Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vegan Beer Cheese Soup: Can it be Done?

I'm trying really hard to like nutritional yeast.

I get the impression from other blogs that many vegans sprinkle nooch on their food like B-vitamin fairy dust. The first time I used it, in a macaroni and cheese-like casserole, I knew better than to expect real cheese texture or taste. I'm not looking for vegan replicas of meat and dairy (see my condemnation of fake cheese in the tahini pizza post), and I'm open to new flavors. But the nooch-based sauce tasted a little, um, for lack of a better word... creepy? Nutritional yeast has a unique flavor that puts me at a loss for adjectives or similes. It's not bad. It's just weird.

But in the back of my mind I hear John and Yoko singing "All we are saying... is give yeast a chance," with the tambourines and everything, and that steels my nerves.

Last weekend it was cold and snowy, and my thoughts turned to that old midwestern warmer-upper, beer cheese soup. Usually it's made with lots of butter, but I found a recipe in Cooking Light magazine a few years ago that's just as good as the real stuff but lower fat. I envisioned my ideal non-dairy variation and jotted down the following ideas:


Sounds like dinner at a vegan frat house, right? The original recipe called for lots of milk and over a cup of cheese. Since there was no way I was putting that much yeast in my soup, and I didn't want it to taste like soy milk, I made it creamy by using more potato puree. I used 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric to add some color, but the soup came out looking a little too much like Bart Simpson's skin, so I've cut it to 1/8 teaspoon in the recipe.

I'll warn you now that beer cheese soup is not for everyone, even when made with real cheese. The alcohol evaporates, but the beer gives the soup a bite that might frighten away the faint of heart (Mom: you would not like this). I'm not going to go all Julia Child on you and say you can't cook with a beer you wouldn't drink; I had some inferior IPA in the fridge that I bought last fall (not that wonderful Dogfish Head up there), and this was a good way to get rid of it. The hoppier the beer, the more bite it will impart to the soup.

I realize that now I'm telling you to make soup with an ingredient I've just called creepy and weird, but this actually turned out okay. If you like nutritional yeast, as many people seem to, you'll like this soup. If you are merely trying to live with it, like I am, the soup has enough spice and funk that the nooch backs off and provides only a subtle suggestion of cheese. When I make it again, I may play around with the potato/chopped vegetable/yeast ratios, just to see where this soup can go. If you experiment and come up with something yummy, let me know!

Beer Cheese(ish) Soup

5 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups diced potatoes
1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup plain soy milk
2 TB Earth Balance margarine
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp Tiger Teeth Pepper (or cayenne pepper to taste)
1/8 tsp turmeric
12 ounces beer

Simmer 3 cups broth and diced potatoes for 15 minutes, then puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil. Sautee onion, celery, and carrot for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sautee for 30 more seconds.

Combine flour, remaining 2 1/2 cups broth, and soy milk in a bowl. Stir with a whisk. Add the mixture to the soup pot with the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Add the potato mixture, margarine, nutritional yeast, mustard, black pepper, salt, pepper, and turmeric. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add beer and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Garnish with freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4. This soup got very thick in the fridge, so when reheating the leftovers I added 1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup water. Cornbread makes a good side.

Coming up this week: I've had a request for some man food, which works for me because the Superbowl is almost here (the Cardinals were big babies in the snow in week 16 so they deserve to lose). I plan to try Vegan Dad's Boneless Chickenless Hot Wings, and spanikopita from My Veggie Kitchen. I've never worked with phyllo dough or homemade seitan before, so this should be interesting. Photos soo


  1. So my first experience with nooch was also in a mac & cheez recipe - and I hated it. I warmed up to it and make a 'queso' recipe on a regular basis that I end up eating with a spoon...your soup sounds really good!

  2. This recipe is exactly what I was looking for. I've been trying to think of ways to make a fascimile of beer cheese soup for a couple weeks now and using potato to round out the creaminess is just BRILLIANT. Thank you!

  3. But, there's no beer in the ingredient list! How much am I supposed to add right before simmering?

  4. Excellent point! I'll fix it.

  5. Thanks Mary! I actually loooove nooch and am super excited to try this soup...

  6. Hey perhaps try sauteeing the nooch in with the onion and celery. For me it seems to remove that "funk" the yeast has. That being said. I love nutritional yeast with an emotional problem. My first experience too was not positive, but for two months I looked at the 10oz. I paid 12 bucks for and decided I had to do something. Took trial and error but t'is one of my favorite things.

  7. Sorry one more thing.....this soup looks amazing and even though it is now spring. I do believe I will be imbibing. thanks


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