A Soup Tutorial
Over the years, I’ve developed a real knack (says I) for coming up with new soups. The formula I follow, if you can call it that, goes something like this.
- Determine the main ingredient, which is usually a vegetable for me, but sometimes there’s meat too, like in my portobello mushroom and sausage soup or my Brussels sprouts and pancetta soup.
- Then I think about the flavour profile I’m looking for: Mediterranean? Middle Eastern? Indian? Southwestern? Asian? Or, who knows?
- Although I’ve talked a lot lately about vegan food, I’m not vegan or vegetarian. If I want to make a vegan or vegetarian soup, that influences the stock and type of milk, if any. Unless I’m using some kind of meat in the soup, I generally use vegetable stock these days, but sometimes I want the flavour of chicken stock. And at times I’ll add milk (you know, the kind that comes from cows). I rarely have it in the house anymore, so I might use almond or other non-dairy milk instead. I’ve learned the hard way that the flavour and sweetness of some store-bought non-dairy milks can be off-putting in a soup, so taste it first to determine if it will affect the outcome.
- Texture is an important consideration in making a soup. For a chunky style soup, will the style be rustic (think roughly chopped pieces) or more elegant with finely chopped vegetables? A lot of the time, I create so-called ‘cream’ soups simply through the act of pureeing them using my ever-so-handy immersion blender. And don’t forget the hybrid texture: cream most of the soup, but leave some chunky bits.
- Some soups benefit from a finish of something tangy, like white wine or a vinegar, to lift and brighten the flavour. I make that determination in the final tasting, as these ingredients are added near the end of cooking.
- And finally, as an optional consideration, there’s the weighty matter of whether to garnish or not. That could be as simple as a drizzle of excellent olive oil or a scattering of chopped herbs, or more elaborate, like a dollop of pesto.
Golden Cauliflower Soup
So, by way of that tutorial, let me tell you about this soup. A while ago I had a nice big head of cauliflower that I wanted to transform into a soup, but not this one, or this one. Not this one either. (Hmm, there’s been more cauliflower soup making going on around here than I realized.) I was going for a vegetarian dish with a mild Indian flavour profile. I make my own curries from scratch these days, which just means using individual spices, whole or ground, instead of pre-made curry powder. Oh yeah, I like to be in control of flavouring, thank you very much. If you’re of the opposite approach, no problem; just use two to three teaspoons of your favourite curry powder in place of the turmeric, yellow mustard seeds and cumin in my recipe.
Three Garnish Options
Not being a particularly fancy person, I usually don’t garnish my soups. But you know, that’s something I would do for company, so why shouldn’t I treat myself to the same frou-frou touches from time to time? I played around with three approaches to garnishing this soup.
- The first was to coarsely chop and roast of a few florets of cauliflower until nicely browned, with some olive oil and a sprinkling of cumin, salt and pepper and use as a sprinkling on top.
- The second was to use some of these roasted curried chickpeas, which I happened to make the same day as this soup. (Do you remember those? They got a lot of attention on my various social media platforms.) I also combined the roasted florets and chickpeas as a garnish.
- And finally, I made a quick kale pesto one day in my mini food processor (before I burned out the motor, but that’s another story). I don’t have an actual recipe for you, but I used one or two kale leaves, coarsely chopped (stem removed), half a clove of garlic, some walnuts, salt, pepper and olive oil, and processed it all into a thick paste. It packed a punch of flavour, looked lovely dolloped onto the soup, and added striking flecks of green once stirred in. Of the three garnishes, it’s the one I’d be most likely to make for company because of its visual appeal. And, yes, also the flavour. It’s not all about looks, people!
A note about the photography: you might notice that the soup seems to be different colours in different photographs. It was all the same soup, but the photos were taken at different times, in a variety of lights. Plus, I was having some issues with the settings on my camera. The soup was actually a golden colour, even though it looks green in some pictures. Clearly, I have lots more to learn about photography.
Golden Cauliflower Soup
This soup is quick to make, and satisfying to eat. If you’re planning to garnish it with roasted, spiced cauliflower bits, set aside a few florets for that purpose.
- 1 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 red chili pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turmeric, mustard seeds and cumin, and stir until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the onion, garlic and red chili pepper to the pot and stir in. Heat for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Then tumble in the cauliflower pieces and add the stock, pepper and salt. Stir well. Turn the heat to high, cover the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Turn the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender. Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup until as close to completely smooth as you can get. (I find there’s usually one or two chunky surprises, despite my best efforts, but I don’t see that as a problem. Hey, if that’s the worst thing that happens, it’s a good day, right?) Taste and adjust the salt and pepper to suit your preferences.
To serve, consider garnishing the soup as per the discussion above, or in any other inventive way. Let me know what you come up with!