Broccoli Cheddar Soup with less fat than traditional recipes (but all of the taste!) - Diversivore.com

Healthier Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

In Recipe by Sean26 Comments

Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

With Parmigiano Croutons

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You may or may not have noticed, but there are certain types of recipes that I try to avoid on Diversivore. I can’t really think of a specific title, other than to call them “ultra-fattening comfort food.” I don’t avoid this food because I dislike it. I avoid it because a) the food blogging world is already LOADED with these recipes, b) I try to aim for healthier recipes as a rule, and c) I like to present the delicious but less-familiar recipes that might otherwise go unnoticed. But like anyone, I crave a good bit of comfort food now and then, so I decided I’d take a slightly different approach to this soup. I decided to make it healthier, and to make it right.

Hopefully you’re still reading this, because I know that when you throw the ‘healthier’ word out there, there can be a lot of eye-rolling. I think we all picture that uber-fit yoga-guru insisting that “No seriously, these dehydrated raw unsalted kale chips taste WAY better than potato chips.” Please don’t abandon ship. I promise that this is still a rich, amazingly delicious, dare-I-say decadent soup. It’s healthier because it uses much more than just cheese and broccoli to build flavour, and because it uses cheese (and fat) judiciously. In fact, the way it uses fat actually makes this soup taste better than a than other recipes that use more cheese and fewer vegetables. To explain what I mean, it’s time to drop a bit of science.

Good broccoli cheddar soup relies on two really key factors working together in harmony – flavour, and texture. Both are complicated and multi-faceted of course, but we’re going to talk about one of the single most important factors at play in this soup: fat. Fat is great. It’s delicious on its own, though in ways we don’t fully recognize, as we don’t perceive it the way we do flavours like salty and sweet. It also plays a major role in how we perceive other flavours; sugar tastes better when it’s accompanied by fat, for example. The science at play here is way too complicated to get into in this little space, but I strongly encourage you to read Michael Moss’ incredible book “Salt Sugar Fat” if you want to learn a bit more about the science behind manipulating taste.

Now let’s get back to how fat affects this soup in particular. Fat plays a big role in making bitter flavours like those found in broccoli and other green veggies much more palatable. It also delivers powerfully satisfying reward messages to the brain (though this also has to do with texture). But in and of itself, it doesn’t make a soup great. A lot of the broccoli cheddar soups I looked at just LOADED the fat on without really building much of a flavour base. The bizarre thing is, fat covers for bad cooking and sub-par ingredients. This is one of the principals behind a lot of processed foods; added fat disguises off flavours and bland preparations. If you look at this recipe though, there are a bunch of vegetables building a really wonderful and essential foundation for the soup. You start out with onions, garlic, carrots, and corn, a good roux, and good chicken (or vegetable) stock. You’re basically making a delicious-but-simple vegetable soup before you even touch the broccoli or cheese. By doing this, the added fat amplifies and highlights the flavours you’ve already built. I’m certainly not the first person to develop a broccoli and cheese soup around this idea – any good cook knows the value of building your flavours from the bottom up (this very popular recipe from Averie Cooks does a good job of this, and it was my starting point while I developed and adapted this recipe). But now we need to discuss the second, and arguable more important contribution that fat makes to a meal: texture.

