~ This delicious, beautifully balanced Instant Pot Sweet Potato Soup is a treasured family heirloom with a long, beloved history. With some creative updates, it’s now THK-worthy – easier to make and full of great nutrition – yet Grandma Jo still proclaims this modern twist to be “PERFECT“! Try it as a first course for holiday meals (as we so often serve it), or freeze individual portions for easy meal prep! ~
This Recipe Is: • Freezable • Make Ahead • Vegetarian Option • Gluten Free (see note) •
This Sweet Potato Soup is truly special, in more ways than one.
From the first sip you’ll understand part of the story, as you delight in the delicious balance of flavors … and as you dip your spoon again for more (and moooore …). It’s:
- wonderfully, richly creamy (but without loads of artery-clogging fats … details on that later …)
- savory and earthy yet with a light sweetness from the carrots and the sweet potatoes
- perfectly accented with a freshness from the orange juice – just a gentle acidity to cut through the richness
- delicately spiced with the warming trio of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg
That’s what you’ll taste. Mmmmmm … keep dipping that spoon …
So much depth from such a simple soup. Special.
But I actually taste much, much more. So many more ways that this soup will always hold a special place in my heart – and at my table.
A Truly Special Soup
For me, each sip is like a blissful tumble down a rabbit hole of happy memories (but really, no carrot and bunny puns here, I swear!).
With each spoonful, there are years of holiday celebrations at my father-in-law’s house, as Scott’s family gathers together in a jumble of giggles and jokes, and the simple joy of being all together.
Grandma Jo’s always stationed in the kitchen, where she’s already been cooking for a week or more. And the house welcomes us with a thousand smells of fresh herbs and sautéeing onions, burbling casseroles … and time and again, a truly ginormous pot of this soup.
The theme of these holiday meals varies, as Jo creates a masterpiece experience centered around a recent trip, a beloved cookbook, a favorite restaurant … for her, inspiration is everywhere.
There was the year of the Tuscan Thanksgiving feast after her trip to Italy. An international culinary adventure with Peruivan specialties after she returned from the Amazon. A sampling of artists’ favorite recipes, since Jo is an artist, too. And the gorgeous triumph of Beef Wellington (for a crowd – impressive).
The list goes (deliciously) on and on.
And yes – so often, there is this soup. It’s become one of the hallmarks of our holiday celebrations, no matter the occasion or theme. (Right along with our favorite Kidney Bean Salad, which usually shows up for the feasts, too.)
Jo builds the layers of flavor in her soup for days upon days, reheating it with a final flourish before serving it up in steaming bowls as we all tumble into our seats around a beautifully set table, eager to dip into the first course of another of Jo’s legendary meals.
In this soup, I taste the love that Jo has for us all – and I taste the weeks of excited planning and scheming, the hours upon hours and days upon days of cooking that it takes her each year, to bring her vision to its triumphant, delicious finale. Her gift to us – her unique talent for binding an already close family even closer.
Could anything taste more wonderful?
But with another spoonful, I can tumble even deeper through layers of memory, back to the restaurant where Grandma Jo first tasted this soup herself, and begged the chef to share his secrets.
That restaurant – The Inn at Turner’s Mill – was a local icon, for nearly two decades, before it closed back in 2007. When I was in high school, it was the place for prom dates, and later in my life it was the obvious choice for baby showers, for a last hurrah before my twins were born, and later still, for a treasured night out without toddlers.
Literally a lumber mill built back in the mid-1800s, it was perfectly historic yet the essence of modern high-end dining. As an adult, Turner’s Mill was the first place I ever encountered a chef’s tasting menu, expertly paired with wines for each course.
Now that Turner’s Mill is long-gone, I treasure this soup as a rescued version of one of their recipes.
My Updated Twist on a Beloved Recipe
I wanted to share all of this … the flavors, the memories … with all of you. But how?
There were three challenges: quantity, cooking technique, and nutrition.
My task was to retain everything we treasured about the original recipe, but somehow put my own (healthier, easier) spin on a family heirloom.
Jo eagerly conspired with me to see if we could do it … and we did! After a bit of tinkering and tweaking through a few trial batches, Jo finally deemed it perfect.
We had won! Here’s how we did it:
The initial problem was the sheer volume of soup involved.
The chef’s original version, and its vague verbal list of ingredients, could literally feed the masses with restaurant-sized quantities measured in gallons and pounds. Jo had already pared the recipe down considerably, although it still made a generous first course for 10-20 hungry people … and yet barely even skimmed the top of her gargantuan soup pot. (Luckily, it freezes well!)
I knew I could never slurp my way through that much soup in my everyday life, and you probably couldn’t either. And even though I often freeze little individual portions for lunches later on … I just don’t have room to freeze gallons of soup!
I recalculated and rebalanced the ingredients, slashing Jo’s bountiful quantities in about half again. (But don’t worry, it’s easy to scale the yield back up if you do need to feed a small nation some day.)
