You'd never know this soup is dairy-free. Soaked cashews give it a thick, rich texture, while broccoli stems serve as the base, for an easy, budget-friendly weeknight dinner.
Where my broccoli stem savers at?
I converted a few years ago and I'll never go back. It's a practice in super frugal cooking, basically stretching the food you buy by looking at something that's commonly trashed as an ingredient, rather than as compost.
Lots of times, when we think of using food scraps, we only dare to go as far as throwing them into a pot for veggie stock. That's great and all, but there are plenty of uses for many of them beyond just broth. Broccoli stems are one. This forgotten ingredient that can go beyond veggie stock and be transformed into so many different finished dishes.
One I've tried my hand at, but never mastered (until now) is a creamy, Panera-style broccoli soup. I've tried it with cheese and without. I've tried thickening it using healthy add-ins and not-so-healthy ones. None of my past attempts, however, have warranted seconds, much less eating the leftovers. Sad, I know.
Okay, so, it's not the most flattering picture.
I'll update this post once I can get a better photo but this soup turned out so good that I just HAD to go ahead and share the recipe.
So, when I told my family I was making broccoli soup again, I was met with the expected eye-rolls. Nothing I'm not used to. But this time, I actually nailed it. Everyone wanted seconds. Julep wanted thirds because she's a human garbage disposal. And I just happily polished off the leftovers for lunch.
So, what made the difference this go 'round?
1. I've started trimming the broccoli stems better before I chop them and save them. Broccoli stems can be inedible if you don't treat them right, a mistake I've totally made in the past.
Here's the thing. You have to realize you'll only be saving roughly half the stems by the time you trim them properly. It's okay, you're still doing a LOT for the sake of saving food (and money!) by using them at all.
Doing it right means using a sharp knife to lob off the bottom, woody part of the broccoli stalk, then running the blade down the sides of the stalk to remove the outermost part, almost if you were shaving it. Then, all that stuff gets tossed, and the tender, inner part of the stalk, and the upper stems (where the broccoli starts to branch out and look like a tree), gets chopped and saved.
2. Soaked cashews. There's just no better way to make this soup creamy AND vegan, in my opinion. I've tried roux (just doesn't work the same with vegan butter). I've tried just straight up coconut milk. Nope. Not creamy enough. I finally broke down and started planning ahead to make this soup instead of throwing it together on a whim, so that I'd have time to soak the cashews first. After all, what good is saving broccoli stems if the soup's going to turn out mediocre in the end, an no one's even going to want seconds, much less leftovers? Making it this way, using cashews, takes almost literal garbage and turns it into a 5-star crowd pleaser that I'll work into the rotation whenever I've got broccoli stalks on-hand.
3. Toppings. I started serving the soup with a plate of parsley, green onion, lemon wedges (all absolutely necessary), and even chopped jalapeños and flaky sea salt (neither necessary, but pretty nonetheless). The added texture, flavor, and color is 100% worth the extra 5 minutes it takes to prepare these simple little garnishes. Unless you're 4 or 6 years old (the girls don't want them on top of their soup, which just means more for me!)
Serve yours with whatever you have on hand. Anything that'll amp up the fresh factor and make the soup feel like a luxury, rather than a poor man's potage (which I've never balked at but, hey, I eat sauerkraut out of the jar.)
Here's the rough recipe.
Creamy Vegan Broccoli [Stem] Soup
1 Carrot, shredded on a box grater
1/2 Onion, diced
1 Rib of celery, diced
2 Cloves of garlic, minced
Stems from about 4 heads of broccoli, trimmed well and roughly chopped into 1 inch pieces, plus 1/2 cup reserved broccoli florets, chopped small (optional)
6 Cups stock (preferred) or water
1 Cup soaked raw cashews
1/4 Cup nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper
Garnishes for serving, like lemon wedges, chopped parsley, flaky sea salt, chopped green onion
In a large pot, heat about 2 tbsp olive oil. Add in the onion, carrot, and celery, and season with salt. Sautee until soft.
Add in the broccoli stems and sautee for a couple of minutes. Then pour in 1-2 cups of the stock or water, stir, and allow the broccoli stems to steam until tender (about 10 minutes).
Transfer bout 90% of the broccoli stem mixture to a blender and blend until it's as smooth as you want it. I like to leave a tiny bit of texture in mine. Add the blended broccoli back into the pot. Pour in the remaining stock, and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Taste, and adjust seasoning.
Add the soaked cashews to the blender, now. No need to rinse the blender first. Season the cashews with a little salt, and the juice of 1/2 the lemon. Add the nutritional yeast. Pour in 1-2 ladles full of the soup from the pot to get the blender going. Blend until completely smooth. Transfer blended cashews into the pot with the rest of the soup. Use more of the soup from the pot to "rinse" the cashews out of the blender, so all the cashew cream can make it can all make it into the pot.
Use a whisk to fully incorporate the cashew cream with the rest of the soup. Bring to a simmer, and allow to simmer about 10 minutes, or until thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning again before serving.
Serve the soup alongside your favorite bread, with the optional garnishes on the table for self-service.