For most of my life, I have associated the idea of blended soups with fru-fru restaurants and television cooking shows. You know, fancy cooking, not the stuff I do.
I mean, yeah, run a potato masher through the beans or the chowder to liberate some starch and help thicken them. Even stuff a stick blender in the pot to break up more of the chunks and get a creamier base. I did those things. But actually, you know, let the soup get cool enough to handle, put it in an actual blender, and blend them to within an inch of their creamy lives? Until there's nothing but smooth left?
Yeah, I never did that. Never even really imagined that I would want to. Plus, you know, you get the blender dirty, you dirty another pot if you have to blend in batches because you have too much for your blender, stuff splatters, it would be a pain in the ass, right?
Well, yeah. However...
I make a lot of vegetable soups. No meat, no dairy, no refined oils -- just vegetables and flavorings. Richness comes from potatoes, starchy veg, and nut butters. Umami comes from miso, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and mushrooms of various kinds (I'm partial to dehydrated oysters from my woods, whipped into a convenient powder for cooking.) There is always a lot of onions and garlic in these soups, and usually legumes.
And here's the thing I've discovered. Texture of the finished soup matters a lot. I love stews (full of big chunks of things) as long as the textures of the various things are appropriate. But when you are cooking a bunch of different things, it's common for something to come out a little crunchier than it should be, or a little mushier. On the stovetop, a skilled cook can put things in the pot in the right order so everything winds up cooked about the same, but with a bunch of diverse ingredients, it's easy to screw up, to the point where your onion is slimy (rather than firm, or dissolved), your carrot is crunchy, your legumes have a few that were extra-dry and went firm instead of dissolving and are now gritty in the soup, your greens are stringy -- I could go on, but you get the idea. There's also a lot of prep; it kind of matters that you cut things to even sizes and that the sizes be appropriate to the cooking time. I can easily spend more time chopping the ingredients for a big vat of soup than I spend cooking it.
That's partly because I've grown very fond of my 8-quart electric pressure cooker. I make a ton of soup, I divide it into one-or-two-serving containers, then I freeze or refrigerate them. But it's got to be good soup or I won't eat that much; there's waste as I get tired of it and a few servings sit too long in storage. One mistake during the prep and cook process, and there's an ingredient that's not harmonious, texture-wise, with the rest of the soup. It's easier to make that mistake, too, when using the pressure cooker; things tend to cook thoroughly and get very soft while still holding their shapes, where they might have dissolved during normal amounts of stirring and bubbling in a stovetop soup pot. So it's harder to get pressure cooker soups "just right." It's great when it's good, but when it's bad, it sits in the fridge until it goes sour. Bummer, dude.
I noticed that I was gravitating toward split pea soups. I've always loved these. Make them with lots of onion powder, garlic powder, and just about any kind of powdered spices and they come out rich, creamy, and delicious. Coincidentally, no chunks.
But sometimes I want to put lots and lots of chopped fresh onions in the soup. Or sweet potatoes. Or actual potatoes. Or squash. Or carrots. Or celery. Kale or another green. You get the idea. I like mixed vegetable split pea soups. Or mixed vegetable bean soups with any of a dozen kind of beans. Which brings us back to the problem of getting harmonious textures. It can be done, but you have to get everything chopped just right, and in the pressure cooker, various vegetable ingredients still don't "vanish" into the background flavor/texture of the overall soup the way they might on the stovetop.
Meanwhile, thanks to my garage sale habit, we possess not one but two huge (72oz blend jar) Ninja blenders. Total cost: $5.
It was a bad batch of split peas that finally broke me. There were chopped onions and carrots in there too, but some of the split peas didn't dissolve. I don't know why. They just broke up into gritty little fragments instead. Soup was delicious, but a mouthfeel disaster. And it was, you know, at least 10 or 12 servings of food that was going to go to waste if I didn't eat it. I decided to bite the bullet and get out the blender. Maybe I could rescue this soup.
Spirit of Mollison! Why did nobody ever tell me how fucking delicious a good blended soup is? Yeah, I had to wash a blender and an extra pot. It was totally worth it.
Sure, this is subjective. Maybe you find creamy soups without chunks to be boring and bland. But for me, it's a revelation. Blending liberates more of the sweetness from starchy vegetables, which sometimes means I need to add a smidge of acid (citrus juice or vinegar) to balance. But it also equalizes the textures and eliminates much of the mouth-feel dissatisfaction I was getting from my soups. It also seems to bring forward the spices, so I need a bit less. But what is has revolutionized for me, unexpectedly, is prep time. In the pressure cooker everything is going to get done, so there's no need for uniformity in your chopping and your chunks. You can also use things (like pieces of ginger root) that you'd have to mince or remove after cooking if you weren't blending. And the creaminess you can get, with no added fat or animal products, is pretty amazing.
I'm a convert. If you haven't tried it, give it a test. You might like it a lot more than you expect!
Blender cleaning tip, in case you've not tried it. Learned over time just not to let the blender get food crusted inside.....soooooo, as soon as you pour the blended contents out, give it a quick rinse, then add dash of dishsoap and a bit more water to the canister. Place the canister cap back on and either give it a shake or place it back on the blending motor and give it a few pulses. Suds everywhere in the canister (NOT on the countertop) and it's ready for a final rinse before placement in the drying rack or station. The old Osterizer's are more forgiving with the removable base for cleaning, but for the Vitamix this protocol is highly recommended. Happy blending in 2020!
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