My brother and I were talking about eating more paleo and low-carb, and he mentioned that one thing he has trouble with is making meat dishes like casseroles without some sort of canned soup like cream of mushroom to sort of hold it all together. That's how we learned to cook, growing up: put together some meat, some vegetables, some pasta or starch (or both), stir in a can of "cream of something" soup, and cook it. It's easy enough to just leave out the pasta, but he said if he leaves out the soup too, he's just got a bowl of loose meat, and that gets pretty boring.
Obviously the canned soups aren't acceptable at all, with all the processed ingredients and the fact that most have gluten as a thickener. I could make my own soups with cream -- it'd be a lot more trouble than canned, but doable -- but what if I want to eliminate dairy for a while? Can anyone suggest other cream-soup-type ingredients that could be put with meat and vegetables to bind together a decent casserole?
I use these for thickening:
1) Arrowroot starch. Works at lower temperatures than common thickeners, keeps the liquid clear (in case visua appeal matters to you)
2) Reduction to a paste/syrup. (probably not an option if you need a lot of liquid)
3) Coconut flour. (adds a slightly grainy texture but binds a lot of liquid)
4) Gelatin. Has the additional benefit of binding "taste particles" (it makes molecules more accessible to your tongue)
5) Then, of course, the dairy options: Cream, sour cream, creme fraiche (FTW), butter
6) Coconut milk. (If available, but there's been some kind of shortage at least in Europe due to consecutive failed crops)
7) Pureed vegetables. That's how I create most of my soups:
I make tonnes of casseroles and have never used canned soup. Get a good stock and reduce it with the meat and herbs/garlic/tomato paste, etc and if you need thicken use a little rice or potato flour. If you throw some potatoes in with the casserole this will thicken it up as well.
You can actually use a variety of mixed mushrooms, add some water (and whatever spices you like). When you blend the mushrooms with a Vita Mix, it makes them creamy. I've used this as a base or a Non-cream Cream of Mushroom Soup. Then I just threw in some minced mushrooms and had my soup.
But, the base was a creaminess that I didn't initially expect and knew I could use it as a base for sauces.
Give it a try.
All of my old cookbooks (pre 1950) don't use soups. The flour needs to be substituted however. Here is information on the various characteristics of other thickeners that are at least gluten free:
• Cornstarch is the best choice for thickening dairy-based sauces. Arrowroot becomes slimy when mixed with milk products. Becomes a slimy mess if frozen.
• Choose arrowroot if you're thickening an acidic liquid. Cornstarch loses potency when mixed with acids. Freezes well.
• Sauces made with cornstarch turn spongy when they're frozen. If you plan to freeze a dish, use tapioca starch or arrowroot as a thickener.
Adding grated potato to soups or stews will thicken them (as will pureed veggies)
Potato flour…gluten free but should never be boiled.
glutinous rice flour (sweet, mochiko) Gluten free. Works well as a thickener in sauces and soups. Sauces thickened with sweet rice flour will not separate when frozen and thawed. Can find at Asian markets or Bob’s Red Mill
I agree with Sarah - coconut milk gives your soup that creamy consistency while keeping it paleo and tastes great. Just make your soup as you normally would and add anywhere from 1/2 to 1 can of coconut mild depending on the amount of soup you are making.
I read somewhere that before the existence of thickeners for sauces, nut butters were used.
I've used almond and macadamia butters to thicken curries. I don't know if the amount would be a little over-the-top for a soup or casserole (I use about 2 tbsp. for a 2 quart curry) but start small, allow some simmer-time, and see how it works.
My main go-to is pureed veg that I've cooked in stock. Freezes amazing, gives extra nutrition, and any veg/combo will work. If you're doing a white sauce then I would use something fairly neutral like potato so your sauce will still stay white and not go gray or take on the colour of whatever veg used. Basically, whatever you're using for the liquid, then the pureed veg, heat and season so you know what the flavour will be, and you're done. An egg will work but you'll need to remove the pan from the stove, slowly add beaten egg in a thin stream constantly stirring, so it doesn't scramble, then pan back on the stove while continuing to stir. Good luck!
I would say don't give up on using cream so easily. Making a creamy soup isn't nearly as hard as you'd think and it's so good. Make a big batch and freeze it in smaller portions so you can thaw it out as needed. Here are some instructions I found:
We must have been neighbors. I have a few recipes that need cream soup from a can and I usually sub a mix of beef/chicken/veggie broth with cream and some baked potato or potato starch to thicken. I sometimes add a bit of avocado to add creaminess. I highly recommend adding some shredded cheese to the potato mix if you have it. It adds a great starchy texture to the mix. I don't have a recipe but just play around with whatever I have on hand. Oh I do recommend reducing the stock to half and then adding the cream and potato. Also it's best to cream/mash the potato in the food processor first with some butter if possible as it doesn't come out as smooth if you don't.
If you want this to be LC use glucommanan (konjac) or guar gum in place of the potato. As with most thickeners you want to mix with a bit of hot water to make a paste before adding to the mixture to prevent lumps.
In a pinch just some cream and cheese can work really well with a throw together LC thing. If you are o.k. with cream cheese that works even better. If you want some good ideas for easy low carb meals this site is great. Linda Sue is the queen of low carb creamy casseroles. These are NOT paleo but many recipes are easy to convert.
During my non-dairy stints I use almond milk in place of cream then add extra fat to the recipe via avocado or butter or CO. It's just o.k.
Don't forget to adjust your original recipe for the lack of pasta. You will not need the same volume of liquid as these original recipes call for as there is nothing in the recipe to absorb it.
If all else fails this stuff isn't horrible. Mix with cream for use in recipes. Not paleo but....baby steps, ya know?