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Recipe categories: Quick and easy, Soups, Vegetarian | All categories

Vegan mushroom bisque

Vegan mushroom bisque
Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Nuts. And water. That's really all there is to nut milk.

Maybe you've noticed all the dairy-free milk brands vying for attention at your local market. Nut milks — and other plant-based milks such as soy, rice and even coconut — are hot right now. Whether you're lactose intolerant or have perhaps "consciously uncoupled" yourself from dairy, plant-based alternatives are a growing market for both health- and fad-related reasons.

But have you bothered to check the back of the box?

In addition to nuts and water, you'll most likely find a litany of additional ingredients. Some are added to lend flavoring and/or sweetness, others to fortify the milk with vitamins and minerals. Some, like seaweed-derived carrageenan, are added to thicken and emulsify the milk, while still others work as preservatives to extend shelf life.

It was enough to make me wonder how hard it would be to just make it myself.

Believe it or not, homemade nut milk is incredibly simple: Soak nuts, blend and strain. Voila.

There are plenty of recipes for nut milks available on the Internet, but the method is basic: Take raw nuts and immerse them in a bowl of water. Soak the nuts until they're noticeably plump (kind of like soaking raisins), at least several hours and up to a day or so. Drain the water and give the nuts a good rinse, then place them in a blender with fresh water and blend away to your heart's content.

When the nuts are puréed, strain the liquid. Because of the fine grit from the nut pulp, the liquid will need to be carefully strained. Several layers of cheesecloth over a mesh strainer work well, as does a tea towel. But the best thing I've found is something called a nut milk bag (yes, that's the name, and it can easily be found on the Internet). Fill the bag with purée and gently squeeze the liquid out; the bag works wonders at removing the grit to give the milk a nice, smooth texture.

After the liquid is strained, adjust the consistency with additional liquid to suit your taste. Most methods I've seen call for a ratio of 1 cup of nuts to 3 or 4 cups water. I personally prefer one pound of nuts (a little over three cups) to around six cups of water for a nut milk similar in consistency to whole dairy milk. To create a "cream," allow a little of the finer grit in with the milk and reduce the water for a thicker consistency.

Because homemade nut milk will naturally separate over time, store it in a container with a tight-fitting lid so you can give it a good shake before using. Once it's made, the milk will keep, refrigerated, for three to five days.

As for the leftover pulp, save it. You can use it in so many things. Flavor the pulp and use it as a spread, add it to a shake or fold it in with pancake batters or dips. Or simply spread the pulp out and slowly dry it in a low oven to make nut meal.

I recently used some dried-out almond meal in cookies. For a batch of sables, I combined coconut oil, almond meal, sugar, flour and cacao nibs, rolling the crumbly dough into a log. After slicing and baking, I took a bite of a still-warm cookie. Rich, with a sable's signature "sandy" texture, one might never guess the cookie was dairy-free. And vegan. Perfect for my health- and fad-conscious friends.

noelle.carter@latimes.com

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Total time: 50 minutes | Serves 6 to 8
Note: Animal-derived ingredients are sometimes used in the filtering process when making wine; vegan-friendly wines are available at most wine stores as well as online.
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed
  • 3/4 pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced, stems discarded
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup Madeira, sherry or similar vegan-friendly red wine
  • 3 cups vegetable broth, more if desired
  • 2 cups macadamia or cashew cream (see related recipe)
  • Chopped chives, for garnish
  • White truffle oil, for garnish

Step 1Heat a wide, heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven over high heat until hot. Add the vegetable oil, then half the mushrooms. The mushrooms will immediately begin to sizzle. Cook quickly, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms begin to brown, 4 to 6 minutes. The mushrooms should cook quickly enough that they brown before they give up any moisture; this will give them a nice nutty flavor. Remove from heat and spread the mushrooms onto a plate to cool. Cook the remaining mushrooms the same way, adding a little additional oil if needed. Remove from heat and add to the first batch of mushrooms, seasoning with one-half teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper.

Step 2In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and browned slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, an additional minute or so. Add the wine and cook, scraping any flavoring from the base of the pan.

Step 3Add 3 cups vegetable broth and half the mushrooms. Once the soup comes to a simmer, remove from heat and purée using an immersion or stand blender. Return the soup to the pot and whisk in the macadamia or cashew cream. Stir in the remaining mushrooms and bring to a bare simmer, stirring frequently. Taste, and add three-fourths teaspoon each salt and pepper, or as desired.

Step 4Continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes to marry the flavors. The soup will thicken as it cooks; adjust the consistency with additional broth or water as desired. This makes a scant 2 quarts soup.

Step 5Taste, and adjust the seasonings again if needed. Serve the bisque garnished with chopped chives and a drizzle of truffle oil.

Each of 8 servings, without garnish:
Calories 223; Protein 3 grams; Carbohydrates 10 grams; Fiber 3 grams; Fat 19 grams; Saturated fat 2 grams; Cholesterol 0; Sugar 5 grams; Sodium 181 mg.
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