While this soup is loaded with cheese, it takes a step away from many other recipes that rely on copious quantities of cheese AND cream AND butter. Initially I didn’t really understand why so much fat went into making this meal – after all, there must have been plenty of flavour already. But when I started to read about fat and texture (aka ‘mouth-feel’) it all made sense. Broccoli and cheddar soup has to have a really creamy, rich, unctuous texture to it, and fat is responsible for this. But the weird thing about fat is that there isn’t a magical ‘sweet spot’ where we all say “there you go, that’s the right amount of fat. We can just keep adding fat to foods and our brains never really hit the stop button. Too much sugar or salt and the meal is rendered inedible, but adding more fat tends to amplify the pleasant physical sensations that we are hard-wired to enjoy. Now fat isn’t the only way to achieve a pleasant texture in food, but it is one of the easiest ways. Making a roux is tricky. Adding an extra cup of cream is not. Some recipes cut the calories by using fat-free ‘cream’ products, but this is in and of itself a textural work around as those products use all manner of thickeners to trick your brain into thinking ‘rich and creamy fat.’ They also tend to use a lot of added sugar in order to appeal to the peculiar cross-over brain chemistry involving fat and sweetness. I didn’t want to add too much butter or cream, and I had ZERO interest in using a heavily processed replacement. Instead I fell back on a couple of kitchen tricks. The first one is fairly well known: a good roux. With some butter and flour, you very quickly put together a simple white roux that adds flavour and incredibly impressive texture to the soup. Good roux is what a bechamel or alfredo sauce so thick and texturally appealing. The second trick is a less common one, but it’s one I hope you’ll explore more: pureed corn. Cooked corn (especially fresh corn, but frozen works too) does magical things when pureed and added to soups. It adds sweetness and flavour of course, but it also has a silky, thickening property that really reminds me of a slightly thinner version of cream. The two factors together (along with all that cheese of course) help to give this soup amazing texture while keeping the fat reasonable and without relying on a bunch of highly processed stuff. It seems like magic, but it’s science. Tasty, tasty science.

Recipe Notes

This is by no means a difficult soup to make, but you need to make sure that you follow the steps carefully. Using the flour incorrectly, adding the cheese all at once, or over-cooking the broccoli can all result in a gross gooey mess.

Flour and the Roux

After you’ve sauteed the garlic, shallots, and carrots in butter, you need to add the flour (and spices) and whisk the whole thing together. It will get very thick and very pasty quite quickly. You want to make sure that a) it’s well-combined, and b) you don’t burn it. It should cook over a medium-low flame for a minute or so. You’re NOT looking to brown the roux, so if you start to see toasted flour, add some liquid right away.

Cheesy Choices

I can not emphasize this enough – do not use a mild cheddar cheese. Putting aside for a moment the fact that I don’t really get the purpose of mild cheddar, it contributes so little cheese flavour to this soup that you’ll end up having to compensate somehow. I like using a sharp, moderately aged cheddar. No need for something really old/expensive, but make sure it’s got an appreciable cheddar taste.

As for the other cheese in this soup (and the croutons), you can make this with parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano cheese. The results will be wonderful either way. While I haven’t tried it yet, I think pecorino romano would probably be really great too. Don’t use the ‘parmesan’ cheese that come in a green container with a shaker-lid. Actually that’s pretty much ALWAYS my advice. I have some strong opinions about cheese.

Broccoli

You can go in two directions with the broccoli in a broccoli and cheddar soup. Either you can puree it along with everything else (what I did), or you can leave bite sized pieces. Personally, I like to get everything cooking, then use an immersion blender to puree the whole soup (including the corn, which (as I mentioned above) is an important thickener and textural component in the soup. If that’s what you want to do, then just follow the directions as is. If, however, you want to leave your broccoli in bigger pieces, blend the soup after adding the corn and cooking for about 5 minutes. Then add the broccoli and cook for another 20 minutes or so. After that, you’ll be able to stir/melt the cheese into the soup in order to finish it off.

Croutons

While they’re totally optional, the croutons are super easy (souper, even) and a great addition. They don’t toast for too long, so they retain a slightly soft texture underneath the crunchy outer layer. The melted parmigiano also adds a great salty-savoury flavour that pops in the final dish.


NOTE: Nutritional information is given for an individual serving equal to 1/6th of the total amount, and includes croutons.

Nutrition Facts
Broccoli and Cheddar Soup
Amount Per Serving
Calories 387 Calories from Fat 198
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 22g 34%
Saturated Fat 13g 65%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4g
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Cholesterol 62mg 21%
Sodium 672mg 28%
Potassium 509mg 15%
Total Carbohydrates 28g 9%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Sugars 7g
Protein 21g 42%
Vitamin A 75%
Vitamin C 54%
Calcium 47%
Iron 4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

GOOD NEWS:
This soup is a lot healthier than most broccoli cheddar soups.  While still relatively high in fat, is much leaner overall and very nutrient dense.  It’s high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and amazingly low in calories… assuming you don’t eat the whole pot in one go.

