Cream of Roasted Cauliflower Soup

IMG_9718
Cream of roasted cauliflower soup, garnished with roasted cauliflower florets, cilantro and scallion greens.

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.

IMG_9708
Spice mix for cream of roasted cauliflower soup : coriander, fennel, cumin, urad dal.

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

Add :

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.

IMG_9715

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.

Roasted Cauliflower and Cauliflower Greens

IMG_9707_2

Cauliflower is a delicious vegetable that is too often ill-served by the the one preparing it. The major culprits are boiling (which accentuates its’ heaviness and high water content) and pairing with cream and/or cheese (which accentuate its’ blandness). Prepared with some attention to its’ particular nature, cauliflower need be neither heavy nor bland. The high water content is a problem best handled with high heat and a bit of special attention.

This simple dish is one of my favorites to make, one I could happily eat any day. It can be endlessly improvised upon in terms of seasoning, but an even better idea is to prepare it and turn it into something else. Chop some up with olives and pickled onions and peppers and add more oil for a tapenade. Puree it with cooked onions and celery to make a delicious, creamy soup. Add large chunks of pickled vegetables and cooked potatoes and spices and make a potato salad version of aloo gobi. Or simply chop up the cauliflower and greens and use in a flatbread or omelette.

IMG_9700

Preheat oven to 450°

Remove the greens of the cauliflower. Chop these into pieces no larger than an inch and a half. Wash and pat dry.

Core the cauliflower. Cut away the base of the stem and any dirty bits. Chop the core into cubes of about one inch square.

Separate the cauliflower into florets. If the florets are large, slice them in half. If the florets are exceptionally large, cut them into thirds. You want large, flat-ish pieces for this recipe, so cut lengthwise and try to maximize surface area. Very small florets should be avoided, they will just burn up.

Toss the florets, greens and stem pieces together with olive oil to cover. Make sure that the cauliflower is well-coated but don’t worry about getting every inch. Resist the urge to use too much oil, it will impeded the roasting process.

Lay the coated cauliflower and greens in a large, heavy, deep roasting pan. Allow for space between each piece (as pictured above). If you feel like you are overcrowding the pan, roast in multiple batches.

Place the pan in the oven.

After five minutes, remove the pan and shake it a few times, tossing the cauliflower as much as possible but making sure that it is all still flat in one layer. Return to oven.

After five minutes (ten minutes total), remove the pan and place it on a trivet. Using tongs or careful fingers, turn the florets. Sprinkle with kosher salt, taking care not to use too much. Return to oven.

After five minutes (fifteen minutes total), remove the pan and place it on a trivet. Turn pieces if necessary. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Adjust for salt if necessary. Return to oven.

After five minutes (twenty minutes total), remove the pan and place it on a trivet. Test for doneness by cutting into one of the thickest florets. Taste if necessary. If it seems thick and stodgy, return to the oven for another few minutes.

At this stage you may add oil, if you feel that the cauliflower is too dry. I haven’t found it to be necessary. The cauliflower usually emerges tender inside from the combination of high water content and high heat, while the surface areas have a fine crispness that would be blunted if extra oil were added.

Serve this immediately or at room temperature. Hell, it’s good cold. Four ingredients, people.

As previously mentioned, this can be endlessly varied in terms of seasoning. One of my favorite things to add is paprika, especially a strong characterful Spanish or Hungarian paprika, hot or sweet, smoked or not. I would add any powdered spice ingredient with the salt, and make sure to give a more vigorous shake. One could also add powdered spices or dry herbs to the oil that the cauliflower is tossed with. I would add dry herbs in the last five minutes of cooking, fresh herbs only when the cooking was finished.

This is a dish exceptionally suited to buffets, meals of many small dishes, or meze / tapas / antipasto type spreads. Since it is still excellent at room temperature, it’s perfect for longer parties and more relaxed occasions. It also pairs well with a hearty, complex main course, and can stand up to many a sauce. It is also a great alternative to starchier sides such as roast potatoes, and makes an excellent second vegetable alongside anything green.

You will notice that the greens and stem of the cauliflower are used in this recipe. Don’t discard them, they are quite tasty and mild. All Brassica plants (cabbage, kale, mustards, broccoli, etc.) are edible from root to seed. Some parts of some plants are too bitter to be palatable, but most simply require the proper preparation.

