Canned Soup Is The Secret To Delicious, Dairy-Free Meatloaf

Though often overlooked in many modern cooking repertoires, meatloaf is a comfort-food classic that comes together relatively quickly for the simplest of weeknight dinners. And while meatloaf is a tried-and-true dish, who doesn't love putting inventive twists on throw-backs?

Traditionally, baking a moist and juicy meatloaf involves first making what's called a panade, a thick mixture of milk and chunky bread crumbs (or crackers). That panade is combined with ground meat, eggs, vegetables, and spices before the mixture is formed into loaves. Panade also helps overall retain moisture throughout the cooking process.

To re-imagine the flavor in a classic beef meatloaf recipe and opt for a dairy-free alternative, you can swap the milk in the panade out for one simple kitchen-pantry staple: canned soup. Specifically, condensed vegetable soup works best here, since it's been cooked down and thickened to a stew-like consistency. Unlike other, more watery soups that have not undergone the thickening process, the creaminess of condensed vegetable soup mimics (and dare we say, rivals) the richness of milk. This helps it cling to the bread and ultimately keeps the meatloaf delicate and juicy.

Condensed soup makes the loaf simply savory

Canned vegetable soup is often made with beef, chicken, or vegetable broth, along with a variety of veggies, including carrots, peas, celery, and corn. When used to make meatloaf — in addition to providing the dish with a juicy texture — canned vegetable soup adds a savory depth, similar to the function of broth or bouillon in flavorful stews.

Even better, the canned soup already contains vegetables, which makes mixing the ground-meat mixture prior to forming the loaf a lot easier. Since many meatloaf recipes require cooking aromatic veggies such as carrots, onions, and celery prior to adding them to the meat, this incorporation of vegetables directly from the can of soup saves you from extra time spent dicing and sautéing.

To make a moist, flavorful, and dairy-free meatloaf using canned soup, first prepare your panade by combining a can of condensed vegetable soup with breadcrumbs, and allow the mixture to soak for about 10 minutes. Once it's had time to marinate, mash the panade together with a fork until it's gelled and thick like oatmeal. Then, combine it with your ground meat, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, and any spices (such as thyme and oregano) or other flavorings you like. Finally, bake the meatloaf in the oven according to your recipe or, if you don't have one, until a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit when inserted into the middle of the loaf. To complete the dish, top with a slathering of ketchup or barbecue sauce over the surface.

More variations on classic meatloaf

Once you try adding canned soup to your dairy-free meatloaf, you'll see that re-imagining classic recipes can be rewarding and pretty easy. You can use whatever condensed vegetable soup you have on hand in the pantry, but to get creative with your loaf, try out different brands and canned-soup bases to add various flavors to your dish. Use one with a beef stock to complement the ground meat in your recipe, or opt for a veggie broth-based soup to up the earthiness.

You'll find that meatloaf doesn't need to be boring, and there are a variety of easy meatloaf recipes to explore. You can try out a myriad of ground meat options or combinations beyond classic ground beef, including pork or lamb, to see what flavor you like best. To transform this traditional dinner dish, served as thick slices, into an appetizer fit for a night spent mingling with friends, form your meatloaf into smaller portions, like meatloaf sliders or homemade turkey quinoa mini meatloaves. Whatever variations you choose, by using canned soup in your recipe, you can count on a flavorful and moist dish that is sure to impress.