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This wild rice soup, with my vegan tweaks, reminds me of home

(Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

An earlier version of this recipe did not include instructions for making cashew cream. It has been added.

Despite living in Minnesota for most of my life, I didn’t feel truly Minnesotan until moving to D.C. last September. Though I’ve enjoyed getting to know the city, I miss so many things I’ve grown to love about the Midwestern state: driving down the pine- and birch-lined roads of the Gunflint Trail; slipping into one of the thousands of lakes on a hot summer day; embracing the cold and sledding down a snow-covered hill; and eating creamy wild rice soup, a regional specialty, at the local grocery chain, Lunds & Byerlys.

This past Christmas, after my mom sent me off with bags of wild rice and bottles of maple syrup, I returned to D.C. with renewed homesickness. As with many troubles in life, the antidote was food. To ease my heartache, I made a creamy wild rice soup, inspired by the many bowls I have eaten through the years.

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The soup is a symbol of my reluctant love for my adopted state. After we moved to Minneapolis, the summer after kindergarten, I adjusted quickly to my new home, but for years, when people asked where I was from, I would pause before telling them “Minnesota.”

As the name suggests, the key ingredient in the soup is wild rice, which is native to the region and has played an essential role in the diets of Indigenous tribes, such as the Ojibwe, who lived on the land before the arrival of European settlers. Wild rice is actually a grain harvested from a species of aquatic grasses, and, unlike white rice, it has a nutty taste as well as a slight bite.

The traditional version of the soup is rich with butter and heavy cream (Minnesotans don’t do diet food well, but I’m not complaining). It’s also usually full of chicken and ham, grounding the richness with savory, umami flavors.

While I love the most decadent iterations of this dish, I re-created it here without any dairy or meat. My version hangs onto many elements of a more traditional wild rice soup — the vegetables, the roux, the creaminess — but relies on mushrooms and cashew cream in place of dairy and animal products. A couple glugs of dry sherry and a bit of thyme round out the flavors. I like a splash of sherry vinegar at the end to perk everything up even more.

Living in Washington has made me aware of just how round my “Os” are, and how the cold I’ve grown accustomed to year after year is so unfamiliar to the majority of people who live south of Minnesota. I miss the friendliness Midwesterners are known for laced through everyday interactions, the way strangers on the street will stop you just for a chat. I’ve come to realize that perhaps our identities are most sharply felt outside the communities they’re tied to, shaped by differences rather than similarities.

That difference, though, is beautiful to me, and why I was so eager to share this soup with my colleagues, many of whom had never before tried or heard of the quintessentially Minnesotan dish. They all universally loved the simple, hearty flavors and textures — it’s the kind of soup that reminds anyone who tastes it of home, even if they’ve never stepped foot in the state. Knowing that I can access that place through my cooking has made all the difference in the midst of such a big transition.

Now when people ask me where I’m from, there’s no hesitation. With dishes as warm and comforting as this one, I am proud to call Minnesota home.

Get the recipe: Vegan Creamy Wild Rice Soup