Panera, or St. Louis Bread Company if you’re from Missouri, has always been a fave of mine. I love vegan-izing all my old favorite foods so Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar Soup felt like a no-brainer.
The process was quite simple and only took two tries to get it right. I use canned pumpkin to achieve that cheddar-like color, a simple cream made of sunflower seeds for that thick, velvety texture, and nutritional yeast for a richer, cheesier flavor (without the cheese).
Other than those three swaps, the rest of the soup stays pretty much the same. The standard Broccoli Cheddar Soup uses onion, celery, carrot, and of course broccoli, plus mustard and paprika. All of these elements are naturally vegan, so no need to adjust. I use non-dairy milk instead of milk (easy swap), veggie stock instead of chicken stock (yep, the OG soup isn’t even vegetarian) and a roux made from olive oil and flour.
Enough talk, let’s get to the recipe. You’re gonna love it!
Vegan Broccoli Cheddar Soup
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups vegetable stock (I use a low sodium variety)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3/4 cup shredded carrot (1 medium-large carrot)
4 cups chopped broccoli
Cover sunflower seeds with nearly boiling water and allow to sit for an hour. Once soaked, drain and blend with 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups water until super smooth. Set sunflower seed “cream” aside.
Heat olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery and 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté for 6-8 minutes. When veggies are soft, add flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
Stir in vegetable stock, 1 cup water (or more stock) and 1 teaspoon salt. Add pumpkin purée, mustard, paprika, garlic powder and nutritional yeast. Stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce to simmer and partially cover. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Optional step – use an immersion blender to blend the soup before adding the carrots and broccoli, this will make the soup base extra smooth. The nutritional yeast adds some grainy-ness, so you can also just blend the nutritional yeast into the sunflower seed cream for a smooth texture.
Add shredded carrot, chopped broccoli and 1 teaspoon salt to soup. Gently simmer for 5-10 minutes, partially covered. Turn off heat. Stir in 1 cup of the sunflower seed cream. Season with salt to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon or so. Add water or vegetable stock to achieve desired consistency.