We got our first real snow last week, and the Minxes were excited to wear their new snow boots to school. I felt rather proud of myself because most years, I forget about the need for snow boots until there’s actually snow on the ground. I’ll send the girls off to school in their tennis shoes and make an emergency Target run for snow boots and of course, by then the selection is piss-poor and it honks me off but I shell out the money for third-rate boots because I’m too lazy to go elsewhere, and the girls spend the entire winter season hating their boots (and their unprepared, scatterbrained mother). Not this year. Go me!
What I wasn’t prepared for this year was the sudden craving for a steaming bowl of broccoli cheese soup. Truth be told, I don’t often eat broccoli cheese soup, because I know that nutritionally, it can be a total butt-buster. A bowl of creamy, cheesy, broccoli goodness can easily set you back 500 calories for a mere 1 1/2 cup serving. And that’s not counting the nifty bread bowl that often comes with it if you order it in a restaurant. If I’m going to ingest those kinds of calories, I’m doing it with a burger or some nachos, thank you very much. Not soup.
But this year, once my eyes saw the white stuff on the ground, my stomach said, “How about some broccoli cheese soup, Honeysmacks?”
My tastebuds said, “Oooh, cheese? I think cheese sounds like a fabulous idea!”
Then my thighs chimed in, “Uh, aren’t you on le Regime, Snookums? Remember that little trip to Mexico coming up?” Stupid thighs. They always crush my groove. Hmph.
Luckily, I had an old issue of Cooking Light magazine lying around, and I remembered that there was a broccoli cheese soup recipe in it. I’m usually not very good at remembering which recipes are featured in my Leaning Tower of Food Magazines, but this one I remembered because it was weird. Important things easily slip my mind, but weird? My brain likes weird.
What’s weird about this recipe is the way they imparted a “creamy” texture to the soup without using any cream whatsoever. They didn’t get a creamy texture by using a butter/flour base, either, as is standard. They also didn’t rely on gobs and gobs of cheese because, well, it’s Cooking Light magazine and they kind of can’t do stuff like that.
So how’d they get a creamy soup without any of those old tricks? They thickened the soup with instant brown rice. Overcooked instant brown rice, to be exact.
Sounds weird and kind of unappetizing, right?
I agree with you. But then again, that’s why I remembered the recipe in the first place. And since I bothered to remember it, why not give it a shot? I wasn’t busy scrambling around town for shoddy snow boots, so I had time to make a trip to the grocery store…
The verdict? I must admit, the mushy brown rice mixture looked pretty disgusting, but then it went right into the blender with the cooking liquid and some milk and after a few pulses, it was completely gone so I could forget about it. Please, please spend the extra change to buy a high-quality sharp cheddar cheese; even go with extra sharp if you can find it. That’s the key to good, cheesy flavor because you aren’t using that much of it. You can blend as much or as little of the soup as you like–Cooking Light left theirs a bit chunky but I pureed most of mine. I can see why this soup earned a stamp of “staff fave” from the CL crew. It’s warm and surprisingly creamy and comfortingly delicious. I ended up wishing I’d made a double batch of it.
I especially wished I’d made a double batch because two days later, the family (even my husband, who is Immune System Man) came down with a virus that left us scratchy-throated, feverish and weak in the stomach. We were all operating on weak speed for a few days, but at least I had soup on hand. And let’s face it, better now than right before Mexico, right? Gaa, I’d better shut up or I’ll curse us.
Even if you don’t have snow on the ground or are nursing a virus, you’ll appreciate this soup. You can even eat a healthy-sized bowl of it without guilt. So grab your spoons.
Healthier Broccoli Cheese Soup
from Cooking Light magazine
4 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium chicken stock, divided (you can use vegetable stock if you want a truly vegetarian version)
1/2 uncooked instant brown rice
1 cup 1% lowfat milk
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 minced garlic cloves
1 1/4 pounds broccoli florets, coarsely chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided (about 1 1/2 cups)*
Combine 2 cups stock and rice in a small saucepan over medium high heat; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Place rice mixture and milk in a blender. Remove the center piece of the blender lid (to allow steam to escape). Place a clean towel over the opening in the blender lid to avoid splatters and blend until smooth.
Heat a large medium saucepan over medium heat. Add oil to pan and swirl to coat. Saute onion 4 minutes, stirring. Add garlic, cook 30 seconds. Add broccoli and salt; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining 2 cups stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 more minutes or just until broccoli is tender. Add the rice/milk mixture and simme2 2 minutes, stirring.
Place 2 cups soup in blender and puree until smooth. Return to pan. Add pepper and 4 ounces cheese; stir until cheese melts. Divide soup evenly among 4-6 bowls; sprinkle with remaining cheese.
* Please buy good-quality cheese in block form and shred it yourself! The pre-shredded kind has much less flavor.
**If you have leftover soup, re-heat it gently on the stove so the cheese doesn’t separate.