This is relatively complicated soup to prepare, but well worth the effort. It basically consists of three separate procedures : roasting the cauliflower, toasting and grinding the spices, and composing and pureeing the soup. You could just as well serve this soup rustic-style (without pureeing), but I think its’ worth the extra time and energy to puree for a more elegant soup, one that would happily grace the most sophisticated table. The fact that it is so simple, rich and creamy and also vegan may come as a surprise to some–it’s a great dish to introduce to people who may be skeptical about how deep a flavor one can get from healthy, vegetable-based cuisine.
First, prepare Roasted Cauliflower & Cauliflower Greens using a 2 pound head of cauliflower. This can be done ahead of time, as far in advance as a couple of days. You may try that, I usually can’t resist gobbling up the roast cauliflower as is, so I have to move quickly if I’m making the soup!
Second, make the spice mix.
Place in a small skillet over medium-low heat :
1 tsp whole fennel seed
2 tsp whole cumin seed
1 tsp whole coriander seed
1 tsp urad dal (white gram bean) (optional)
Toast the spices until slightly colored and aromatic. Whole spice seeds burn easily, so keep a close eye on them and shake the pan occasionally. Allow to cool and then grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Thirdly, assemble the soup.
In a large saucepan or deep sautée pan with raised sides, bring to heat over medium heat :
2-3 tbs olive oil
5 oz celery, chopped fine
6 oz onion, chopped fine
2 oz scallions (white parts only), chopped fine
(You could just as easily use another mix of onions here, providing they come out to about the same weight. A good option would be a mix of shallots and spanish onions, or mix of leeks and onions, or ramps and scallions, etc. Look for a total of 8-10 oz. for best flavor)
Sautée, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or so, then add :
2 oz chiles, chopped fine
Sautée, stirring occasionally, for another ten minutes or so, or until all the vegetables are tender.
Add and quickly stir in :
2 tbs flour
Cook for one or two minutes to remove the raw flour taste.
Add, slowly, one half cup at a time, stirring all the while :
8 cups of vegetable stock (or whatever stock is handy/preferred)
Bring the soup to a simmer.
Add the ground spice mix to the soup. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper (optional) to taste.
Chop the roasted cauliflower and greens into small pieces, reserving any if desired to use as a garnish. Add to the soup.
Simmer at a low to medium simmer for 30 minutes or so, until all the vegetables are nicely tender and the liquid has reduced a bit.
Allow to cool.
Puree the soup in small batches. If a completely emulsified soup is desired, pass the soup through a metal strainer or cheesecloth.
Return the pureed soup to heat before serving. Adjust for seasonings. If the soup is too thin, cook to reduce to the desired consistency.
Serve this soup as hot as possible. It can be prepared in advance and served days later if desired.
The spices used give this soup a mellow, complex flavor that accentuates the natural taste of the cauliflower. When serving, choose garnishes that add an element of sharpness or freshness to the soup. Of course, if you have reserved any small florets of roasted cauliflower, you can add those. I usually heap them in the center of the bowl and then add greenery around them. Thinly-sliced scallion greens or field garlic, cilantro or another fresh green herb, raw or prepared chiles are all excellent choices. A dusting of paprika or fresh ground chile powder will show up nicely against the creamy beige of the soup, as will black sesame or nigella seeds.
Though it seems deceptively simple (if somewhat elaborate in preparation) in terms of ingredients, this is really a very rich and hearty soup perfect for the end of winter. One can prepare many delicious “cream of” vegetable soups in a similar fashion, choosing spices and seasonings most appropriate to the vegetables involved, without ever desiring to add actual cream to the dish.