A Return to Home Cooking: Casseroles & Stews – Substitutions for Condensed Soups

Posted on Posted in Clean Eats, Comfort Food

Ahhh, the ole’ Campbell’s “Cream of” soups. So handy, so simple, so cheap, so bad for us!

I used to love those little cans. It made making casseroles so easy and relatively quick. I never once thought about what was in them or bothered to read one of the labels. Cream of mushroom was my go-to for casseroles followed by cream of chicken.

A Return to Home Cooking: Casseroles & Stews - Substitutions for Condensed Soups | EJL Blog

In case you’re curious, click here for the ingredients in cream of mushroom and here for cream of chicken. I also really liked cream of celery, but you get the idea. GMOs, GMOs, and more GMOs, followed up by MSG. Nothing real about those ingredients. I would argue even the salt in them is sodium chloride which, when consumed in excess (like most Americans), has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and gastric cancer.

So what to do when one of your recipes calls for a can of “cream of” soup? Make a roux and add water/broth!

Now, just like most things when using real food ingredients, there will be a learning curve and trial & error. Think of the inevitable ‘mistakes’ as learning opportunities. And being 100% honest? I used to be terrified of making a roux. I would always make my husband come do it for me. Mine would be clumpy, or it wouldn’t thicken, or I would burn them. All totally normal beginner problems. BUT I’m here to share how to avoid those issues so you aren’t destined to recreate them. And on Thursday I’ll have a brand new recipe to share so you can work on your new skill: making a roux!

For simplicity’s sake, I’m only going to explain what I’ve heard called, a blonde roux. The ingredients are simple: butter and flour. The addition of water or broth is what makes the gravy. How you use the gravy is completely up to you. A roux can also be used to thicken a soup and to make it have a creamy texture without adding milk, cream, or cheese.

Things to Note

  • The amount of the ingredients will depend on how much gravy you’d like or how much broth/water you will be adding for your soup. For thicker stews I typically work with about 2-3 tablespoons of butter, 2-3 tablespoons of flour, and 3-4 cups of water. Like in this recipe.
  • For casseroles where I won’t be adding as much liquid, I usually work with about 2 tablespoons of butter, 2-3 tablespoons of flour, and about 2 cups of water. Like in this recipe.
  • I also typically make a roux with some of the veggies I plan to use in the dish. Chopped onions is my most frequently used roux companion, but sliced mushrooms or carrots have also been featured at times.
  • I have attempted to make a roux with olive oil, please do not attempt! (super yuck)
  • I have successfully made a roux with vegan butter! I used the Melt brand. It has a rich and creamy texture and flavor, but I could definitely taste the coconut oil and flax oil in it. However, when mixed in with veggies and spices this should not be noticeable. My main issue with this vegan butter is that it uses palm oil. (Google for more info on why we should stay away from palm oil)

Key to Success

  • Getting the butter to flour ratio is key. If you don’t add enough flour, your roux won’t thicken the way you’d like. After you’ve added the flour to the butter or butter/veggie mix, stir well. It will clump, this is normal!
  • Once you’ve incorporated the butter and flour together, let sit for about 1 minute, cooking over medium.

    A Return to Home Cooking: Casseroles & Soups
    After Stirring flour into the mix, let cook for 1 minute
A Return to Home Cooking: Casseroles & Soups
Chopped Onion with flour added


  • Add HOT liquid 1/2 cup at a time. This is key! If your liquid is cold, the mixture is likely to be clumpy. If you add too much water at a time, your mixture is likely to be clumpy.
  • Once you’ve added 1/2 cup hot liquid, stir, stir, stir! Make sure you are using a wooden spoon or something that will not scratch your pan.
  • The longer the roux/gravy cooks, the thicker it will be.
  • Once your gravy comes up to a low boil, turn it down and continue to stir. It will burn and stick to the bottom of the skillet if you do not keep stirring frequently.
  • If you are making this into a soup, let the mixture come up to a boil and continue to add your hot liquid 1/2 cup at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
  • As with any other soup, stew, or sauce, the longer it is cooked uncovered, the thicker it will get.
  • Season well! I typically use water instead of those awful bullion cubes or paste stuff that comes in jars. For years I used the paste that comes in a jar and one day I ran out and had to make a dish with just water. I haven’t gone back since. This method requires more salt and herbs and repeat tasting, but it is better for you and cheaper.


  • Clumpy Flour: 2 options to correct – 1) dump it and start over! (never my first choice) OR 2) strain the gravy through a fine mesh strainer and press through with the back of a spoon. This should remove all lumps and leave you with a thinner gravy, which can be thickened by longer cooking time, as suggested above.
  • Gravy/Soup is too thick: This is the easiest of problems to solve. Simply add more cooking liquid. Again, add slowly, about 1/4 cup at a time and stir well.
  • Gravy/Soup is too thin: Again, 2 options to correct – 1) Turn the heat up slightly and allow to cook for longer than suggested to allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Stir frequently and check to make sure it’s not burning on the bottom, scraping the bottom of the pan. OR 2) Add some type of thickening agent like cornstarch or another type of starch. Again, this is never my first choice. I would definitely allow my dish to cook for longer rather than add additional thickener. If you choose to add cornstarch, make a slurry first, which you can read about here.

Recipes Using a Roux

Chickpeas & Dumplings Stew – Vegetarian & Nightshade Free

Shepherd’s Pie – Vegetarian & Nightshade Free

I hope you find this guide helpful! Again, please don’t get discouraged if you have issues the first few times, this is normal. Try your best not to get frustrated and know that this is a skill that will be mastered with practice.

Happy Cooking ♥

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