BAD NEWS:
All the tweaking in the world can’t undo the fact that this much cheese make for high levels of saturated fat.  Adjust your daily diet accordingly and you’ll have no problems incorporating this into your regular meal planning.

Ingredient Pages

No Ingredient Pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

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  • Reduced meat
  • Vegetarian option
5 from 8 votes
Broccoli Cheddar Soup with less fat than traditional recipes (but all of the taste!) - Diversivore.com
Broccoli and Cheddar Soup
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
35 mins
Total Time
55 mins
 

With a few spectacular tweaks and a little science, even a guilty-pleasure like broccoli and cheddar soup can be made remarkably guilt-free.

Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: American, North American
Keyword: broccoli, healthy, hidden veggie recipe, made from scratch, roux
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 387 kcal
Ingredients
Soup
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 medium shallots finely chopped (~150 g)
  • 2 cloves garlic minced (~10 g)
  • 1 large carrot shredded (~100 g)
  • 1/4 cup flour (all purpose)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups milk (any fat content)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 lb broccoli florets (~3 cups)
  • 1 cup corn (fresh or frozen, not canned)
  • 225 g sharp cheddar (8 oz) shredded
  • 30 g parmigiano-reggiano cheese (1 oz) shredded (see note)
Parmigiano Croutons (optional)
  • 2 slices bread
  • 15 g parmigiano-reggiano cheese (1/2 oz; about 2 tbsp) shredded (see note)
Instructions
  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat butter over medium until melted. Add shallots, garlic, and carrots, and cook until soft. The shallots should be slightly coloured and translucent.
  2. Whisk in the flour, paprika, salt, and pepper, stirring to mix completely. Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Slowly add the chicken broth to the pot while whisking.
  4. Add the milk and bring up the heat to medium-high. Bring the soup to a very gentle boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the broccoli florets and the corn and simmer partly covered for an additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove the pot from heat and stir in one small handful of cheese at a time, stirring as you work to ensure that it melts into the soup.
  7. Use an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender or food processor) to blend the soup to a desired consistency – leave the broccoli as big as you like.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste (freshly ground black pepper makes a great addition to this soup).
  9. Garnish with croutons
Parmigiano Croutons
  1. Slice the bread into small cubes and set aside.
  2. Preheat broiler (or use a toaster oven).
  3. Toast the bread cubes until they're golden brown all over (you'll need to toss them and turn them over a little bit, but it's not the end of the world if they're not brown on every side). Remove them from the oven and sprinkle them with shredded parmigiano cheese, then return toe the oven and heat again until the cheese is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Recipe Notes

You can use parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano cheese to make this and the results will be wonderful either way. While I haven't tried it yet, I think pecorino romano would probably be really great too.


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Comments

  1. I’m glad you decided to tackle “comfort food”! These photos are stunning and I love broccoli cheese and how you made it more nutritious … see what I did there … avoided “healthy” 😉 One of my twins also loves cheese and broccoli so I should make this for her one cold rainy day soon (or wait, that’s today too isn’t it? Good old Rain-couver). And I LOVE pecorino; perfectly salty and has greater melting power than parmesan or grand padano. Any seasoning with salt might need to be restrained however. Hope you and yours have a great weekend!

  2. We love soup at any time of year, but especially with the cooler days that are surely coming our way! I agree that you can make a dish still taste incredible while eliminating some of the “bad” things (cream, butter etc) and this soup looks INCREDIBLE. Thanks for sharing a “healthier” option!

  3. Well. You will pretty much NEVER find any recipe for broccoli on my blog. I have nightmares about being forced to eat it as a child. Leave it to you to actually make it look appetizing again!

