As the weather turns colder and the days grow shorter, I begin to long for all of my favorite comfort foods. Roast, turkey and homemade egg noodles, and soup all top my list of favorites. I’m not terribly picky when it comes to the soup category, though my grandmother’s signature soup, dad’s chili, Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup, and BBQ Chicken Chili are the ones that I crave the most. But on nights when there is no time for cooking and nothing sounds better than a big bowl of soup, there’s only one winning to-go option in my opinion – Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar Soup.
I could eat Panera’s soup with warm, crusty bread every. single. day. But my wallet and waistline just won’t allow it. For years I’ve been trying to make a copycat version at home that is lighter than the original, but haven’t found a lighter version that actually still reminds me of Panera’s. I decided to give it another go this year with pleasantly surprising results. Allow me to introduce you to this Lighter Broccoli Cheddar Soup recipe, friends! With half the fat of Panera’s version and all the flavor, this one’s a keeper for sure!
My favorite sneaky aspect of this version of broccoli cheddar soup is that it uses an unexpected ingredient to provide a velvety soup base – a potato! Most broccoli cheddar recipes add extra dairy to thicken the base, which I love and am all for, but a soup full of cheese and cream just doesn’t work for the current diet this house is trying to stick with.
The potato is cooked along with carrots, celery, and onion until tender, and then blended until smooth with an immersion blender. This technique allows all of the flavor from the carrots, celery, and onion to shine through without leaving chunks of any of the veggies in the finished product. I don’t know about you, but I kind of prefer for my broccoli cheddar soup to only have chunks of broccoli in it.
I found that adding 5 ounces of light cheddar cheese provided the ideal flavor to calorie/fat ratio, but feel free to add a grated ounce at a time until you find your perfect balance. I also added a bit of plain Greek yogurt to add a little tang to the finished product.
This soup is best served with a slice of warm, crusty, freshly-baked bread, which is totally ok in my book since we’ve cut so many calorie and fat corners everywhere else. Plus it’s just a crime to eat broccoli cheddar soup without bread!
Here’s to cold, dark nights enjoyed with a bowl of soup in hand, a warm blanket, and a good show on Netflix.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 large carrot, diced (about ¾ cup)
- 2 stalks celery, diced (about ¾ cup)
- 1 large potato, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon flour
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 8 ounces broccoli florets, cut into small pieces (about 3 cups)
- 5 ounces 2% milk cheddar cheese, shredded
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
- Heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat.
- Add olive oil, onion, carrot, and celery. Cook until celery and onion begin to soften, approximately 5 minutes.
- Add potato and garlic to pot. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Stir in flour, dry mustard, nutmeg, and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.
- Add broth, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
- Use an immersion blender to blend the soup base until smooth. (Be careful to keep the head of the blender completely immersed in the soup so that you don’t splatter hot soup all over yourself or your kitchen!)
- Stir in broccoli. Simmer, with pot covered, until the broccoli is tender, approximately 10 minutes.
- Stir in shredded cheese, a handful at a time, until melted and combined. Stir in plain Greek yogurt. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Ladle into soup bowls and serve with crusty, freshly-baked bread.