Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tomato Basil Bisque with "Parmesan" Crisps: Recreating a Favorite Nordstrom Cafe Soup Vegan-Style for Souper (Soup. Salad & Sammie) Sundays

The Tomato Basil Bisque served at Nordstrom Cafe makes me happy. They bring out your cup of piping hot soup (they also have bowls of soup but the richness and cream make me exercise some manner of portion control), with a warm Parmesan bread crisp balanced carefully on top. The soup is thick, creamy and slightly sweet, and the crunchy crouton of bread is perfect for dipping. A little oasis of soup heaven.

Enjoying a cup after freezing my buns off in the way over-air-conditioned waiting room of my car dealership after a battery meltdown, I got to thinking that I should try to make it at home but maybe a healthier version, without the dairy and the saturated fat of the heavy cream... Then there are the cheesy crisps... could I make a non-dairy version of those as well? And could I make a vegan version of the soup that tasted as creamy and wonderful as the original?

A quick search on the web turned up a bevy of recipes for the soup. (Apparently I am only one of the legions of fans who adore it.) Besides the tomatoes, most recipes included a good amount of carrots, dried basil, and of course plenty of heavy cream. I put together my own making a few vegan substitutions and adjusting the other ingredients to fit my tastes (reducing the oil, upping the amount of dried basil, etc.). For the crisps, I came up with a simple non-dairy herbed compound butter, mixed with some vegan Parmesan-like sprinkles. Easy peasy.

Tomato Basil Bisque
adapted from Nordstrom Cafe
(Makes about 8 Servings)

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 large carrots, chopped
about 1/2 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp dried basil
2 (28 oz) cans or boxes whole tomatoes with liquid
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
1 pint non-dairy (soy or coconut milk) creamer
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
"Parmesan" Crisps (recipe below)

Heat olive oil over in a large stock pot over medium-high heat and add carrots, onion and basil. Cook 10 to 15 minutes or until carrots and onions are somewhat soft. Add the tomatoes and veggie stock, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer about 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree soup with immersion blender (or in batches in upright blender), until smooth. Return to saucepan and stir in non-dairy creamer. Warm through over low and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Serve soup in small bowls topped with "Parmesan" Crisps.


"Parmesan" Crisps
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 8 large crisps)

1 mini baguette loaf
olive oil
2 Tbsp vegan butter (such as Earth Balance), slightly softened
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp no-salt Italian seasoning mix or mixed dried herbs
1 Tbsp vegan "Parmesan" cheese flakes + more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the bread lengthwise at a 45 degree angle into about 1/4-inch long slices. Spray (or lightly brush) both sides of each slice with olive oil and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove and turn crisps over then return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes.

While crisps are baking, use a fork to mix the garlic powder, Italian seasoning mix and vegan cheese flakes together. Set aside.

Remove crisps from the oven and let cool slightly. Spread the top of each crisp with the butter-cheese mixture and then sprinkle the tops with more of the vegan Parmesan. Return crisps to the oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes, until slices are crispy and golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.

Notes/Results: Excellent! My version is delicious--just as creamy, sweet and wonderful without the dairy, and greatly reduced in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. In the handful of recipes on the web the soup had anywhere between a cup to two cups of heavy cream or a cup of heavy cream plus a cup of half-and-half for the eight servings-size batch. If I compare even one cup of heavy cream (820 calories, 88 g of fat / 55 g of saturated fat and 326 mg of cholesterol) to the pint (2 cups) of non-dairy soy creamer I used (480 calories, 32 g of fat / 0 g of saturated fat and 0 mg of cholesterol) it's an excellent overall savings--and makes the big bowl of delicious bisque that I want to eat a more heart-healthy choice. Just be sure to buy an unflavored non-dairy soy or coconut creamer with the shortest ingredient list (French Vanilla Tomato Bisque is not good!) ;-)

This is an easy to make soup--especially if you use an immersion blender to blend it in the soup pot, but if you want a smoother version you can use a regular blender or run the blended soup through a strainer. I happen to like the thicker, more rustic texture. The crisps taste buttery, garlicky and cheesy and are a great pairing with the soup (although it is also the perfect dipping soup for a grilled sandwich). You can sneak both the soup and crisps past your carnivore friends and family and even yourself, without anyone being the wiser. Of course if you want the full saturated fat of the dairy version ;-) just use heavy cream in the soup, and butter and cheese on the crisps. All together a fun experiment that turned out incredibly well, and that I will make again.