  4. Hi Sean! So many ingredients I like – this soup is bound to be yummy. Here in southern Ontario we have not had blazing hot weather, yet I felt like I almost had to apologize for making soup (mulligatawny) last week – seemed a betrayal of summer – hehe. Anyhow, since I have gone into soup mode, this will be on my list – also love that it has corn – surrounded by corn these days. Have heard Moss interviewed and seen him in docs. Will check out the book. I can understand your disinterest in adding to the glut of “ultra-fat” food which is why I have always recoiled at anything from Paula Deen. However, I am a “full fat” girl – no low fat stuff in my fridge. We do need fat – it’s sugar that’s evil 😉 Warm regards, Diane / FBC @kitchenblissca

  5. haha I think healthy food should just be called food and junk food should be called edible things that looks like food but are not really. haha Being in the “health food” world, I agree that some can take it too far, just like some take it too far at the other extreme. Using real ingredients is what we should focus on, and moderation with certain things of course, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some butter and cheese once in a while (high quality dairy is important, mind you). I too am a big fan of the Michael Moss book! The science of creating taste in processed foods, but also the politics behind it is fascinating and educational to say the least. I would totally go for a big bowl of this soup on a cold winter day (and I might once the temperatures drop)! So good. Well done!

  6. Broccoli Cheddar Soup is one of my favourites, and I’ve never felt guilty about eating or serving anything made with real, fresh ingredients, like this delicious looking soup. Corn is such an interesting addition, but makes so much sense. In spite of the heat here, I’m looking forward to soup season now!

  7. The soup looks fantastic Sean — I good call on the hint of smoked paprika! The colours here are absolutely gorgeous too. I can almost taste it! And I love your healthier twist on “ultra-fattening comfort food.” 😉

  8. Thanks Sean…I have been inspired by this recipe tonight, although I will have to adjust it because I’m missing some ingredients.
    Cheers, Aunt Jenn

    1. Author

      Hi Jenn! So glad that this was able to inspire you. I’m always in favour of making adjustments too – no sense being chained to a recipe. Cooking should be dynamic and flexible!
      Cheers.


  9. I saw this recipe come up in another thread today…and thought WOW this looks good. Now that I read about it….my mouth is watering. Nothing beats homemade soup. Although it is spring…I just came in from a walk. The sun is shining…but there is a breeze. The 5º outside does feel much cooler. I would eat this for lunch now, just to warm up. I know my family would love this one for sure.

    1. Author

      I hear you Gloria! Something about a good homemade soup just makes you FEEL so good. And this might be my favourite feel-good soup! I hope you have fun with this one, and I hope your family enjoys it as much as I have!


  10. Whatever it takes to get them to eat the broccoli!!! I love the addition of corn in this recipe. In addition to the sweetness, it helps make for a vibrant color. Well done!!! That’s another trick to get them to eat the veggies…have the food look beautiful. And that, you have accomplished. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Ain’t that the truth. Oddly enough, we do well with broccoli in my household. My eldest eats almost all greens (hallelujah), and son #2 is still working on veggies in general, but broccoli has always been the one he can get on board with. Go figure. In any case, a rich cheesy soup is a good way to get a ton of veggies into everybody, and that’s good in my books. Glad you like it too. Cheers!


  11. This soup sounds amazing. I don’t like to add a lot of fat and sugar to manipulate flavor and I can’t wait to try your pureed corn tip. It makes so much sense that it would add sweetness and thickness to the soup. Using great ingredients is key in anything you make and that’s especially true for cheese. I grate my own so I don’t have the “anti-clumping” ingredients, whatever they are. This isn’t an ordinary cheesy broccoli soup and I can’t wait to try it!

    1. Author

      Thank you Julie! I agree with you about fat and sugar. Both are so important when used right, but they can be crutches used to overcompensate for poor cooking and/or a bad recipe. I first read about using pureed corn in a health cookbook years ago (I forget the book now), and it was an ‘ah-hah’ moment of sorts. It makes so much sense, and you can achieve some pretty great things. Of course a good roux is so important too, and not at all difficult to get right. Glad you like the recipe.


