Creamy Tomato Soup

Creamy Tomato Soup, garnished with fresh basil.
Creamy Tomato Soup, garnished with fresh basil.

I’ve wanted to make a tomato soup for some time now, but I’ve put if off for months. I had planned to wait for fresh, ripe tomatoes during the growing season. But I woke up on a late May Day with rain in the forecast and tomato soup on my mind, so … I dug out my last two cans of diced tomatoes and went for it. I had tomato soup for breakfast. It made me happy on a drab May day.  

If I’d had any of my Knockout Guacamole left—my version of avocado toast spread—it would have been a perfect breakfast. It would be easy to add eggs and bacon, maybe hash browns, too, for a larger breakfast that fuzes traditional and modern menus. 

I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to use in the soup, besides tomatoes, but I got there using ingredients on hand, starting with a couple of herbs I’m growing this season: basil and oregano. It’s so satisfying to stroll onto my deck and pinch off a few leaves to use in a recipe. Sweet Vidalia onions are my favorite with fresh sliced tomato drizzled with balsamic vinegar or a vinaigrette, so they were in, along with garlic. A few whole cloves sounded nice … and how about a little pepper to warm things up?  

I know many tomato soup recipes use chicken stock, but I wanted a vegetarian and gluten-free version. I used my latest vegetable stock batch: because umami. Thanks to Asian Market—a local Korean grocery—I finally landed some kombu to add to my vegetable stock. It definitely adds flavor. I highly recommend it. I chose xanthan gum to thicken the soup so I could avoid a flour-based roux for the soup. When I was making the soup, I paused as I reached the last ingredient to add (salt). I felt the soup needed more than just salt … and it suddenly hit me that it needed one more fermented ingredient.

Fermented foods not only taste good, it turns out they are good for you. They are loaded with probiotics, they neutralize substances that lower our ability to digest certain foods, they aid in pre-digestion and they release more vitamins into our bodies. I’ve been all about buttermilk for some time, and while I knew it was fermented I hadn’t given it much thought. Now that my sights are broadened, I may become slightly demented for all things fermented. 

Did you know we humans also undergo fermentation processes? The same process that produces foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, sourdough bread (and buttermilk)—lactic acid fermentation—is what gives us sore muscles after strenuous exertion. In alcohol fermentation, yeast breaks down starches and sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide … to produce beverages like wine and beer. Acetic acid fermentation breaks down starches and sugars into sour tasting ingredients, like vinegars and Kombucha. (Fascinated? Learn more—there is even a master class on fermentation.)

Creamy Tomato Soup has two fermented ingredients: buttermilk and soy sauce. Soy sauce originated in China. It’s made from fermented soy beans and grains. This kind of killed my gluten-free recipe plan. However, if you need a gluten-free soup option, you can replace soy sauce with another fermented concoction: 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp apple cider vinegar. 

For a low sodium version replace soy sauce with 2 tsp cider vinegar.  Did you know that red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar have only trace amounts of sodium in a tablespoon? Check the label: 0 mg sodium! I’m definitely going to play around with this ingredient more. I’ve got plenty on hand.

This soup is creamy and flavorful. As much as I love it right now, I can’t wait to taste it made using fresh, ripe tomatoes this summer. It tastes good warm or cold…. So warm it up on a cool, cloudy day and cool it down on a hot, sunny day. It is versatile enough to handle a variety of toppings, so let your mood (and the state of your garden, fridge and pantry) determine what you choose. Or … keep it simple: it’s also tasty without toppings. 

“…To be honest, I’d be the last person who should be doling out gardening advice. I don’t have the patience for growing things. Yes, I realize there’s nothing quite as satisfying as eating food that you’ve pulled up from the ground and that’s why, at the height of the planting season, I bury cans of tomato soup in my backyard and dig them up in late spring.”

—Ellen DeGeneres

Ingredients

3 C diced tomatoes (28 oz. can if using canned)

1 TBSP Splenda or other sweetener

2 C vegetable stock 

1 C buttermilk 

3/4 tsp xanthan gum

1 medium sweet onion, chopped (Vidalia work great)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp fresh chopped basil leaf

1 tsp fresh chopped oregano 

4 whole cloves

1 tsp pepper

1 TBSP tomato paste

1 tsp soy sauce (for gluten-free or low sodium version, replace with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp apple cider vinegar)

Optional toppings, as desired:

cayenne powder

chopped red chilis

red pepper flakes

coriander leaves

fresh basil leaves

fresh oregano leaves

fresh garlic greens, chopped

Parmesan or cotija cheese

Prep time: about 45 minutes                                       

Yields: about 6 cups

Directions

Chop onion, garlic, basil and oregano. If using fresh tomatoes, chop and set aside. Reserve tomato juice. If using canned tomatoes, strain diced tomatoes and reserve juice.

Pour grapeseed oil in medium pot and heat to medium.

Add onion, garlic, cloves, oregano, basil and pepper and sauté until onion becomes translucent. 

Add tomato paste and blend with other ingredients. 

When paste darkens slightly, add diced tomato. Stir well to combine all ingredients and heat through. 

Add reserved tomato juice and  bring to boil.

Add vegetable stock to pot and return to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Puree’ with immersion blender or remove to blender and transfer back to pot. 

Mix xanthan gum in buttermilk and add to soup. Salt to taste.

Simmer until soup thickens slightly. 

Serve warm with desired toppings.

Creamy Tomato Soup at a glance.
Creamy Tomato Soup at a glance.

Serving Suggestions

Serve warm or cold as a side with a piece of avocado toast, a grilled cheese sandwich, warm potato salad or baked potato and apple slices. Great as part of a hearty breakfast of soup, toast, and a protein of choice. Serve as a side or main course for lunch or as part of a light dinner. Makes a good appetizer, too. 

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