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.
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.