The art of simplicity

I do so love synchronicity. Also, soup.

Cauliflower soup with a drizzle of butterHere’s what happened:

  1. Bought a cauliflower 2 weeks ago with good intentions to use it in…something. It sat, staring at me, every time I opened the fridge.
  2. Randomly joined a cooking class! First class focused on learning tastes and flavors and how they interact (including the importance of acid and salt as essential components of a dish or meal).
  3. Received an email from my beloved America’s Test Kitchen the next day with a 5-ingredient recipe for cauliflower soup highlighting the simple flavor of cauliflower (and calling for the exact amount of cauliflower I had).

This soup turned out to be perfect, and with perfect timing, in so many ways. First, let me start with this–you know the traditional, creamy, potato-leek soup? This is its equally tasty, equally creamy (but without the cream), less carb-y cousin. It’s cozy and warm and filling and fast.
Simple head of cauliflower It was also the perfect vehicle for applying what I learned in last week’s Cooking Lab class. Try this: as you make the soup, taste the ingredients at different stages in the process. What does the raw cauliflower taste like? To me, a little bitter, maybe a little earthy (that’s umami), maybe a tiny bit sweet. How about raw leeks and onions? (I got an F in tasting on this one–I don’t like raw onions.)
Sliced cauliflower Split leek Thinly sliced onions How do the onions and leeks taste once they’ve softened with the salt? Kind of sweet, but also a little salty? What about the cauliflower once it’s cooked and softened? More sweet, less bitter.
Leeks and onions, softenedCauliflower, just addedSoftThe well-browned butter? Sweet and nutty, earthy. The browned cauliflower mixed with sherry vinegar? Sour, obviously from the acid, but also sweeter than I’d expected.
Butter-fried cauliflowerHow about when it all comes together? How does the flavor of the basic soup change with a little of the butter, a piece of the vinegar-ed cauliflower, the chives? A balance of all five flavors in a perfect little bowl.
Creamy cauliflower soup, garnishedIt’s so fascinating to me to intentionally taste how ingredients change as they cook, and in a soup like this with so few components, the changes are easier to taste. Plus, blah blah flavors and tastes, it’s the perfect warm and cozy when we’re in the midst of yet another cold snap (also known as “winter in Chicago”).

Creamy Cauliflower Soup
This recipe from America’s Test Kitchen turned out just right the first time I made it, even down to the timing. If you’d like to up the vegetable quotient, I imagine a few handfuls of fresh spinach, or a half cup of cooked, drained spinach, would also be good.

1 head of cauliflower, about 2 pounds
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and rinsed thoroughly
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
4 1/2 to 5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Fresh chives, minced

Pull green leaves off cauliflower and trim the end off the stem. Cut around the core to remove; thinly slice and set aside. Cut a heaping cup of small florets from the cauliflower; set aside. Cut remaining cauliflower crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add leek, onion, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt; cook, stirring frequently, until leek and onion are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high; add 4 1/2 cups water, sliced core, and half of sliced cauliflower; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add remaining sliced cauliflower, return to simmer, and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender and crumbles easily, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add reserved florets and cook, stirring frequently, until florets are golden brown and butter is browned and smells nutty, about 6 to 8 minutes. Turn off heat and pour melted butter into a small bowl. Transfer florets to another bowl and toss with vinegar, add salt to taste.

Process soup in blender (or using an immersion blender) until smooth, about 45 seconds. Return to a simmer over medium heat, adjusting consistency with remaining water as needed (soup should settle with a flat surface after being stirred) and season with salt to taste. Serve, garnishing individual bowls with browned florets, a drizzle of browned butter, chives, and pepper to taste.


9 thoughts on “The art of simplicity

  1. I did make the soup and it did remind me of the consistency of potato soup and it was warming and nutritious. Although I like a hearty, chunkier soup better, this was a good use for the head of cauliflower that sat in my refrigerator. I will make this again because of its simplicity and its a nice lunch item.


  2. I love your learnings on “taste as you go”… this is something I need to get better at and practice. I also love how you walked us through all the flavors as you made this soup. It makes me want to go out and buy cauliflower tomorrow… not something I have ever really had a craving to do before! Thanks!


  3. You know, I’ve had broccoli soup but never cauliflower and it sounds really good. I think I will try this before the winter is over because our Cleveland winter is the same as your Chicago winter. Funny Uncle Dave didn’t comment on this blog. Love reading them. Love you.


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