Tomato Sauce with Winter Vegetables

IMG_9330

Another extremely simple winter tomato sauce recipe, in which you can use whatever winter vegetables you might have around and canned tomatoes to make a sauce that can be served either thick and chunky or pureed.

The first thing to do is strain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. You will want to use about 2 cups / 1 L. of tomatoes and juice, or the contents of a 35 oz can. I usually also squeeze or cut open the tomatoes to let the juice inside them out, but this isn’t strictly necessary. Keep the juice and drained tomatoes separate until needed.

Next, prepare your vegetables. I use between 4 and 5 ounces each of three different vegetables. You should shoot for roughly equal amounts of each vegetable. First I use either celery or onion, chopped into medium size dice. Then I peel and cut into medium dice either carrots or parsnips. Lastly I prepare either kohlrabi, turnip, long radish or celery root in pieces of the same size as the other ingredients. If you like garlic in this, add an ounce or so chopped very fine. Remember to keep all your vegetables separated, as they require different cooking times.

Add two to three tablespoons of olive oil to a wide sautée pan, preferably one with deep sides. Bring the oil to heat over medium heat. Add the vegetables one at a time and cook each until softened. The best order is onions or celery to start, then carrot or parsnip, then the last. Cook each vegetable just until softened, about 5-10 minutes for each. Add the garlic last of all, and cook for only a few minutes before proceeding. You may also wish to add bay or bayberry leaf or whole sprigs of thyme or rosemary at this point, taking care to remove them before pureeing or serving the sauce.

Once the garlic has been cooked, add the whole tomatoes to the pan, breaking them into chunks with a flat-ended wooden or plastic spatula. You may chop them prior to adding to the pan, but I always find that such a mess and prefer to simply break them into pieces while they sautée. Cook the tomatoes for at least five minutes, keeping the heat around medium.

IMG_9325

Add the reserved tomato juices to the sautée pan. At this point, you may wish to add stock or water to thin the sauce out. I would only recommend this if it is your intent to puree the sauce. With about 5 oz of each vegetable, this makes a substantial quantity of sauce, enough for more than one pound of pasta. I will often serve the sauce thick with some pasta, then puree whatever is leftover with added stock to make a sauce that I can put on eggs or a half-pound of spaghetti. One could also add chiles or cream or another ingredient to this newly-pureed sauce for the sake of variety.

Whether you add tomato juice with stock or water or nothing else, the liquids must be cooked down slightly. I usually leave the pan at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Less can be fine, but the flavor will not be as rich. In any event, make sure before serving that all the vegetables are cooked through and as tender as you would like them. Finally, add salt, freshly ground black pepper, and dried or fresh herbs to taste. With a winter sauce like this I will often add a quick crumble of marjoram or oregano or sage, depending on what herbs I’ve added during the cooking stage.

Serve as-is or puree and serve over pasta, with or without cheese.

Coriander Glazed Carrots

IMG_8663

Take :

8 oz. carrots, sliced into 1/4″-1/2″ rounds (I like to bias cut mine to make them longer, like above)

Add to saucepan of boiling, salted water.

Boil for 3-4 minutes, then drain immediately.

Heat in a wok or sautêe pan over medium-high heat:

2 tbs neutral oil such as sunflower or vegetable

When the oil is quite hot, add :

1 tbs of coriander root paste (see below)

Stir-fry for one minute, then quickly add the boiled carrots.

Stir-fry or toss vigorously for one minute.

Add :

2 tbs sherry or cooking wine

1/2 tsp of sugar

Stir or toss vigorously for one minute or until the alcohol evaporates

Add :

1/2 tsp of freshly toasted and crushed coriander

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the heat and serve immediately or cover and keep warm, garnish with abundant cilantro / fresh coriander. This is best hot, but also good at room temperature.

IMG_8656

Coriander Root Paste :

Combine in a mortar and pestle :

1/2 oz finely chopped coriander roots (roots of one bunch)

few pinches kosher salt

few grinds of black pepper

2 cloves of garlic

Mash to desired consistency. To get a more paste-like consistency, you can add more salt. This should make about two tablespoons. It can be kept for a great while if salt or oil are added. You could of course also make this in a small food chopper / processor.

This is a simple and versatile dish that could accompany many different types of cuisine. It is most definitely for lovers of coriander though! The roots add a sophistication to the flavor that there is no substitute for.

This recipe accounts for about 2 servings as a side dish, but can be easily multiplied.

Key : The key to this recipe is to have everything prepared and move swiftly during the stir-fry stage.