Now, I always think that I will love broccoli cheese soup. How can you go wrong with such a delightful combination?  Hey, how can you go wrong with broccoli?

Dear Politicians, I’d be totally down with it if you subsidized my broccoli. Nevermind healthcare. Broccoli!!~ Stephanie

Back to the soup. It often seems to be the canned stuff with a slightly odd texture and not enough broccoli. Mimi (my April Secret Recipe Club assignment), of Cooking Mimi has a slow cooker version in which you can use real cheddar.  Cheese soup, with broccoli and potatoes?!

I tweaked it a bit to cut sodium (Mom’s half of the family runs toward high blood pressure and you get plenty of salt from the cheese) by making my own white sauce instead of using canned soup.  Mimi suggested water or broth with a bit of milk and flour, but I wanted to keep the richness of the soup intact.  You basic thin (medium, thick) white sauce is pretty simple: melt 1(2,3) T butter in a pot over medium low heat.  Add 1(2,3) T flour and stir until you just begin to smell the flour toasting.  Immediately whisk in 1 c cold milk, stop whisking, and bring to a simmer.  There’s a school of thought that gradually whisks in hot milk, but the cold milk version is a bit easier.  Substitute a medium or thick white sauce for “cream of” canned soups in casseroles or soups like this whenever you want to reduce salt or avoid an allergen.  Or you don’t have it in stock… or feel like saving a bit of money.

I also don’t have a slow cooker, so I stove-topped it.  (Mom does, but I figured I would want to make this again.) Visit Mimi’s site for the slow cooker instructions. Slow cooker recipes generally used less liquid, so I added a bit of milk and water to help compensate for that difference.

Vegetable Cheese Soup

This makes a vat. I added cauliflower, admittedly, but I think we had 6-8 generous servings.

2 T butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 T flour (I use corn flour for most of my white GF sauces)
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried basil
1/4 t thyme
2 1/2 c water
2 1/2 c milk
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped (3 cups)
12 oz broccoli, coarsely chopped (2 medium heads if using fresh)
5 oz corn (1 cup or so)
12 oz cauliflower, coarsely chopped (1/2 head of fresh)
8 oz sharp cheddar, shredded

Saute the onion in butter over medium heat.  When it’s soft, lower the heat and add the herbs and flour.  Stir frequently for 1-2 minutes or until you just begin to smell the flour toasting.  Immediately pour in the cold milk, and whisk until well mixed.  (You don’t need to continue whisking if you added cold milk, beyond the occasional whirl to keep it from sticking.) Bring to a simmer and add the potatoes.  Stir occasionally. When the potatoes are mostly cooked (10-20 minutes depending on size), add the water and bring to a boil.  Add the broccoli, cauliflower, and corn.  Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, or until tender.  Remove from the heat, cool slightly, and stir in the cheese.  Serve with toast and/or a green salad.

Avoiding that “Cooked” Cheese Texture

The tricky part to using real cheddar instead of processed cheese is keeping the texture creamy and smooth, instead of ending with a slightly curdled soup. There are a couple of simple tricks you can try:

1) remove from the heat and test: add just a pinch of your cheese to a bowl of soup.
2) thermometer method: cheddar melts at about 120 F and curdles around 160 F
3) add a splash of alcohol: it brings the boiling point of your soup down. Classic additions to cheese soups include ales, white wine, or dry sherry.
4) only add cheese to the bowls — also a great way to have leftovers with good texture, as it can be pretty tough to reheat cheese dishes like this.
5) add a portion of cold liquid (water or milk) at the end.

Photo credit: Fir0002, via Wikimedia Commons