2) Cooking Method
Another challenge was how to develop the layers of flavors that Jo typically creates in stages over several days – in a shorter, easier way that would make it THK-do-able. No recipe that called for that many days of labor would ever be something I could share with you here … and I knew it would also be something that I would probably never actually make myself.
There had to be an easier way.
The pressure cooker is genius for solving this type of problem. Big flavors compressed into small cooking times (just like with my Instant Pot Black Bean Soup, that cooks under pressure in just 4 minutes flat). Perfect! So I grabbed my timesaving friend … hello, Instant Pot!
Ah, here was the real trick. With four different veggies goin’ on, there was a lot of nutritional goodness packed into every spoonful of Jo’s Sweet Potato Soup.
The original, restaurant version of this soup literally required a gallon (or more) of heavy cream, and even Jo’s “smaller” recipe called for 2 entire quarts of cream … still way more saturated fat and calories than I’d prefer, especially in a recipe I wanted to make often.
Enter evaporated milk!
Swapping in evaporated milk and just a little bit of half-and-half allows us to eliminate the full cream altogether, and dramatically slash the fat and calories in our updated version of this Instant Pot Sweet Potato Soup!
It’s a brilliant strategy often used in healthier recipes (like our 3-Ingredient Fudge, our Creamy Chicken Gnocchi Soup and our 3-Ingredient Chocolate Dip). So, let’s talk about that more specifically for a minute …
What is Evaporated Milk and Why Is It Great In Healthy Recipes?
Evaporated milk is (as its name so clearly suggests) milk that’s gone through an evaporation process. As Wikipedia explains, that process removes about 60% of the milk’s water (and also makes it shelf-stable).
For health-minded cooks, that’s great because – with so much less water – evaporated milk is denser and creamier than regular milk. It gives a silkier, fuller body to soups and sauces, but without adding the fats and calories that (gallons?!?!) of cream would.
A couple of important notes here:
1) Evaporated Milk vs. Sweetened Condensed Milk – First, be sure you don’t grab a can of sweetened condensed milk by mistake. They often sit side-by-side on grocery store shelves, but they’re definitely not interchangeable. Sweetened condensed milk is very, very sweet – yummy in desserts, but definitely not yummy in Sweet Potato Soup!
2) SHAKE! – And second, make sure to notice the all-important words printed (in very tiny letters for such an important note!) on the can’s label: SHAKE WELL. They aren’t kidding. (And again I wonder … why is this super-important direction so small and hard to find?!?!) So let me repeat: SHAKE WELL.
In fact, I often find that, in addition to a bit of shaking, I actually need to whisk the milk a little, too. Evaporated milk often separates, with a thick layer forming at the bottom of the can. Since we’re using it to create thickness and creamy body in place of full-fat cream, we WANT that silky layer – don’t leave it behind!
If shaking the can around before you open it doesn’t get all those solids incorporated back in, then briskly whisk them into the milk before adding it to your soup.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself, spouting directions on how to make the soup. Let’s start back at the beginning …
How to Make This Instant Pot Sweet Potato Soup
My version of this beloved soup truly is super easy. Basically just THREE simple steps!
It requires literally about 10 minutes of hands-on time (mostly just to peel and chop the veggies), and your Instant Pot does the magical transformation part.
No slaving away over a soup pot for me … or for you!
One great thing about it is that the ingredients are all pretty easy to keep on hand. Even the veggies are ones that tend to hold up well for quite a while.
It’s terrific to be able to whip this up any ol’ time, when I just want a steaming, nourishing bowl of
soup happy memories.
Step #1 – The prep work is easy. Peel some sweet potatoes, carrots and an onion, and give the veggies a quick, rough chop. (You know I adore my trusty 8″ chef’s knife for jobs like this!)
You’re shooting for approximately 1-inch pieces. But you’ll be just fine, even if they aren’t exact (no need for a ruler, friends!).
Step #2 – Then, toss your ingredients right into your Instant Pot. Those veggies join up with just a few more items: orange juice, veggie or chicken broth (you can read more about why we use reduced-sodium broth HERE), that evaporated milk we discussed, and some seasonings.
Give ’em a quick stir, and off they go!
Step #3 – A few minutes later, they’re steaming hot and richly flavorful, ready for you to puree them into silky smooth joy.
That’s all there is to it! And even though it’s so darn simple, Grandma Jo still proclaimed this version – our updated Instant Pot Sweet Potato Soup – to be “PERFECT“! Woot woot!
But maybe you’re worrying about that blending step. Or wondering what that weird blendy-looking-tool in my photos could possibly be. Ah! If that’s the case … read on. You’ve got options! Let’s discuss …
How to Blend Your Sweet Potato Soup (2 Options)
I absolutely, positively adore my immersion blender for this task (that’s the weird blendy-looking-tool). As I mentioned in our annual Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies, it’s definitely not something I use every day. But for jobs like this, it’s priceless.
If you don’t have an immersion blender (sometimes called a “stick” blender), that’s ok, too. You can use a regular blender instead – just be sure to follow a couple of safety precautions so you don’t send a dangerous spout of fiery sweet potato lava across your kitchen ceiling when you press the “on” button.
