Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spicy Cauliflower Soup

Can you believe 2007 is almost over?! It is a little shocking to know that the very last month of the year is only a couple of days away (especially because I still catch myself writing 2006 as the year...I know...I am a little slow on the uptake). It has been a very enjoyable year for me, in terms of cooking. This year, much more than past years, I have had a lot more time to indulge myself in reading cookbooks, trying new recipes, and learning some new techniques along the way. A few days ago, I received a review copy of a cookbook that promises to teach me much more about home cooking.

The book is called "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters. The tag-line of the book reads "Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution" and it is indeed a revolution that Alice Waters is credited with bringing about. A movement away from processed and canned (in more ways than one) food that was (is?) so heavily marketed in the country, and towards appreciating food for what it is really is- a joy, not a burden. To see an example of Waters' work, take a look at the Edible Schoolyard project in a school in Berkeley, California, where the school's curriculum revolves around working in the school garden; learning the sensory joys of cooking and gardening; tasting real food from an early age.

The back cover of the book lists nine fundamental guidelines that the book is based on. Simple statements like "Cook together", "Eat together" and "Remember food is precious" that seem so fundamental, but unfortunately, are not that basic in our lives any more. I read all those lines, and thought to myself: as a child growing up in middle class India, most of these principles were very much a part of our lives. It is good to be reminded of them from time to time.

What I really love about this book is that it does not teach you to cook ABC or XYZ so much as it simply teaches you to cook. Waters is a patient and methodical teacher, laying the foundation of cooking in the first part of the book and devoting the second half of the book to a bounty of recipes for every course of the meal. For instance, the section of cake elaborates on the principles underlying the conversion of flour, eggs, butter and sugar into an airy dessert, then gives a versatile cake recipe and suggestions for turning it into a layer cake, a sheet cake, cupcakes etc. Each recipe has ideas for variations, reinforcing the fact that once you know the technique and principles, you hardly even need a recipe to cook simple meals. Over a few years of regular cooking, I am learning principles of Indian cooking to some extent, but a cookbook such as this one is wonderful for learning some classic "Western" recipes. I often find myself flipping through voluminous cookbooks, gazing at lovely photographs but barely coming across even one recipe that I really want to try. This one does not have a single photograph of a prepared dish (some lovely ink illustrations are certainly found here) but I found a dozen recipes that I am very eager to try.

The first recipe I tried from this book is Spicy Cauliflower Soup. This is one versatile vegetable that seems to find its way into my shopping bag nearly every week. In this home, cauliflower seems to be cooked repetitively in a few favorite ways- some naughty, some nice, and then, the delicious but predictable roasted cauliflower. I have been meaning to try other avatars of this cruciferous beauty, and this soup jumped up as an unusual (for me) way of cooking it. Besides, I spotted it on the menu of Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe- it is very unlikely that I will be eating there any time soon, so here is my chance to taste a little bit of that place virtually.

This simple soup is jazzed up with familiar spices: the toasted coriander and cumin (I used a mortar and pestle to crack the spices) add a burst of flavor and texture. Turmeric adds a subtle tinge and warmth to the soup. The soup calls for any combination of broth and water. I never have vegetable broth on hand, and don't usually get around to making my own (don't use it often enough, basically). I used to just substitute water in recipes that called for stock, but have recently started using a stock base that I really like. It is a brand called "Better Than Bouillon" and they have several vegetarian bases. I must say the stock adds to the depth of flavor in this soup.

Spicy Cauliflower Soup

(adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, makes about 6 servings)
1 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed and florets coarsely chopped
1 onion, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, peeled and cubed
2 T olive oil
1 t cracked roasted coriander seeds
1 t cracked roasted cumin seeds
1/2 t turmeric
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 C chopped cilantro
3 cups stock (see note above)
2 cups water
juice of 1/2 lemon
1. In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil and add onion, carrot, coriander, cumin, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste.
2. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are very soft and the spices are toasted and fragrant.
3. Add the cilantro and cauliflower florets and stir for a minute more.
4. Add stock and water, bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, until the cauliflower is tender. This took me about 15 minutes or so.
5. Use a blender (I use a stick blender) to partially blend the soup to a puree. If you prefer a coarser stew, just mash the florets with a wooden spoon and skip the blender. Stir in the lemon juice.

I served the soup with a delicious parmesan-crusted khakra-esque flatbread cracker. A crunchy accompaniment like crackers or croutons would go beautifully with this soup. Alice Waters suggests a garnish of yogurt, chopped mint and lime juice for each serving. I had no yogurt or mint on hand when I made this soup, but won't be skipping these delightful garnishes the next time I make this. I'm glad to have found yet another flavorful way to serve a beloved vegetable!

A hearty soup like this one is the perfect antidote to long dark winter evenings.

For more tips on staying active and cheerful through this season, check out my November Daily Tiffin column: Brightening the Winter Blues.


  1. That bowl of soup is just what I want here nupur. I bought a huge head of cauliflower y'day planning to make Ashwini's Gobi Kheema. Will save half of it for this soup.

  2. Looks great Nupur & perfect for these cold, dark winters!!

  3. Lovely soup...and yes, some of those principles are so nearing extinction.

  4. Alice Waters - the name sounded so very familiar and ah! yes the Edible School Yard Project I either saw a TV program or read about it some place. A Simply wonderful idea.

    And the soup sounds delicious and to warm up the insides - perfect.

  5. I had never thought of cauliflower in a soup, but this tempts me to make a pot of some heartwarming soup to beat the dreary chilly winter nights. Thanks!

