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Mood-boosting recipe: Our Instant Pot vegan “clam” chowder tastes just like the real thing

finished centered vegan clam chowder

Winter is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start gathering all the soup recipes you want to try this year. One that should definitely top your list is vegan clam chowder. It’s rich, creamy and bursting with flavors of the sea. Even better, it’s packed with a ton of mood-boosting properties.

But first things first: Let’s talk about how it can be made in the first place. Clam chowder, after all, is not vegan. Traditional recipes are made with heavy dairy bases and, well, clams (aka, seafood, which vegans typically avoid). But we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: If it can be made, it can be made vegan.

In this recipe, we’re swapping clams for mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms have a meaty texture and satisfying umami flavor. In fact, they contain many of the same amino acids as meats.

As for the base, we’re opting for something a little out of the norm. Many vegans use cashews and other nuts to replace milk and cream in recipes, but we’re going with cauliflower. It provides a creamy texture without an overwhelming amount of fat or calories (but if you’re on a keto diet, hey, use all the nut milks you please!). To really get that clammy taste, we’re adding a few varieties of seaweed, which mimic the flavors of the sea.

So, if you’re a vegan and you miss shellfish, this dish will hit the spot. And if you’re not vegan, heck, you’ll love this vegan clam chowder just as much.

finished vegan clam chowder

The good-for-your-brain ingredients

Before we get to the recipe, though, let’s dive into some of the key mood-boosting ingredients in this recipe and the role they play in mental health.

two bowls of chowder

Shiitake mushrooms: Many varieties of mushrooms are adaptogens — foods and herbs that protect the body from the harmful effects of stress and support overall health, energy and mood. Usually found in medicinal mushrooms, these properties are also present in shiitake mushrooms. Adaptogens not only boost immunity and heart health, but also help reduce inflammation, which is believed to be a contributing factor in stress, anxiety and depression.

mushrooms in an instant pot

Carrots: Carrots contain magnesium, which facilitates hormone balance, enzyme activity and neurotransmitter functions that, in turn, help regulate mood. Carrots also contain phenylalanine, a deficiency of which can trigger anxiety, depression and body aches. Lots of vitamin B6 helps the body create mood-regulating neurotransmitters, too.

MORE: This Instant Pot pumpkin soup is a delicious vegan recipe for chilly days

Sea vegetables: Seaweed contains iodine and tyrosine, which support thyroid function. The thyroid gland releases hormones to help control growth, energy production, reproduction and cell repair. It relies on iodine to make hormones. Without enough iodine, you might experience symptoms such as weight fluctuation and fatigue. Tyrosine is used alongside iodine to make two key hormones that help the thyroid gland do its job properly. Seaweed is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and anxiety in test subjects.

vegan sea veggies

Miso: This fermented soybean product contains probiotics, healthy bacteria that help maintain gut health. The gut has been called the “second brain,” because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, such as serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid. All play a key role in regulating mood. In fact, an estimated 90% of serotonin is made in the digestive tract. It’s no surprise that probiotics are known to improve anxiety and depression.

OK, let’s get cooking.

bowls of finished chowder

What you’ll need

Cream base:

  • ½ head cauliflower (about 2 cups), broken into florets
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • ¼ cup dry white wine (I used pinot grigio, but sauvignon blanc and pinot gris work as well)
  • ¾ cup non-dairy milk (I used homemade cashew milk, but any unsweetened, unflavored, non-dairy milk will work)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoon miso

Chowder:

  • 5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 1/2 ounces bunashimeji mushrooms
  • 3 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes (or 8-10 fingerling potatoes), chopped
  • ½ cup seaweed, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kelp powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour (gluten-free, if appropriate)
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • Cream base (from above)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

A few notes

The mushroom measurements are just how the mushrooms came packaged. I used one small box of shiitake mushrooms and the little bag that the bunashimeji mushrooms came in.

I like using bunashimeji mushrooms in seafood recipes because I think they look like little clams! However, they’re hard to find in regular grocery stores. I buy them at my local Asian market, but you can stick to shiitake mushrooms if need be. Besides, all the best health benefits come from the shiitakes, anyway.

beech mushrooms

Raw seaweed and kelp powder are specialty ingredients, too. You should be able to find them in Asian markets or health food stores such as Whole Foods. If not, you can order Kelp Powder at Amazon.
If you’re unable to find raw seaweed, sub in an additional tablespoon of kelp powder for added “sea” flavor.

clam chowder ingredients

Vegan clam chowder instructions

Begin by preparing all your vegetables. This recipe contains a lot of ingredients, and prep work is super- important to keep things flowing in the kitchen. Luckily, we’re using an Instant Pot for this recipe, so actual cook time is relatively short — but take time to prep everything ahead of time so that you can stay put over the Instant Pot once everything is ready to go.

