I'm going to argue that broccoli cheddar soup is best made to order. While many soups and stews get more complex and enticing after a day or so in the refrigerator, I don't find that to be true when it comes to soup of the broccoli variety. Am I alone here? The good news is this version couldn't be simpler. It’s quick to make and perfect for those times when you need something with a serious nutritional punch. The soup gets a bit of an unexpected twist by topping it with golden, crunchy, mustardy croutons. Which you can skip, but I wouldn't.
The Recipe: A Better Version of Broccoli Cheddar Soup
One of the things you notice when you look at a lot of the broccoli cheddar soup recipes out there is the stunning amount of dairy in them. There is often so much milk, heavy cream and grated cheese that the soup is nearly white in color. I totally get it, if you’re trying to make a version styled after Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar Soup (and it seems like a lot of people are), you’ll likely go that route. The Panera Copycat Broccoli Cheddar Soup recipes tend to have a ratio of more cream/milk than broth and multiple cups of grated cheese. I’m going to argue you don’t need all that. You can make a creamy, wonderful broccoli cheese soup with a fraction of the dairy, a good blender, and a couple techniques to keep things creamy, bright, and smooth.
Key Ingredients for Good Broccoli Cheddar Soup
- Broccoli: Look for deeply green, tight heads of broccoli. Avoid any heads that have yellowing florets, discoloration or seem dried out.
- Vegetable Broth: Use a good-tasting vegetable broth you would drink on its own. I like to make my own broth and freeze it, or make a quick broth from vegetable bouillon cubes or my homemade bouillon powder. Another delicious option would be to use a quick miso broth. You have some options here!
- Cheese: I call for freshly grated aged cheddar here. Something sharp with a lot of flavor. You can also use a gruyere if you wanted to switch things up a bit.
- Mustard: The mustard is my secret weapon ingredient in this soup. It pairs perfectly with the broccoli and cheddar and pulls everything together. If you don’t have a whole grain mustard on hand, a Dijon-style mustard is 100% fine to swap.
Troubleshooting: How Do You Keep Broccoli a Vibrant Green?
Broccoli (and your broccoli soup) can turn a sad, dull, unappetizing green color when over cooked. For this soup you’ll cook it until bright and tender. Keep an eye on things is my advice on this front.
Troubleshooting: Why is My Broccoli Cheddar Soup So Grainy?
One of the most common problems cooks run into when they make broccoli cheddar soup is a gritty or grainy texture. Your soup may become grainy if the cheese or dairy curdles. With a recipe like the one that follow you shouldn’t have trouble because the cheese is added as a finishing component, off heat. But to avoid “breaking” the dairy while reheating (or with other dairy-rich soups), take it low and slow. Heating the pot over medium-low and avoiding a boil.
Broccoli Cheddar Soup: Topping Ideas
Aside from the croutons, this soup likes crusty, toasted walnut bread, or olive bread. It likes a good sheep feta in place of cheddar if that's what you happen to have on hand, or a kiss of harissa whisked into a bit of olive oil. I know people like to pair broccoli with blue cheese. Personally, I find that to be over-powering, but if you really love blue cheese, it might be another direction to explore. A finishing drizzle of chile oil or a citrus olive oil is always welcome. If you have any other ideas, let me hear them - I make this soup often enough that I need fresh angles to work!
What to serve with Broccoli Cheddar Soup
I don’t think you need much more than big shards of the mustard croutons included in the recipe, no bread bowl needed. Lol. That said, but you can certainly take other approaches or layer up! A poached egg would be a way to make a meal of things. Or a simple quesadilla, grilled cheese or egg salad sandwich on the side. Or, something like this TLT.
More Broccoli Recipes & Ideas
Poke around the archives for more broccoli recipes and inspiration. There are a lot of great recipes from past years worth revisiting. I love a broccoli-centric version of this vegetable stir-fry, this double broccoli quinoa, this orzo super salad, and this is another broccoli soup with coconut milk is another favorite.
More Creamy Soups
There are also a bunch of simple, creamy, blended soups in the archives! Or browse all the soups.
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
If you like a slightly creamier soup, stir in a generous dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream after pureeing. You can easily make this soup vegan by using olive oil and omitting the cheese/creme fraiche, and you can make it gluten-free by doing something in place of the croutons. The broth you choose impacts the saltiness of the soup, some are quite salty and others not so much. You'll want to carefully salt to taste at the end to bring all the flavor together.
- 5-6 ounce chunk of artisan whole wheat bread, torn into little pieces (less than 1-inch), roughly 3 cups total
- 1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil (I like 1/2 and 1/2)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (1 1/2 cups)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 1/2 cups light, good-tasting vegetable broth
- 1 large head of broccoli (12 ounces or 3/4 lb.), cut into small florets
- 2/3 cup freshly grated aged Cheddar, plus more for topping
- 1 - 3 teaspoons whole grain mustard, to taste
- smoked paprika, more olive oil, creme fraiche (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Preheat your oven to 350F degrees and place the torn bread in a large bowl. In a small saucepan heat the butter until it has melted. Whisk the mustard and salt into the butter and pour the mixture over the bread. Toss well, then turn the bread onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 - 15 minutes, or until the croutons are golden and crunchy. Toss them once or twice with a metal spatula along the way.
While the croutons are toasting, melt the butter (or olive oil) in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the shallots, onion, and a big pinch of salt. Saute for a couple minutes. Stir in the potatoes, cover, and cook for about four minutes, long enough for them to soften up. Uncover, stir in the garlic, then the broth. Bring to a boil, taste to make sure the potatoes are tender, and if they are stir in the broccoli. Simmer just long enough for the broccoli to get tender throughout, 2 - 4 minutes.
Immediately remove the soup from heat and puree with an immersion blender. Add half the cheddar cheese and the mustard (a little bit a a time) and salt. If you are going to add any creme fraiche, this would be the time to do it. Now add more water or broth if you feel the need to thin out the soup at all. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Serve sprinkled with croutons, the remaining cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a tiny pinch of smoked paprika.
Serves 4 - 6.