When I was talking on the phone to my mom the other day, she mentioned that she was making a wonderful Broccoli Leek Soup for dinner that night. I asked her where she found the recipe.  There was the sound of papers rustling and she said, “Let’s see what it says… looks like I tore it out of a Food & Wine magazine somewhere, probably in my dentist’s office.” I asked her if the recipe was vegan. “Yes it is. Well, wait a minute. It is vegan if you take out the butter and the sour cream and the parmesan cheese and if you substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.”

A vegan substitute for cream is raw cashews soaked in water for about eight hours, then pureed with water. When I explained this to a friend, she said, “Are you kidding me? I would NEVER go to that much trouble!” This is how much effort it requires: put the cashews in a bowl; add water; cover; put in refrigerator; sleep or work or go on a hike; drain then dump the cashews in a food processor; add water; pulse.

Although cashews are high in calories, they’re packed with soluble dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and health-promoting phyto-chemicals that help protect from diseases and cancers, and they’re rich in “heart-friendly” monounsaturated fatty acids. I was able to find raw unsalted cashews in the bulk food section of my grocery store. A cup’s worth cost about $2.50. The “extra effort” is worth the creaminess they add to the soup. Save a dollop or two for the top.

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Broccoli Leek Soup with Lemon-Chive Cream

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1½ pounds broccoli florets cut into 1-inch pieces (I used 3 crowns)
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 6-8 hours
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup snipped chives

Before you go to bed at night, or before you go to work in the morning, put one cup raw cashews in a bowl and add water until the water is an inch or two above the top of the cashews. Cover and place in refrigerator.
Making the soup:
  1. In a large soup pot, add the olive oil and the leeks and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the broccoli, garlic, red pepper flakes and broth, season with salt and white pepper and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer until the broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. While this is cooking, drain the water from the cashews and put them in your food processor. Add a ½ cup water and process until velvety smooth. This can take up to five minutes. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, chives and a pinch of salt and process again.
  3. Remove the lemon-chive cream from the food processor.
  4. When your broccoli is done cooking, let the soup cool slightly and then transfer the soup to the food processor and puree in batches until smooth. Put the soup back into the pot and stir in the lemon-chive cream, reserving some to put on top. Add more salt, if necessary. If the soup seems too thick, add ½ to 1 cup of water.
  5. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and top with a dollop of lemon-chive cream and some snipped chives.