Creamy broccoli and cheddar soup with cheesy chickpeas

I’m just back from Mexico where I ate too much and did very little. We visited a small bungalow resort on Playa Xcalacoco, a small local beach in the northern part of bustling Playa Del Carmen. Most days were spent poolside reading Zadie Smith’s brilliant Swing Time, indulging in beachside massages, lying in hammocks listening to the hypnotic crashing of waves, followed by a dip in the warm Caribbean Sea. Even as a native Sydney-sider, I’ve never considered myself a beach person. I generally loathe sand. But this trip, I realized how much I miss the ocean. The fearlessness of the sea, the never-ending horizon and bright skies made me feel completely at home.

Mexico is colour. Nothing is muted. Everywhere you venture, there are pops of vibrant hues to be savoured – brilliant red macaws, fluorescent pink flamingos, radiant blue skies, and courageously-bright architecture.  At one of our favourite eateries El Fogon, a little taqueria in Playa Del Carmen frequented by locals and tourists alike, the vividly painted walls are a jaunty backdrop to the famed al pastor, a Lebanese-inspired shawarma spit-grilled meat. Eating is lively and immersive, with sauces, tortilla chips and lots of small plate filling up tables, and music amplifying the air. I was so inspired by the complex-yet-clean flavours in Mexico – my new obsessions are a green ‘salsa verde’ made of parsley and mayo, habanero sauce, queso fundido and chilaquiles in green tomato sauce. Expect some Mex-inspired recipes in the months ahead!

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Back in Brooklyn, the weather is warmer than it should be at the beginning of March. This is always disheartening to me. While I love a bit of unexpected warmth, you can’t help but feel that the world is spiraling a bit out of control right now. So, despite the unseasonable warmth, I’m making soup this week. Because it is Winter, the season of soup. I just might be eating it in my tank top ;)

It is no secret that I have a MAJOR CRUSH on broccoli. I seriously could eat it at every meal. In this simple recipe, broccoli joins cheddar in a classic pairing, topped with addictive cheesy chickpeas. My daughter recommends a squeeze of lemon to the soup just before eating – she says it gives the soup a ‘lift’. I just nod and do as she says.

 

Creamy broccoli and cheddar soup with cheesy chickpeas

I used an aged cheddar but you could also use pecorino, parmesan or gruyere. The creaminess is from the tofu! No cream necessary.

Serves 4

  • 700g (2 small) broccoli
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 5 cups vegetable broth/stock
  • 200g firm tofu, crumbled
  • 100g sharp cheddar, grated
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • ½ lemon, to serve
  • handful parsley leaves, to serve

Cheesy chickpeas

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese
  • pinch sea salt and black pepper

 

Cut the broccoli into florets. Retain the stalks, removing the woody outer layer.

In a large pot on medium heat, add oil and onions and saute for 60 seconds. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for 2 minutes, until soft and aromatic. Toss in the broccoli and cook for 5 minutes, until the broccoli gain a nice char. Add the broth and tofu, and allow to cook on medium heat, uncovered, for another 5 minutes, until the broccoli is tender. Remove from the heat, and immediately add the cheese – the heat will melt the cheese. Using a handheld blender or food processor, blitz the soup until very smooth.

In a small bowl, add the chickpeas along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the cheese and stir to combine. Season with a pinch of sea salt and turn of black pepper. Heat a small frypan on medium heat. Once hot, add a small drizzle of oil and add the chickpeas. Fry for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan often, until the chickpeas are golden and crispy.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Top with a few cheesy chickpeas, and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a scattering of parsley leaves.