I’m sure I’m not the only person who remembers grilled cheese and tomato soup as a childhood comfort food. In my home, the tomato soup was Campbell’s, but the grilled cheese was my mom’s, and she nailed it. My mom’s grilled cheese sandwiches were, whether she knew it or not, a specialty. A few of my friends still remember the pleasure of coming over and eating them.
My mom usually made adult grilled cheese: not only cheddar, but also tomato and a thin layer of Dijon mustard. I love that type of grilled cheese; for me, it’ll always taste like home. But sometimes my mom made the more classic version—just bread, butter, American or cheddar—and today, that’s what I was craving.
This vegan tomato soup and grilled cheese comes straight from the pantry, with a little help from the fridge. The bread is my classic white sandwich bread, since I made a fresh loaf yesterday. The soup is homemade and very simple: just vegan butter or olive oil, tomatoes, salt, pepper, broth, and cashew cream if you like, for extra creaminess.
And then there’s the cheese. I’ve had a vegan cheese-fueled quarantine, thanks to the fact that numerous brands have been easily accessible for me. But I know that plant-based cheese, let alone any specialty food, is a privilege right now, and I thought it would be nice to make one from scratch, with stuff that I had in my fridge (non-dairy milk and lemon juice) and pantry (spices, cornstarch, flour, tahini, nutritional yeast).
Is this exactly like commercial vegan cheese? No. It’s less melty and stretchy, a little more unpredictable. But it’s creamy and smooth, with a little viscosity, and I think the flavor is nicely authentic. You won’t mistake it for cheddar or a commercial vegan approximation, but you’ll know that it’s inspired by cheddar, thanks to salt, acid, and umami.
The cheese is pretty easy. Blend your ingredients in a blender, transfer to a saucepan, and whisk and heat furiously until it becomes thick and melty. I recommend a 2 quart or bigger saucepan; as you can see above, it bubbled over in my 1.5 quart!
There’s a lot of space to make modifications here. I used whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes. I nearly always have a few 28-ounce cans of these at home, because I think they’re super flavorful for sauce and soup. But if you have crushed or diced tomatoes, those will work well, too. I took the Marcella sauce route and used butter, but I know that vegan butter can be as tricky to find as vegan cheese, so rest assured that olive oil works well, too. Be sure to adjust the seasoning as needed, since canned tomatoes and broth (or bouillon, which I used) vary in saltiness. On its own, this is a minimalist tomato soup, but you could add different seasonings: paprika, crushed red pepper, and so on. Some vegan bacon crumbled on top wouldn’t be too bad, either.
I tested the vegan cheese with soy and oat milk. Almond and cashew will also work, and if you’re without non-dairy milk at home, you can use water. I tested that, too, and it was a little less creamy, but it worked.
The cheese, by the way, is adapted from the “Melty White Cheeze” in Jo Stepaniak’s awesome cookbook, The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. It was published in 2003, and I think I’ve had mine for ten years or so. It’s full of pantry-friendly, tasty homemade vegan cheeses, as well as some good comfort food recipes for using up what you make. I’m glad to have rediscovered my copy this week.
Pantry Tomato Soup
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter or olive oil
- 1 large white or yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (or crushed or diced tomatoes)
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or 1 vegan bouillon cube + 1 1/2 cups water), extra as needed
- Optional: 1/4-1/2 cup cashew cream*, for extra creaminess
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pantry Grilled Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups oat, soy, almond, or cashew milk
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons tahini (substitute cashew butter)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose (substitute GF all-purpose flour)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot (substitute 2 tablespoons tapioca starch)
- 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder (substitute Dijon mustard)
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional: mostly for color!)
- pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 8 slices sandwich bread of choice
- vegan butter or oil spray
- optional sandwich additions: vegan bacon, tomato slices, leftover veggies, etc.
- To prepare the soup, heat your butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, or until the onion is soft and clear, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute, continuing to stir as you go.
- Add the tomatoes and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup till smooth, or transfer to a standing blender and blend till the soup is completely smooth. It will have a somewhat creamy consistency as is, but if you'd like it to be a little creamier, add 1/4-1/2 cup cashew cream. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste; the amount of seasoning you need here will depend on how salty your broth and tomatoes were. If your soup is thicker than you like, add up to an extra half cup of broth or water to loosen it up.
- To make the grilled cheese, blend all ingredients except for the bread and optional toppings in a blender till smooth. Transfer this mixture to a medium sized saucepan. Heat the cheese sauce over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk as you go. The mixture will be very liquidy at first, then it will thicken up fast! Stir vigorously to be sure that it doesn't get clumpy. When it appears thick, smooth, and a little shiny, it's ready.
- Place 3-4 tablespoons of the cheese sauce on a slice of bread. Top with another slice. If you like (this is how my mom does it), coat the two outside surfaces of your sandwich bread with a little vegan butter.
- Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium high heat. Add a teaspoon (or so) of vegan butter or oil to a frying pan or griddle, or spray the surface with oil. Add your sandwich. Cook for 1-2 minutes, pressing lightly with a spatula as you go, or until the bottom side of your sandwich is crispy and golden brown. Flip the sandwich and cook the second side the same way. As you work, you can cover the vegan cheese sauce with a layer of saran wrap; this will keep it from developing a film. The sauce will start to become more solid as soon as you take it off the stovetop, but it will get smooth and creamy again as the sandwiches cook in the pan.
- Slice your sandwiches. Serve with a cup of hot soup, and enjoy.
Soup will make 4 cups and can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 6 weeks.
Sauce will make 1 1/2 cups and will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Your cheese sauce will get solid as it cools. This is normal! It’ll get creamy again if you reheat it. To do this, heat it in a saucepan over low heat, stirring in a splash of non-dairy milk as needed, or use a double boiler.
Once you’ve got your cheese sauce made, you can use up extra on top of broccoli, baked potatoes, or in burritos. Follow the recipe instructions for reheating; it’s a little tricky, but it works!
I was very happy with my plain version of grilled cheese. But today, I tried it with sliced tomatoes and a thin, thin layer of Dijon mustard, à la my mom. Of course it made me miss her. But it made me smile, too.
A couple hours after lunch, I sent my mom a picture of the meal, knowing she’d understand that it was inspired by her. She texted back almost immediately to say she’d made grilled cheese for lunch, too, using my homemade bread (I’ve been doing contact-free deliveries) and vegan cheese slices. Some things change, some things stay the same ?
Happy Wednesday, friends. I’ll be back for weekend reading.