- When using a regular blender for hot liquids like this, don’t fill your blender container more than about half full. (You’ll need to work in batches.)
- Also, remove that little center plastic part from the lid of the blender (that’s why it’s there). Then, hold a folded dish towel over the opening as you turn the blender on.
(By now, are you totally getting why immersion blenders beat the pants off of “regular” blenders for recipes like this?!?)
Mmmmmmm … ready to dip your spoon into a steaming bowlful? Or maybe do a swan dive right into the pot?
Give me just one more sec here. You do have one little decision left make, but it’s an easy one!
Half and Half … or Not?
Feeling really virtuous, or closely watching calories? It’s actually ok to leave out the half and half from this recipe altogether. I sometimes do!
But to ratchet this recipe all the way up to Grandma Jo’s “perfect” rating, just a splash of silky half and half really rounds out all the flavors.
You can stir it into the entire batch (as we direct on the recipe card). Or, you can swirl it into individual bowls for a pretty presentation.
Oh! And speaking of presentation … if you’ve purchased whole carrots with their lovely greens still attached, those are a gorgeous final garnish. The bright leafy green color is a stunning contrast against the soft orange soup.
Alternately, though, you can grab some Italian flat leaf parsley instead. Pretty, either way!
Adaptations and Serving Ideas for Your Sweet Potato Soup
• Holiday First Course – Definitely, this is THE soup to serve for Thanksgiving dinner, or as a starter for other autumn feasts and holiday celebrations like Christmas or Easter. Our own family celebrations wouldn’t be the same without it, that’s for sure!
• Vegetarian Meal – To adapt this as a vegetarian soup, just use veggie broth instead of chicken broth. With a hearty, grainy loaf of bread alongside, it’s a delicious vegetarian meal to warm you up on chilly evenings. Plop the ingredients into your Instant Pot as you walk in the door, and a truly comforting dinner will magically be ready in no time! (And BTW, if you love this type of dinner, be sure to check out our whole showcase of Healthy Vegetarian Meals!)
• Meal Prep – Now that I’ve adapted this soup to be easier and more healthful, I actually truly do use it for meal prep, too. It not only keeps well in the fridge but also freezes beautifully. I love to measure out little one-cup individual portions into zipper bags, freeze them flat, and keep them on hand to quickly reheat for my workweek lunches. A little bowl full of happy memories and holiday cheer … any day of the week!
No matter how or when you serve this Instant Pot Sweet Potato Soup, I hope that it’ll become a true favorite at your house, too! Give it a try … and make some soup-filled, treasured family memories of your own!
- 3 sweet potatoes (about 30 ounces total), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (to equal about 5 cups of chunks)
- 2 cups chopped 1-inch pieces sweet onion (from about 1 medium onion)
- 2 - 2 1/2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces (to equal about 1 1/4 cups)
- 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces (to equal 1 - 1 1/4 cups)
- 2 1/2 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegetarian option)
- 1 3/4 cups pulp-free bottled orange juice
- 1 (12-ounce) can (to equal 1 1/2 cups) evaporated fat free milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (from the spice aisle – not fresh)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup half and half (optional but recommended – see note)
- Optional for garnish: minced fresh parsley or carrot greens
- Combine all ingredients (except half and half and the optional garnishes) in your Instant Pot's insert, stirring to combine.
- Close Instant Pot lid (making sure the "venting" steam release knob is set to sealing, not venting). Select Manual, High Pressure, 10 minutes. (It takes my 6-quart Instant Pot Duo60 about 20-25 minutes to build enough pressure to seal and then begin the 10-minute cook time.)
- When cook time is completed, CAREFULLY manually vent the steam via the steam release knob (being careful to avoid steam burns).
- Blend soup until silky smooth using an immersion blender, or in batches in a traditional blender. (If using a traditional blender, don't fill it more than about half full per batch. Also, remove the center cap from the blender's lid, and cover the center cap's hole with a kitchen towel, before turning the blender on.)
- Stir in half and half. If desired, serve sprinkled with fresh parsley or carrot greens.
Half and half: To shave some fat and calories, you can opt to skip the half and half, and the soup will still be delicious. However, a little half and half is recommended to round out the flavors and add a bit more silky richness. Either way, this is still vastly more healthy than the original restaurant recipe, which called for several quarts of full-fat whole cream.
Make-ahead and freezing tips: If you'd like to prep ahead of time, you can peel and chop the sweet potatoes, onion, carrots and celery up to a couple of days ahead, storing them in the refrigerator until you're ready to make the soup.
This soup also reheats beautifully, so it's a great make-ahead recipe for entertaining or for weekly meal prep. Gently reheat before serving. You can stir the half and half in either before or after reheating.
The soup also freezes really well. I've frozen large containers to reheat later for a meal, and also measured out 1-cup single servings to freeze flat in individual zippered bags.
Gluten free note: Many purchased broths are gluten-free, but some may contain a wheat-derived ingredient, so be sure to check the ingredient list or look for gluten free labeling if needed.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 7 servings Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 123Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 720mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 4gSugar: 12gProtein: 5g
Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.