The phrase “comfort food” conjures up images in my mind of Italian grandmothers slaving over hot stoves all day, of Southern dishes laden with butter and bacon, and of slow-simmered Indian dishes served with more rice than should fit in a human stomach. But for me–and for many people who grew up in my generation–our real comfort foods are often the packaged, industrial kinds that frequently nourished us at dinnertime and whose cartoon mascots coached us after-school on TV. Foods like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Trix Yogurt are often what pop up when millennials think of our first food memories. I mean, I’ve already shared how Nutella was basically a third parent to me.
But one of the weird packaged foods like I absolutely loved as a kid was Lipton Cup-a-Soup in the Broccoli Cheddar flavor. Basically it’s a “food” powder that you rehydrate in hot water and that should only be served to monkeys in space. Somehow we thought that feeding this to a sick person would make them healthy again. But admittedly, a lot of things that happened in the late 80s/early 90s don’t make that much sense to me: (See: shoulder pads, mall bangs, crack cocaine, WHY WINNIE AND KEVIN DON’T END UP TOGETHER etc. etc.)
But what does make sense to me is creating a healthy, vegan version of broccoli cheddar soup with–gasp!–real food. Onions and garlic give a solid flavor base, and cannellini beans create that creamy texture and pack the protein, while lightly cooked broccoli adds vitamins C, K, and A, folate, and a brilliant green color. Broccoli, like kale, bok choy, collards and other members of the cruciferous family, is thought to help prevent cancer because of its anti-inflammatory properties and high antioxidant concentration.
If you are hungering for that old-school broccoli cheddar flavor, you could even add a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast flakes to give it a cheesy flavor and add B vitamins. Like most blended soups, this freezes beautifully and is great to have on hand for days you aren’t feeling great or just don’t feel like cooking. No food powder required.
Creamy Broccoli Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups of water
2 heads of broccoli, broken into small florets (about 1 lb)
juice of half lemon
salt, pepper, and chili flake to taste
1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pot and add onions. Saute until they soften but don’t brown, about 5 – 7 minutes.
2. Add garlic and saute an additional 30 seconds. Stir in the beans and add salt and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Add broccoli florets and let sit until they turn bright green, about 30 – 60 seconds. Remove a few florets and set aside for garnish. Blend the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth, adding lemon juice, salt, pepper and chili flake to taste.
3. Serve immediately, garnished with broccoli florets and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Note: The lemon juice will turn the broccoli an olive green as it sits. If you aren’t serving the soup until later, add the lemon juice and re-season right before serving if you want to keep it bright green.