Let's look at some more make-again soups and a sandwich hanging out in the Souper Sundays kitchen.

Heather of girlichef tried a spicy Chipotle Albóndigas Soup and says, "Overall, a very tasty version of Albóndigas Soup. The one little factor that sort of bothered me was the cornmeal in the meatballs. I think it gave them a bit of a weird, gritty texture. My oldest son thought the same thing, the hubs didn't say anything. Although, it didn't stop us from eating them. I will probably use bread crumbs instead of the cornmeal next time, though. Other than that, tasty broth chock full of veggies and meatballs with just a hint of smoky heat (stir in more of the adobo sauce from the chipotles...or just add more chipotle if you want even more heat)."

Janet from The Taste Space returned home from vacation to enjoy this hearty Iraqi-Inspired Eggplant and Seitan Stew. She says, "...this was a savoury, comforting stew. Filled with warming spices like nutmeg, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin and cardamom, you have a winning combination with silky yellow split peas and chunks of seitan in a pomegranate-infused sauce. I modified it only slightly by using liquid smoke and substituting Aleppo chili flakes for the larger chilies."

My pal Kat from Our Adventures in Japan has been enjoying some soups lately and put together this colorful Kabocha & Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup that she served with crusty baguette. Kat says, "I recently threw together this soup with some veggies I had in the fridge. ... This was creamy and delicious, not to mention easy and fast. I hope to make more soups with the upcoming cold weather."

Tigerfish from Teczcape-An Escape to Food has a spooky Chicken Feet and Beans Soup that she says can also be called "Halloween Franken-feet Soup" Tigerfish says, "I belong to the school that says "yes" to chicken feet. Braised chicken feet is one of my go-to order whenever visiting a dim-sum restaurant. ... Apologies if this has given you a fright but it's Halloween :D ...what's better to present real frightening food? I don't sugar-coat biscuits, cookies and cakes to Franken-fright anyway. As a first attempt to cook chicken feet soup, it was surprisingly a breeze to success. Really, all you need is time and patience to cook down the chicken feet till tender."

Finally, Foodycat says that her husband Paul doesn't like to share plates but this sandwich might be an exception. She says, "Pan Bagnat is a delicious sandwich, pretty much impossible to make in individual portions. It's basically a salad nicoise stuffed into a slightly hollowed out crusty loaf, which is then pressed to make slicing into tranches possible. You can do it with just grilled vegetables (aubergine, courgette, peppers) or with tomatoes, tuna, radishes, anchovies, olives... pretty much anything with that sort of Provencal robust flavour. It makes a great picnic dish and a really substantial lunch."

Thanks to all my friends who joined in this week with their soup and sandwich creations. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo for all of the details.

Cutest Halloween Cupcakes from Cake Couture
Chocolate with Chocolate Ganache & Marshmallow Cream Frosting.
Love the cyclops! ;-)

Have a happy, healthy, spooktacular week!


  1. thanks for including me :) your soup looks so good, I'm gonna look online for a non-vegan version. I love the cyclops too! :)

  2. Restos add so much more than you really need to make a creamy soup... good thing you found a healthier alternative! :) Another great round-up, Deb!

  3. It really is frightening when you compare the cream and soy alternatives, isn't it? That is a divine looking bowl of soup!

  4. I love making recipe healthier while still preserving their deliciousness! You did a fabulous job with this soup!

  5. Yum! The color is so deep and rich. Looks uber comforting...especially with your "parm" crisps.

  6. I love tomatoes and your tomato bisque sounds delicious.

    Thanks for the round up.

  7. Mmmm...tomato basil bisque sounds so good. I must try it.

  8. Deb, this is just the recipe I need. A local bakery serves a tomato basil bisque that is so incredible. I'm sure this will rival it. It's going in my "to do" pile.


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