Throwback to Childhood: Tomato Soup & Vegan Grilled “Cheese”

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It’s officially fall here in QV land, a fact about which this blogger isn’t particularly happy.  Sure, I like the colorful foliage, and there’s a certain smell in the air that’s hard to replicate with a scented candle, but all in all…fall and I aren’t friends.  I’m a fan of bright, sunny and hot; fall in the Northeast tends to be dreary, overcast and cold.  The warm days, when they come, are delightful, but only serve to remind me that summer is far gone and all I’ve got to look forward to is the long, frigid stretch of winter.

Then there’s fall food.  Warming food.  Comfort food.

And what’s more comforting than a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?

I have fond memories of eating this meal as a kid, both at home and at my grandmother’s house.  In fact, my grandmother would keep Campbell’s tomato soup around just for when I came over.  I always had to have it made with milk; water tasted too thin.  My mom would swirl in a little extra milk at the end, too.  Needless to say, for the now-vegan me, this meal needed a little updating.

Once again, 1,000 Vegan Recipes delivered with Creamy Tomato Soup.

homemade tomato soup with fennel

This is grown-up tomato soup, but not so grown up that it doesn’t invoke that cozy feeling of childhood afternoons spent at Grandma’s.  Being homemade isn’t the only thing that sets it apart from the condensed soups I used to eat.  There’s a lot of goodness hiding in here, namely onions, carrots, garlic, basil and, believe it or not, a touch of fennel.  Brandywine tomatoes from my dad’s garden took the place of the romas that the recipe called for, which contributed a heck of a lot of freshness to the taste.  Some canned crushed tomatoes rounded the whole thing out, making for a soup that was every bit as delicious as homemade soup should be.  Had I been able to get some fresh basil to garnish it with, I’d imagine it would have been even better!

Using the immersion blender resulted in a slightly more chunky finished product than a regular blender would have, but since I’m the one who does the dishes I often default to the option that will leave me the least mess to clean up.  I also boiled the soup a little bit after blending to make it thicker.  And now I wish I’d started making my own tomato soup sooner (read: about 20 years ago!), because I could eat this all winter long.  Fennel adds a sort of rich, earthy element to food that I have a hard time resisting.

The key to a truly comforting soup-and-sandwich experience, though, is crunch.  In this case, the crunch of grilled bread housing warm melted (vegan) cheese.  Thanks to Fat Free Vegan, I found a rather authentic-tasting “cheese” recipe that cooks up fast and can be thickened by a quick stint in the refrigerator.  I found that it got a bit wobbly once it was cold, but it spread out well and made one heck of a sandwich.  I toasted the sandwiches on a griddle and went a little nuts browning them.  They came out closer to black than toasted, but only in appearance; the flavor was just fine.

Just a note of caution: this cheese gets really hot when you grill it.  Remember those times when you were a kid and couldn’t wait to eat your Pop Tart after it came out of the toaster?  Yeah, that hot.  So be careful.  But do try it, and give it a whirl using vegetable broth instead of water.  Though I’m not a big fan of salty things, I’ve found that cheese replacements need just a little to have a true “cheesy” flavor.

The one thing I included in this meal that wasn’t present in the tomato soup memories of my childhood was a green veggie.  Because us grown-ups need to eat our vegetables, right?  Especially when they’re as delicious as garden-grown zucchini cooked under the broiler with a little olive oil, garlic and Italian seasoning.  Salad would have gone equally well.  Either way, having something green elevated the soup and sandwich combo to something worthy of a full, “adult” dinner…with all the comfort and warmth I remember from when I was a kid.

What’s your favorite soup to make when the weather starts getting chilly?  Feel free to share recipe links.  I’m going to need all the warmth I can get!

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About the Author:

Sam has been a vegan since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of vegan food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant Program. She is a member of Toastmasters International and currently serves as part of the Capital View Toastmasters club. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, play silly card games and knit socks.
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