This is a plant-based spin on the ultimate childhood comfort food: tomato soup & vegan grilled cheese! Both are easy to make with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. The vegan grilled cheese has that perfect melt and stretch.

A small bowl of tomato soup is accompanied by a crispy vegan grilled cheese. Both rest on a small, round white plate.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who remembers tomato soup and grilled cheese fondly from childhood.

In my home, the tomato soup was Campbell’s. But the grilled cheese was always my mom’s, and she nailed it. My mom’s grilled cheese sandwiches were her specialty. A few of my friends still reminisce about them.

My mom made a grown up grilled cheese: not only cheddar, but also tomato and a thin layer of Dijon mustard. I love that type of grilled cheese because it reminds me of my mom and of home. But I also love a classic, no frills version, and this vegan grilled cheese is just that.

The vegan grilled cheese wouldn’t be complete without a warm bowl of tomato soup. The soup I’m sharing today comes together in a heartbeat, and it’s so delicious.

A toasted vegan grilled cheese sandwich is resting on a rimmed, white plate. The plate is resting on a white surface.

How to make a vegan grilled cheese

The trick to making a vegan grilled cheese is, of course, using a vegan cheese.

A plant-based cheese that melts and stretches

You have the option of using store-bought vegan cheese in any grilled cheese sandwich. But I think it’s super rewarding to make a melty vegan cheese from scratch, using ingredients that you might already have at home in your pantry.

I love the cheese in this recipe for so many reasons. It’s authentically melty and stretchy, which isn’t always easy to achieve with homemade vegan cheese recipes.

The vegan cheese I use most often is my cashew cheese. Cashew cheese is tangy and spreadable, but it’s neither melty nor stretchy. Same goes for my cashew queso, which is really a pourable sauce.

There’s a melty vegan cashew mozzarella recipe that I like to use for pizza, pasta or for tempeh meatball subs. The cheese I use for my vegan grilled cheese is similar, but it’s more like an American cheese or a mild cheddar.

In place of raw cashews, I use a base of non-dairy milk, cornstarch, and either tahini or cashew butter. The tahini version is great for those who have cashew allergies, but can tolerate seeds.

The cheese 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 tasty homemade vegan cheeses and good comfort food recipes.

Leftover cheese sauce can be used on top of broccoli, baked potatoes, on enchiladas, or in this Tex-Mex skillet pasta. Follow the recipe instructions for reheating.

A silver saucepan rests on a white surface. It's filled with a light orange, thick sauce for vegan grilled cheese sandwiches.

Assembling vegan grilled cheese

Once your cheese sauce is melty, you can prepare the vegan grilled cheese sandwiches. I like to do this exactly the way my mom did it, and it involves a fair amount of vegan butter!

Layer about 1/4 cup of the melty vegan cheese onto one of your bread slices. Top it with another slice. Then, spread a thin layer of vegan butter on the outside of each slice of bread.

Next, you’ll heat a frying pan over medium heat with additional vegan butter or some neutral cooking oil (I think butter is better here). Fry the sandwich for about 2 minutes on each side, or as long as you need to get a crispy, golden outer layer. After this, the sandwich is ready to be cut in half and enjoyed.

Best bread for grilled cheese sandwiches

When it comes to a grilled cheese, again, I like to keep things old-fashioned. I tend to use white loaf bread for a grilled cheese.

Sometimes, this is bread that I pick up at a local store or buy at the supermarket. When I’m organized—that is, when I stay on top of my weekend meal prep—I make a loaf of my classic white sandwich bread. It is the perfect bread for grilled cheese.

Any bread that I don’t use up for the vegan grilled cheese sandwiches gets used in BLTs, tofu egg salad sandwiches, or bread crumbs (which I pile onto my Caesar salads).

If you prefer to use another type of bread, you can choose your favorite sandwich bread. I think that a softer bread works best here. Some of my favorite, homemade breads with whole grains include this maple oatmeal bread and this multigrain bread.

A large, silver pot is filled with a recently simmered batch of bright red, tomato soup.

The best pantry tomato soup

The next step in assembling a nostalgic, cozy, comforting lunch is to pair the vegan grilled cheese with a piping hot bowl or cup of tomato soup.

This is one of the simplest homemade soups I’ve made. I’m sure that there are ways to make a homemade vegan tomato soup with fresh, summer tomatoes, and I have no doubt that those versions taste incredible.

But whole, peeled tomatoes are one of the best, most hard-working ingredients in my pantry. At a moment’s notice, I can open up a can and make my beloved pasta alla vecchia bettola, Moroccan-inspired chickpea tomato stew, or lentil tomato pasta stew. Or I can just whip up a quick marinara sauce. If you have crushed or diced tomatoes rather than whole and peeled, those will also work.

