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spicy cauliflower soup

Cooking with seasonal vegetables is fun and rewarding. In the summertime, we love growing tomatoes and basil in our garden. All year long, we look forward to walking outside and eating sweet juicy tomatoes right off the vine, still warm from the sun. Last summer, we made a burst tomato galette with homegrown sungold tomatoes, and it was so unbelievably sweet, tangy, and delicious that we are still dreaming about it six months later. As temperatures drop in autumn (relatively speaking, this is LA after all!), we begin finding fall fruits like crisp apples and pears at the farmers market, along with cool-weather greens like kale and peppery arugula. In the springtime, southern California is at its most colorful, with plants and trees in full bloom, and we celebrate with fresh, sweet asparagus and artichokes, and ruby-red strawberries for dessert. But here we are, snuggling up in warm blankets, sitting by the fire, in the middle of winter, at the peak of cauliflower season. These cream-colored, delicately-flavored vegetables are at their best in winter, and have always been one of our favorites. In this appetizing soup, fresh seasonal cauliflower is combined with sautéed onions, sweet carrots, and blended with aromatic herbs and spices like coriander, cumin, cilantro, and a few pinches of red pepper flakes, to make a delicious, creamy, and comforting bowl of soup that will keep you warm and cozy until spring arrives.

This easy, one-pot recipe is adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Her inspiring philosophy is centered on locally-grown seasonal produce that is prepared simply, allowing the natural flavor of the vegetables to take center stage. Her idea of a perfect meal is one that is balanced in texture, color, and flavor, beautifully demonstrated here with this hearty and satisfying winter comfort food. Even though the soup may be titled with the word “spicy,” it is not overpowering, and is more of a pleasant warming sensation, perhaps more accurately described as medium-spicy. Most of the heat comes from the red pepper flakes, so feel free to adjust the amount down if you are sensitive to spice, or up if you need an extra kick. This soup is served with chopped cilantro, small dollops of creamy yogurt, and wedges of lime, which are much more than just pretty garnishes! The cilantro adds a fresh flavor and aroma, the yogurt brings a tangy, smooth silkiness, and a squeeze of lime is the perfect accent to the rich, savory soup.

This delicious vegan recipe has a simple one-pan prep and couldn’t be easier to make. You simply dice a carrot and an onion, chop the cauliflower florets, and measure the spices. Once the vegetables are prepped, the soup cooks for 40 minutes with just an occasional stir, leaving you plenty of time to clean the house watch the rain! Although Alice Waters suggests that you whisk the soup by hand to purée it, an immersion blender will transform it into a silky, creamy texture in just seconds. If you want a smooth consistency but don’t own one, you can transfer the soup to a regular blender, although you may have to do this in batches, depending on its capacity. As for the spices, this recipe calls for whole cumin and coriander seeds, which are crushed by hand using a mortar and pestle. Even though you can buy these spices pre-ground, the action of crushing them by hand releases aromas and flavors that are far more potent than any powder from a jar. It is worth taking the time to grind the cumin and coriander in the mortar just so you can experience the intense fragrance of these freshly-crushed spices. This versatile soup can be enjoyed as an appetizer, or as a hearty main course served with a crusty baguette and a crisp green salad. It’s okay that the sun has not fully set, go put on your robe and slippers, pick out a fun movie, and enjoy a relaxing night at home with a hot bowl of spicy soup that will warm the body and soothe your soul.

Spicy Cauliflower Soup
adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
serves 4 to 6

For the soup:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt (see note)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large head of cauliflower, green leaves and stem removed, florets coarsely chopped
6 large cilantro sprigs, chopped
6 cups vegetable broth

To serve:
plain yogurt
chopped cilantro
lime wedges

In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the diced onion, carrot, cumin and coriander seeds, chile powder, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the carrots and onion are tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the cauliflower, cilantro, and broth. Stir to combine, cover, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. When boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup, or take Alice Waters’ suggestion to give your arms a workout and puree the soup by hand with a spoon or whisk. Taste for seasonings, and serve hot with chopped cilantro, dollops of yogurt, and lime wedges on the side. Enjoy!

note:
— We use 1 teaspoon of salt, but if your broth is more or less salty than ours, you may need to adjust your salt levels accordingly.