Broccoli Cheese Soup (Low Carb and Gluten Free)


I will be the first to admit that there is nothing sexy or elegant about this recipe. Broccoli Cheese is the workhorse among soups. It’s warming, nutritious, you get your greens into you, and if you are lucky, it also tastes good. Not all of them do, I’ve had some pretty blah broccoli soups in my day. Most notably at my first-year dorm in university, where the kitchen staff had no business messing with heavy, creamy soups. I myself have never tried my hand at it, so when I saw that the most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated had a recipe, I wanted to give it a try.

Cook’s Illustrated is the only cooking periodical that we get right now. We’ve had other subscriptions in the past but we’ve let most of them lapse as we have a pretty large collection of back issues. Cook’s comes every year courtesy of my parents-in-law and we always enjoy it. I like the way they test different methods of making a dish to arrive at what they consider “the best” way. But I have to confess, I don’t always follow the extra steps involved to get “the best” out of the recipes. As a busy mother of three, who is impatient at the best of times, the extra steps often just feel like extra work.

But for broccoli soup, I thought it worth my while to follow their recipe to the letter. The goal of their recipe was to up the broccoli flavour and reduce the cheese, to make it a true vegetable soup, a very worthy goal indeed. And in their investigations, they found something completely counterintuitive that really worked – cook the broccoli beyond all recognition. It sounds awful because there is nothing worse than overcooked broccoli, in this case, it works. The point is to break down the sulfurous compounds to the point that the broccoli actually tastes like broccoli again. And to speed up this process, they added a touch of baking soda. Weird, definitely, but does it work?

The Results: I haven’t had broccoli soup in quite some time, so I don’t really have anything to measure it against, but I will give this a thumbs up. The flavour was definitely of broccoli, but without a trace of that overcooked, college-dorm-style broccoli. It was creamy without being heavy. And my picky eater, who actually loves broccoli and soup separately, loved it together too. It was a great starter to our dinner and a great way to get a serving of veggies into everyone. This recipe is a keeper, for certain.

Broccoli Cheese SoupCook’s Illustrated, March/April 2011

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli, chopped into 1 inch pieces (include the stems but peel them and cut them into 1/4 inch-thick slices)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
pinch cayenne
3-4 cups water
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 cups chicken broth
2 oz baby spinach
3 oz sharp cheddar, grated
1 1/2 oz parmesan, grated
pepper to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat butter over medium high heat. Add broccoli, onion, garlic, mustard, cayenne and 1 tsp salt. Stir frequently and cook until fragrant, about 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and baking soda and bring to a simmer. Cook until broccoli is very soft, about 20 minutes.

Add broth and 2 cups water and increase heat to medium high. Bring to a simmer, then stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Add cheeses and blend soup with an immersion blender (alternatively, you can transfer soup to a blender and blend in two batches).

Adjust consistency of soup to your liking with remaining water (I found it didn’t need any more). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 8. Each serving has 6.6g of carbs and 2.4g of fiber.

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  1. Chef Dennis says

    what a perfectly beautiful soup!! I love the colour and I am sure the texture was just right! My girls love broccoli soup I will have to try your method next time I make it for them!

  2. Stephanie says

    Looks pretty lovely to me! Broccoli is so darn good for you, too. I actually just made a baked potato soup a few days ago with broccoli, and yesterday I had some more broccoli with a black bean garlic sauce. I can't get enough! Now you got me craving more! LOL…is it possible to overdose on it?! :-p

  3. Grace says

    Broccoli soup is one of my favourites yet I have never made it at home. When I was working it was a treat I had at least once a week at a restaurant called Kelsey's. They made the best. I must try this and try to replicate the taste at home now that I am not working.

  4. Angela@RecipesFromMyMom says

    The addition of spinach is a fantastic idea. I've never heard of the baking soda addition. Crazy but if it makes the broccoli taste more flavorful, I will do it. Thanks Carolyn!

  5. Sommer J says

    I've never had homemade broccoli soup. I don't think I've ever had it period! But I can imagine the kitchen cooks messing up the soup.

    I love Cook's Illustrated. I've learned so much from the magazines! I use their techniques all the time.

    NOW on to this soup hehe. It looks soo delicious! The photos are stunning!! I want to gulp it down. MY children looooves broccoli, I wonder if I can get them to try this! I will have them help me so they believe that broccoli was actually used. Hahaha! Also love the addition of spinach- super duper healthy and delicious!!