Start with the classic combination of carrots, celery and onions known as mirepoix; it’s basically the vegetable foundation for every soup and broth in existence. I recommend chopping the veggies very finely. They aren’t the stars of the soup, but their presence adds quintessential flavor.

MORE: Mood-boosting recipe: Vegan enchiladas with kale & sweet potatoes

Next, chop the shallots and cauliflower for your cream base. You can chop these roughly, because everything will end up in the blender anyway.

For seaweed, be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging. The brand of seaweed I purchased came preserved in salt, so I had to rinse it a few times and soak it in a bowl of water for 10 minutes before adding it to my recipe. Then, I chopped the seaweed up pretty finely to prevent the clam chowder from becoming a sea-noodle soup.

instant pot setting

Press Sauté on your Instant Pot and adjust it to Normal heat. We will sauté the mushrooms and the ingredients for the cream and soup bases separately. If you prefer, you can sauté the cream base and the mushrooms over the stove, but I like the idea of using just one pot for this recipe (#lazykitchenhacks), so I just did one after the other.

Once the display says “Hot,” add 1 tablespoon vegan butter and sauté the cauliflower and shallots until they’re softened, adding salt and pepper to taste. When they’re slightly browned, add white wine to deglaze the pan, then press Off/Keep Warm. Place the cauliflower, non-dairy milk and miso paste in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Set this aside.

blended clam chowder veggies

Return the Instant Pot to Sauté mode on Normal heat. When it’s hot, add 1 tablespoon vegan butter, and sauté the mushrooms until they’ve browned. Remove and set aside in a bowl.

Add the last tablespoon of vegan butter, onions, celery, carrots, salt and pepper to the pot and sauté until they’re translucent. Next, add the potatoes and garlic, and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant.

Add 2 tablespoons flour, and mix thoroughly until the flour has evenly coated all vegetables and begins to brown. Add white wine to deglaze the pot, then add the thyme, bay leaves, vegetable broth, cream base, kelp powder and seaweed to the pot. Close the Instant Pot and turn the vent to the Sealing position, then press Manual and adjust the time to 5 minutes.

Once the cooking is complete, allow the pressure to naturally release for 5 minutes before turning the vent to release any remaining pressure. Open the lid and stir contents, making sure nothing is stuck to the pan. To serve, ladle the vegan clam chowder into bowls, and garnish with thyme and oyster crackers or bread.

clam chowder closeup

Instant Pot vegan New England “clam” chowder

Yield 6-8 servings

Ingredients

Cream base:

  • ½ head cauliflower (about 2 cups), broken into florets
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • ¾ cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoon miso

Chowder:

  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter (divided)
  • 5 oz shiitake mushrooms, chopped 
  • 3.5 oz  bunashimeji mushrooms
  • 3 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 medium potatoes (or 8-10 fingerling potatoes), chopped
  • 5-6 sprigs thyme, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour (Gluten free if needed)
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup seaweed, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kelp powder
  • Cream base (from above)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

Instructions

  1. Pressing Sauté on Instant Pot. Adjust to Normal heat, and wait until display says "Hot." 
  2. Add 1 tablespoon vegan butter to pan, and sauté cauliflower and shallots until softened and browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add white wine to deglaze pan, then press Off/Keep Warm.
  4. Place cauliflower, non-dairy milk and miso paste in high-speed blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  5. Return Instant Pot to Sauté mode on Normal heat.
  6. When hot, 1 tablespoon vegan butter and sauté mushrooms until browned. Remove and set aside.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon vegan butter, onions, celery, carrots, salt and pepper to pot, and sauté until translucent. 
  8. Add potatoes and garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  9. Add 2 tablespoons flour, and sauté until flour has evenly coated all vegetables and begins to brown.
  10. Add white wine to deglaze pot.
  11. Add thyme, bay leaves, vegetable broth, mushrooms, cream base, kelp powder and seaweed to pot.
  12. Close pot, turn vent to Sealing position, press Manual, and adjust time to 5 minutes.
  13. When cooking is complete, allow pressure to release naturally for 5 minutes before turning vent to release any remaining pressure. 
  14. Open lid and stir contents, making sure nothing is stuck to pan. 
  15. To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with thyme and oyster crackers or bread.

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