  12. I LOVE cheese, so this is my kind of recipe. I also really appreciate you clarifying that adding fat to a recipe does not necessarily equal unhealthy. I find that, as long as you consume it in moderation, fat can be a great ally when it comes to making flavorful, healthy food. And this soup looks absolutely delicious! Broccoli is not my favorite vegetable because it always tastes a tad bitter to me, but now that I know that cheese has a way of neutralizing bitterness, I will definitely give this recipe a try.

    1. Author

      Go team cheese. I adore cheese (always have), but I want to be a realist about it. It’s a fatty, calorie-dense food, and it should be used in a thoughtful way. But I’m certainly no anti-fat foodie, and I will always champion the roll it plays in making great food. I’m not going to pretend that you can make a great broccoli cheddar soup without ANY cheese, but I was eager to make one that used cheese thoughtfully, and I’m glad it struck a chord. Great point about cheese neutralizing bitterness. The sweetness of the corn and carrots will have a similar effect too. Hope you enjoy the recipe!


  13. I just don’t know if I can consider a large amount of cheese as “bad news” 😉 ESPECIALLY sharp cheddar. (Cheddars are, after all, my favorite cheeses.)
    Love this recipe. I love that it’s nutrient-dense and doesn’t weigh you down like other heavier recipes, yet no flavor is lost. Well done, my friend! (Oh. And I’m always proud of recipes that use a roux for thickening. You know how I feel about rich and creamy recipes that skip the roux!)

    1. Author

      Yeah, I mean the logic part of my brain is like “use cheese carefully and in moderation, as it’s calorie-dense and high in saturated fat,” but the rest of my brain is like “GIMME CHEEEEEEESE.” I love the stuff – as long as it’s flavourful and rich. There’s no place for mild cheddar in this house. If I’m going to eat a fatty food, I’d prefer it not to taste like soft erasers. But honestly, this recipe is my love letter to cheese – it’s all about appreciating every bit of it, rather than dumping dairy in and calling it a day. And yet I feel like veggies do so much of the real heavy lifting here. Do they give best supporting Oscars to ingredients? They should. Go veggies. Cheese will be sure to acknowledge you in its acceptance speech.

      Lastly – yes to the roux! So glad you mentioned that. Honestly, a good roux is a) not that hard to make, and b) soooooo important to master when it comes to thick sauces and soups. I see cheater/shortcut recipes that call for heavily thickened processed ingredients (e.g. soup mixes), or even things like cream cheese and I want to tear my hair out. While I never want to make new/starting cooks feel like cooking is too intimidating or complex, there’s an element of craft involved here that really makes a big difference. Cheer!


  14. We are pretty much soup obsessed in our house, making a big pot with whatever seasonal ingredient is on our counter at the moment. The building of flavor is crucial and I always cringe when I see recipes that don’t brown the onions long enough. I am definitely intrigued by your use of corn in this broccoli cheese soup! I love a good corn chowder, but I haven’t considered using corn as a thickening agent in other soups like this. Definitely trying this one out!

    1. Author

      Glad you like the recipe Trish! I’m with you on the soups that don’t let the flavours build up. Onions are like magic when you let them cook long and slow, but if you rush things you lose SO much. As for the corn – try it! It’s so great, and I can see myself adapting the concept into a lot of other recipes in the future (I’m thinking chowder, for starters). Hope you enjoy this!


  15. I absolutely love your tip about adding corn to a soup like this. Here in NJ, fresh corn is available in abundance during the summer, and I always make multiple pots of corn soups and creamy bisques. I never thought about adding it to a recipe like Broccoli Cheddar Soup to help create the silky texture in a healthier way–it’s a brilliant choice! This will absolutely be on the menu once I can get some great corn in the kitchen.

    1. Author

      Thanks Amanda! I should just write another post altogether about the magic of corn in soup. It’s so accessible, and it works so beautifully for sweetening and thickening soups. Enjoy the recipe!

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