  6. Jill Colonna says

    You have definitely revived an interest in this classic and love your tips! Thanks for the inspiration and I now take it back anything I've said about this soup before. Yours looks just perfect!

  7. Sandra says

    This soup sound amazing. I taste some just like you that make me *** just by smelling, but your looks and sounds fantastic!Thanks for sharing will try this soon!

  8. Fresh and Foodie says

    Cook's Illustrated always has really solid recipes — I love that magazine. This looks really great. I haven't had broccoli soup in a long time either, but now I've got a craving.

  9. Becky says

    I've never made broccoli soup before, but this one is calling my name. I have to make this one soon and I like that they put less cheese in for my hubby.

  10. Carina says

    This looks wonderful! I love broc and cheese soup – and anything off the pages of Cooks Illustrated is bound to be nothing short of amazing!!

  11. Susi says

    So this soup might not be sexy, but it is pretty darn good looking. The color is fantastic. I've never made broccoli soup myself since most recipes never appealed to me, but I think I will have to make an exception with yours :o)

  12. Lemons and Anchovies says

    That's worth trying, for sure. I'm intrigued by the cooking method for the broccoli but I trust Cook's Illustrated. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  13. Amelia@SavoryandSweet says

    I love broccoli and cheese soup, it's one of my favorites. But, I agree, so often the cheese is overwhelming and the broccoli gets lost!
    I'll have to try the baking soda trick, thanks. :)

  14. Hester aka The Chef Doc says

    Yum! I love broccoli soup when it's done right! As for the baking soda, adding it to the mix raises the pH to a more basic level. And when cooking in alkaline/basic water (greater than pH 7), your hemicelluloses are more soluble therefore, the veggies soften much quicker and become mushy. So, I guess it's more of a time thing :-) Thanks so much for sharing this recipe!

  15. Pretend Chef says

    This is a bowl of soup I would love to eat. The color is fantastic. I love that broccoli isn't the only veggie in there. This is definitely worth giving a shot.

  16. A Touch RoJo says

    Simple and easy. That's how I like my food. I make an awesome broccoli soup but this is a little more detailed and spicy. I LIKE IT. There are 50 million ways to make one thing and I salute everyone who can find a tasty variation on a classic. Salute!!!!

  17. Jeanette says

    This came out beautifully. It is interesting that the instructions say to cook the broccoli for a long time. I also wonder what the baking soda is for.

  18. Cake Duchess says

    You just gave me a brilliant recipe and idea. My kids love broccoli. This soup is perfect for chilly afternoon:)

  19. Island Vittles says

    I'm a fan of CI too — but I also admit to skipping some of those extra steps! this soup looks great — so if you say cooking the broccoli to death was the secret, I guess we'll have to believe you! Theresa

  20. The Mom Chef says

    I love cream of broccoli soup. I can't imagine the depth of flavor that develops with the broccoli cooked the way it is. Wow. It looks absolutely gorgeous.

  21. ravienomnoms says

    Wow this soup looks so good, I really enjoy broccoli soup. I really like that yours keeps that green color. Delicious!

  22. Carrie says

    I've tried about a million recipes for broccoli cheese soup and have never been satisfied with any of them. I've been looking for a low carb version, so this one is going next on my list to try! The ingredient list sounds wonderful, and it looks great!

  23. Amy Bakes Everything says

    I love broccoli soup! That color is amazing, I seriously think I should paint my bathroom that color! Great job!

  24. Kate @ says

    Your soup looks really good… the color is beautiful, the texture seems to be perfect and that bowl is gorgeous!

  25. UrMomCooks says

    Sooo appreciate the tips on this soup! That icky cooked broccoli taste is exactly why I always choose other veggies over broccoli for soup! I will absolutely give this a try – would love to have leftovers for lunch!

  26. She's Cookin' says

    It seems that broccoli cheese soups are either blah or over-the-top cheesy. This looks perfect! Thanks for sharing. I've want to add Cooks Illustrated but first I have to let some of my other subscriptions lapse – too many magazines! P.S. Great job today on our online cooking class chat :)

  27. She's Cookin' says

    It seems that broccoli cheese soups are either too blah or over-the-top cheesy! This one looks perfect! I've been thinking about subscribing to Cooks Illustrated, but I have to let some of my other subscriptions lapse first – too many magazines! P.S. Great job on our online cooking class chat today :)

  28. Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having says

    Gorgeous soup. The method is really interesting, I'll have to try this.
    I have an online subscription to Cooks, but I almost never use it. Maybe I should get the magazines instead of the online version..

