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At about age 2, I realized the big boy was a picky eater.

He was smart, too — a one-two punch that spelled disaster at dinnertime.

“Eat your trees,” I’d cajole in a sing-song voice, pointing to the broccoli florets on his plate.

“Why would I want to eat trees?” he’d ask.

Good point. And truth be known, I’d rather skip those particular “trees” myself.

Broccoli is not my favorite vegetable. Oh, I know it’s a nutrition powerhouse, loaded with vitamins A and C, folate and dietary fiber. But it always retains that whiff of sulfur common to cruciferous vegetables, whether I’ve steamed it, blanched it, sauteed it or stir-fried it. Even the big-eatin’ little boy won’t touch it.

“It’s not  my favorite,” he sniffs.

Still, I keep buying it. It’s beautiful in my local market, it’s perfect for these suddenly crisp evenings, and — did I mention? — it’s a nutritional workhorse.

Last night, I pulled some broccoli from my vegetable bin and mused over what to do with it. We’re all suffering from change-of-season sniffles, so I wanted something comforting and smooth, with a touch of heat. I decided to see what broccoli would do in a soup.

Yes, I’m stuck on a dinnertime theme. (Just call me the soup queen.) But I had so much luck the last time I turned a cabbage-y vegetable into a soup, I decided to go another round.

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I dug up shallots and onions for sweetness; some potatoes (a few All Blue’s from our garden) for creaminess; a chile for heat; some herbs & garlic for freshness. Combined them with my broccoli and enough liquid to cover, then let everything bubble away for half an hour.

The scientists among you can explain what happened chemically during this simmer. All I know is that after pureeing the mix and adding the juice of a lemon, I had a slightly spicy, slightly kicky, completely satisfying soup with nary a whiff of sulfur.

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“What is this?” the big boy asked, eyeing the bowl with suspicion.

“Vegetable soup,” I answered. “I just combined a lot of things we had in the bin.”

“This is good!” he said as he ate his whole(!) bowl. The little one said nothing. He just ate.

So now, the conundrum. Do I tell the children what I fed them? That they do, in fact, like broccoli?

No. I’ll tuck this sleight of hand into my apron pocket and pull it out the next time I need some kitchen magic.

Magical Broccoli Soup

The beauty of this dish is that you can change it according to your mood. Want a slightly Indian flavor? Omit the sage and add grated ginger and a teaspoon or so of curry. Craving a south-of-the-border taste? Add cumin, oregano and the best-quality chili powder you can find. I served this with sour cream on the side, but that was gilding an already lovely lily. This soup requires no dairy for creaminess.’

  • 1 cup onion, roughly chopped (I used a combination of yellow onions and shallots)
  • 1 chile de Arbol, broken in half
  • 1/2 cup diced peeled potatoes (Yukon golds, red-skinned or All Blue)
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, roughly chopped (I used basil, sage and thyme)
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 5 cups liquid (I used 3 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water. Mix and match as you like.)
  • Juice of 1 small lemon

Generously film a pot with olive oil (I probably used 1/4 cup, but then, I could bathe in the stuff), and warm it over medium heat.

Add the onion, chile, salt and pepper, and saute until the onion slightly caramelizes, 5-7 minutes. Add the potatoes and saute for another 2-3  minutes.

Add the garlic and herbs and stir for 1 minute. Add the broccoli and toss well to incorporate it into the other ingredients.

broc5Pour in the liquid. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the broccoli is very tender. Cool slightly, then remove the chile.

Working in batches, place the mixture into a blender. Process on high speed for 30-40 seconds, until the soup is completely smooth. Transfer to a clean pot and reheat.

When the soup is almost at a boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the juice of a small lemon. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve piping hot.

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