I do so love synchronicity. Also, soup.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.)
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.
The 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.
How 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.
It’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.