roasting the cauliflower did the trick.
I split a whole head of cauliflower in half, tossed it in oil, then roasted it along with my potatoes in a 400°F (200°C) oven for about an hour. The potatoes came out tender and the cauliflower richly caramelized, which further enhanced its flavor, giving it a touch of sweetness.
For the rest of the cheese sauce base, I started by sweating leeks, celery, and scallion bottoms (double the alliums to really boost that loaded baked-potato flavor) in vegetable shortening. Using a highly saturated fat like shortening, palm, or coconut oil gives the soup a richer, more creamy texture.
Next I added a touch of paprika and a chipotle chile packed in adobo. When used sparingly, both ingredients add some of that sharpness that good cheese has. Finally, I added some roasted cashews, which also give richness when blended. It's a much better option than the flour-based roux that folks often add to baked potato soup (I find it turns the soup heavy and gummy).
Once all the ingredients were sautéed, I blended them with the roasted cauliflower along with a small portion of the baked potato, adding almond milk for a thick, soupy texture. When you blend potato, it releases a ton of starch, giving the liquid that sort of sticky, stretchy texture that you get from melted cheese. It's an essential trick in my cheese sauce, and it worked well in this soup as well.
To keep the soup from becoming too heavy, I added the remaining potatoes by pressing them through a ricer, which get them smooth without breaking out excess starch (too much starch can make the soup gummy). For a hint of that smoky bacon flavor, I also added a small dash of liquid smoke. I know some folks get squeamish about the stuff, but so long as you're buying a high quality, additive-free brand like Wright's, you're getting nothing but smoke and water.
After thinning out my soup with vegetable stock (water or more almond milk will work fine), seasoning it well with salt and pepper (potatoes LOVE salt), and stirring in some sliced chives and crumbled vegan mushroom bacon, I was sure it was ready to go.
I don't know about you, but for me, baked potatoes, cheese, and broccoli are a trio made in heaven, so I add a few steamed broccoli florets to the bowl. The easiest way to steam a small amount of broccoli? Place the chopped florets on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for about a minute. They steam in their own moisture.
More of that crispy mushroom bacon, some thinly sliced scallions, and we're in business. Soup's on.
1 head cauliflower, split in half
2 large (or 3 medium) russet potatoes, about 1 1/4 pounds total
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
3 tablespoons coconut or palm oil or vegetable shortening
1 large leek, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
6 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts reserved separately
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1 cup roasted cashews
1 quart almond or cashew milk
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
Up to 2 cups Hearty Vegetable Stock or water
1 bunch minced fresh chives
1 recipe chopped Crispy Vegan Mushroom "Bacon", for serving
1 cup steamed broccoli florets, for serving
Vegan sour cream, for serving (if desired)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Toss cauliflower and potatoes in vegetable or canola oil and transfer to a parchment or foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Use a wooden skewer to poke 6 holes in each potato. Roast cauliflower and potatoes until potatoes show no resistance when a wooden skewer is pressed through them, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat shortening, coconut, or palm oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Add leek, celery, scallion whites, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft but not browned, about 10 minutes, lowering heat as necessary to prevent browning. Add paprika and chipotle pepper along with adobo sauce and stir to combine. Stir in cashews and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside until cauliflower and potatoes are cooked.
When potatoes and cauliflower are cooked, transfer cashew mixture to the jar of a blender. Add cauliflower, discarding any green leaves and the central fibrous stem. Add almond milk and liquid smoke (if using). Peel half of one potato and add to blender. Blend, starting at lowest speed and increasing to high until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large pot through a fine-mesh strainer.
Split remaining potatoes in half and press through a ricer or food mill directly into the pot of soup. Whisk by hand or with a hand mixer until potato is thoroughly incorporated and soup is smooth. Thin to desired consistency with Hearty Vegetable Stock or water, then season to taste with salt and pepper. For smoother soup, blend with a hand blender, but do not over-blend or it will become gluey. Soup can also be made smoother by pressing through a fine mesh-strainer with the bottom of a ladle.
Stir in chives and half of mushroom bacon, reheat until simmering, and serve immediately, topping with vegan bacon, broccoli florets, scallion greens, vegan sour cream, and drizzling with olive oil.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 25g||32%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||25%|
|Total Carbohydrate 37g||13%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||23%|
|Total Sugars 9g|
|Vitamin C 57mg||283%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|