cauliflower soup

Pity the cauliflower:

  • It languishes on grocers’ shelves.
  • It remains on the crudite tray.
  • It stubbornly stays on toddlers’ plates and is the bain of mothers everywhere, who douse it with cheese and beg, “Please eat your vegetables.”

Poor cauliflower. It’s a perennial afterthought. The poor relation of the brassica oleracea family. It can’t compete with broccoli’s popularity. It isn’t trendy like kohlrabi or collard greens. It doesn’t even have the versatile cache of cabbage.

And that’s a shame. Cauliflower is loaded with vitamin C (1 cup cooked has almost half the recommended daily allowance). It’s rich in vitamin A and folate. It abounds with phytochemicals that detoxify the liver.

Still, cauliflower suffers from a bad reputation:

  • “It’s soggy.”
  • “It smells like sulfur.”
  • “It’s only good as a conduit for orange processed cheese.”

Not true! More than anything, cauliflower is a victim. It suffers from poor packaging, poor storage and poor cooking.

cauliflowerFirst off, cauliflower should be white (or brightly purple or green, depending on the variety). It shouldn’t have sepia undertones. It shouldn’t have brown spots. It shouldn’t look old and dry.

Cauliflower shouldn’t sit around. Once you buy it, you need to use it. You can keep it in the fridge for up to one week, but it needs to be stored loosely in a perforated bag (not that plastic shroud the grocer sells it in.)

And when you cook it? Roast it! Nothing brings out cauliflower’s sweetness like a slow dance in a 400-degree oven. Tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, the florets bake up to a caramelized glow with no hint of the slightly sulfuric taste you get by boiling. I like to take a page from Martha Stewart and roast florets for 30 minutes, until they’re meltingly tender, then toss them with capers, red wine vinegar and grainy mustard. They’re a perfect fall accompaniment to chicken or a nice centerpiece to a vegetarian meal.

More and more, though, I’m making soup. Not a chunky vegetable soup, but a pureed beauty that’s thick, hearty and naturally low in calories.

This soup is a mashup of recipes and techniques I’ve gleaned through the years. It’s loosely based on an October 2011 recipe in Bon Appetit magazine (before the pub became Condé Nast’s Food & Wine wannabe). The finishing steps are thanks to California chef Suzanne Goin, whose sweet corn soup recipe in Sunday Suppers At Lucques taught me how to get a silky, creamy (and cream-free) consistency from almost any vegetable.

Try this entree the next time you buy cauliflower. It’ll be a revelation — and a chance for cauliflower to shine!

Silky Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 sage leaf
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 chile de arbol (optional)
  • 5 cups liquid (I use half chicken stock and half water. Use all water for a vegetarian and/or vegan meal.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

cauliflower toasted1Wash and dry the cauliflower. Set it in a round casserole with high sides. Drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add enough water to the bottom of the casserole to measure about 1 inch up the sides.

Place the cauliflower in the oven and roast for 1 hour, loosely covering with foil after 40 minutes if the top is becoming too brown.

cauliflower choppedRemove and let cool, then coarsely chop.

Chop the onion and celery. Coat the bottom of a soup pot with olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add the onion and celery to the pot, along with some salt and pepper. Stir to coat the vegetables, then turn the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent.

Finely chop the garlic, sage and thyme. Add them to the soup pot, along with the chile if you’re using it, and saute for 1 minute.

Add the chopped cauliflower to the pot and stir to incorporate it with your other ingredients. Add the liquid, then cover the pot and bring the contents to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes, until the cauliflower and other vegetables are very tender.

Strain the solids into a bowl, reserving all of the cooking liquid. Remove the chile if you used one.

Cool slightly, then place half of the solid ingredients into a blender. Add 1 cup of reserved liquid. Pulse until the vegetables are pureed, then add an additional 1/2 cup of liquid and increase the blender’s speed to high. Process nonstop for 1 full minute. Place into a clean soup pot.

cauliflower soupRepeat with the remaining solid ingredients and the remaining reserved liquid. Add this pureed mixture to the first batch.

Reheat until the soup is boiling. Taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if you’d like. Spoon into bowls. (I served this with croutons for a bit of extra crunch.)

Serve hot.