I take inspiration from Marcella sauce and use vegan butter for the tomato soup. The only other ingredients are garlic, onion, and broth—really and truly! Be sure to adjust the soup seasoning carefully. How much salt it needs will depend greatly on how salty your broth and tomatoes are. The black pepper should be added to taste.

An immersion blender is submerged into a pot of tomato soup.

An immersion blender makes it easy to blend up the tomato soup while it’s still in its pot. This will save you having a dirty blender to clean. However, if you don’t have an immersion blender, it’s fine to transfer the soup to your standing blender and purée it to creamy perfection.

The tomato soup as a smooth texture and simplicity that I love, just as it is. But if you’d like more of a creamy texture, you can stir in a little of my all-purpose cashew cream.

Meal prep & storage

Vegan grilled cheese itself isn’t a recipe that I usually meal prep. It’s something that I crave when I want familiarity and comfort, and I make it when the mood is right.

However, the tomato soup, which makes 4 cups, can easily be prepared in advance of eating. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to six days. It can also be frozen for up to six weeks.

The melty sauce for the vegan grilled cheese, meanwhile, will keep for up to five days in the fridge, and it, too, can be frozen. It will yield about one and a half cups.

The cheese sauce will solidify as it cools. This is normal! It’ll become creamy again as you reheat and stir it. To do this, heat the sauce in a saucepan over low heat, stirring in a splash of non-dairy milk as needed to loosen it up. Stir as you go, until the sauce is once again loose and melty. Alternatively, you can use a double boiler to heat it.

A small bowl of tomato soup is accompanied by a crispy vegan grilled cheese. Both rest on a small, round white plate.
5 from 3 votes

Tomato Soup & Vegan Grilled Cheese

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

Pantry Tomato Soup

  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter (substitute olive oil)
  • 1 white or yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups whole, peeled tomatoes (1 28-ounce/794 gram can; substitute diced or crushed tomatoes)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • Cashew cream (optional, for extra creaminess)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Pantry Grilled Cheese

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened 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 unbleached, all-purpose flour (substitute a gluten-free, all-purpose flour blend)
  • 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
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 slices classic white sandwich bread (or your favorite sandwich bread)
  • vegan butter, as needed (substitute avocado or olive oil)
  • optional sandwich additions: vegan bacon, tomato slices, leftover veggies, etc.

Instructions

  • 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 or spoon as you go. The mixture will be very liquid 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 4 tablespoons of the cheese sauce on a slice of bread. Top with another slice. If you like, 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. Add your sandwich. Cook for 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 grilled sandwiches. Serve with a cup of hot tomato soup, and enjoy.
A small, white bowl of tomato soup has been dipped into with a half of a vegan grilled cheese sandwich.

I first created and posted this recipe during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a good time to make and share recipes that relied on ingredients that I, and many people, already had at home.

I remember texting my mom a picture of it soon after posting. She had made a grilled cheese for lunch that day, too, and we compared notes. In the midst of so much global turmoil, we both took comfort in the fact that things change, but some things stay the same.

Hope the vegan grilled cheese sandwiches and the soup will give you comfort when you need it, too.

xo

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Recipe Rating




    9 Comments
  1. 5 stars
    Lovely weeknight dinner! Made this for two and we have a lot left over. Added the cashew cream to the soup and a thinly sliced vegan sausage to the sandwiches. My boyfriend and I loved it!

  2. Gena – I made this last night for dinner, and both my husband and I loved it! We honestly liked it better than regular vegan cheese, and the soup was great, too. We will definitely be making this again! Thank you for a great, cozy recipe.

    • Oh wow! I’m so glad to hear that, Beth. My worry when I made it was that it wouldn’t hold up to regular vegan cheese, so that is nice feedback. Enjoy and be well 🙂

  3. Amazing soup, made it for lunch today – so simple and tasty. Didn’t use cashew cream or garlic due to allergies and out of stock – just used fennel in place of onion and a can of tomatoes. Added some basil, oregano and paprika and served it with a homemade fava bean (broad bean) flour flatbread and a couple of cold baked potatoes. Super simple and fast lunch – thanks for the inspiration and a warm belly on a cold grey wet day 🙂

    • I’m delighted you liked it! It was cold, wet, and gray when I made it in NYC earlier this week, too 🙂

  4. Gena,this is right up my alley. We had lunch at home grades K-6. And I ate grilled American cheese with tomato and Campbell’s tomato soup every day! Looking forward to making (really eating) this. Thanks.