  29. Adelina says

    My kids love broccoli, but never dared serving them in a soup form. I need to get up to the challenge. Thanks for the inspiration. I love the list of ingredients.

  30. foodblogandthedog says

    I love it when the classics are reinvented and this is a perfect candidate. I've had too many sludgey, smelly broccoli soups but this looks fresh & bright green I'm going to revisit it for sure, thanks!!

  31. Lauren at KeepItSweet says

    I've actually never had broccoli cheese soup! Usually it looks so heavy and kind of grosses me out. Your version looks light and tasty!

  32. The Mistress of Spices says

    I adore broccoli soup, and your version looks wonderful! I posted one with a very subtle pop of chili in it some time ago which was also wonderful. Great photos!

  33. Lisa @ Tarte du Jour says

    Your soup looks heavenly! I also adore Cook's Illustrated…. it's our go to magazine for "how to" do things best. Well done on the top 9! This classic soup deserves a second look from us all!

  34. Trish says

    Such a great, healthy soup to get us through these lingering cold winter nights. It may not be sexy as you say but I find the pale green color beautiful :-)

  35. Kim - Liv Life says

    I love a good broccoli soup! Maybe this will be the way to get it into the kids… or my husband!! Excellent!

  36. Andi says

    This soup was delicious! I send the recipe to my mom, and recommended it to my Facebook friends.

    I admit to making a couple changes:
    – a small amount of olive oil added to the butter to prevent it from browning too quickly (I used a butter substitute because I'm on SB Phase 1, and those are tricky sometimes)
    – 2 cups of water, divided
    – 1 tsp dijon mustard (instead of using dry mustard, because it's kind of pricey)
    – reduced-fat cheddar
    – I slowly mixed the cheese in after blending the soup

  37. Anonymous says

    Made the soup today (with less fluid) and it is a very creamy broccoli soup.. Added more spinach to bring up the color..
    Had planned to add watercress for a second day, but had so many visitors today who wanted soup that there is not enough to make the same creamy soup, so tomorrow it will be become more soupy and sharper with the watercress..

  38. Cooking Rookie says

    I made this soup for the SRC this month, and it was really really delicious! And pretty too :-). It was a great pick, but a very hard decision, you have way too many wonderful recipes to choose from. I also made your Adobo chicken, which turned out great. But I will have to come back for more, especially that avocado soup :-). Thanks!

  39. Chris says

    Just made this soup this afternoon and served it for supper. It is a winner! Light with good broccoli flavor and a nice amount of cheese. Sooooo much better than the glue-like broccoli soup served in some restaurants.

  40. Holly says

    Today is Feb. 3rd, 2014, I made this soup and it is wonderful, so delicious. I ended up using the extra water because once I blended everything up it was fairly thick. I can’t wait to give my hubby a bowl tonight.

  41. Megan says

    I made this soup today, and I’m sharing a link to your site on Facebook because the soup came out FABULOUS. A nice, clean flavor. It’s meant to be for dinner, but I’m sitting here with a steaming mug of it because I couldn’t wait once I had my ‘chef’s sample taste.’ SO GOOD!

  42. Megan says

    Made this soup today, and it came out *FABULOUS*…so tasty, in fact, that I’m sitting here with a steaming mug of it at 3:30pm, even though it’s supposed to be for dinner later. I just couldn’t resist. Excellent flavor! I didn’t need the 4th cup of water – it came out just right using only 3.

  43. Sandy says

    Loved this soup! I didn’t have any spinach but I had fresh kale from the garden that I substituted. Turned out awesome! You are the bomb!

  44. Julie says

    My kids are nuts over this and I can’t keep it in the fridge even after doubling the batch. I confess, I’ve stooped to using the big bag of frozen broccoli from Costco. It’s often cheaper than fresh and super easy to use, being already clean and trimmed. I just sautee up the onions and garlic with the spices then dump the frozen broccoli in to heat with the added water.

    • Carolyn says

      Goodness, no apologies needed for the frozen broccoli. We buy the big bag of the organic from Bjs specifically for this recipe!

  45. Eileen says

    Just made this tonight at the end of a frosty 15 F day. Wanted an easy, meatless, low carb, warm-me-to-the-toes dinner (yikes, what an order!) :) No problem, I knew where to come. This was awesome. Husband and kids all loved it (even my tough 9 yo son said, “Wow!”) Beautiful, rich, creamy soup … and no cream! You have such an eye for a good recipe. Well; I guess I have an eye for a good food blogger. We all have our talents. :) I have yet to be disappointed with any recipe I’ve tried here. Thanks again!

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