  6. I was waiting for this one since your Thanksgiving post! I looove Alice Water's recipes. Seasonal ingredients, minimum fuss and delicious. I will be trying this soon.. and that leaf is gorgeous :-)

  7. Better than bouillon is good stuff. Though I have issues finding it. Not all stores seem to carry it. TJ has only chicken base. I only prepare creamy soup with cauliflower (roux + milk). I love yr version, Nupur. Did you make those parmesan crackers at home? They look divine.

  8. The price on cauliflower was really great this week, but I passed it by because I didn't have anything in mind - now I do! The book sounds wonderful too.

  9. Hey Nupur, thanks for the awesome post.....Love the way you describe this book, especially when you say, "it simply teaches you to cook". Best foodie line of the year (and you had to say the first line, didn't you) :-D.

    Lovely soup, i have half a cauliflower left, so this will be perfect! The last picture is great!! Dunno' why, but it has an aura of famililarity.....the winter evening feeling maybe!


  10. This soup totally warms up the soul! I do hope you can eat at Chez Panisse soon..its a real treat!

  11. hi nuper....the soup looks lovely and just right for a cosy winter evening.... i've never had cauliflower soup, but this one i think i must try....

  12. This looks absolutely delectable Nupur and I've come to realize that adding veg. stock makes a world of difference to the soup. I love how this has a lot of spices as well..

  13. I keep searching for the recipe that will change my mind about cauliflower, the one veggie I've never warmed up to. Maybe this is that recipe....

  14. Hey Nupur, Love the way you described the book. and the soup looks so nice and comforting! Thanks for the recipe..:)

    ~ Siri

  15. I too have never heard nor thought of cauliflower in surely is a must try

  16. Slurp !! would love to have a bowl of the soup, looks warm and comforting. True 2007 has gone by very very quick in a blink of an eye so to say. Enjoy your winter !!

  17. I have a big cauliflower in the fridge and now i know what i can make from it, for everyone;s delight....:)

  18. Forgot to add.....
    The evening pic is very beautiful

  19. nupur..loved ur presentation and the soup dies look it is watery u can eat bowlfuls ;)...this may seem wierd..but i too keep thinking!! and oh my!!...2008 is near..maybe i will catch -up or old age memory loss has come in really really early ;)

  20. lovely spicy soup Nupur!!and your review as amazing as ever!!

  21. Priya, Half of the cauli will make a huge pot of soup! Let me know how you like it, if you do end up making it :) Ashwini's gobi kheema is on my list too.

    Seema, glad you like it :) Yes, this is perfect winter fare.

    Manasi, do try it and let me know how you like it :)

    Sunita, I think food bloggers, with the way they enjoy making and sharing food, are doing their bit to keep those simple principles alive :) Thanks for stopping by!

    Indosungod, yes, that project is something I admire so much! A world away from the average school.

    Namita, me neither...but cauliflower seems to be yummy in every way :) this soup is very enjoyable!

    Ashwini, I really discovered her recipes through this book, and yes, I love their simplicity and the care with which they are written.
    The leaf is my low-budget seasonal "decoration" (picked from the sidewalk!!)

    Suganya, I know, TJs only carries the one. I found the whole range, including all the vegetarian ones, at Whole Foods so you might check others markets where you live (or online for sure). The parmesan crackers are from TJs, actually, and they are addictive, so consider yourself warned!
    This version is waaaay lighter than the traditional creamy is refreshing.

    Cathy, yes, this will be a great way to use seasonal cauliflower. You actually will only need 1/2 of a large head for this makes plenty! And the book is definitely worth a look!

    Musical, thank you, my dear! I know you will enjoy the flavors of this soup...knowing your tastes! The last picture was taken right here in our neighborhood (I like those old-style street lamps a lot) and it has that aura of familiarity because of the sepia tone I put on it :D sepia is the color of memory and faded photographs, after all!

    Dhana, so I gather you have eaten at Chez Panisse?! How was it? Yes, I hope I do get there sometime. But I don't travel much, so it seems unlikely :D

    Arundati, yes, cauliflower soup is new to me too, but is definitely worth trying!

    Laavanya, yes, I have realized that too! This soup has just the right amount of warm spices...very tasty.

    Lydia, oh, really? I think I fell in love with cauliflower with my mom's cauliflower gratin (she calls it baked cauliflower)...this was such a treat, and I have loved this vegetable ever since.

    Siri, glad you like it :)

    Easycrafts, do try it, you might enjoy it!

    Sreelu, yes, 2007 certainly sped by...where did the time fly? I hope you enjoy winter too :)

    Bhags, if it is too big a cauliflower, use only half of it here, otherwise you will have enough for the whole neighborhood :D Glad you like the was taken right here on a street corner.

    Rajitha, yes, you can eat this in bowlfuls indeed, and it is light enough that it does not make you uncomfortable full :) LOL, my brain cells have started dying in large numbers already :D don't know if they will last me for a few more decades!

  22. I have not thought/taste cauliflower soup...that cup of soup tempts me to try it out:)

  23. That looks delicious Nupur! I used to do the same.. add water for stock. But then I learnt to make home broths and have to say it has changed the way soups taste :)

  24. I like cauliflower, but adventured to make soup out of it. Thanks for the recipe, will enjoy to try it, that too a spicy one, most certainly.

  25. Hi Nupur,
    Thank You for sharing the wonderful recipe(just in time for the cold weather)I read your column on Winter Blues.Thank you for sharing all the valuable info to get through winter months.


  26. This is the type of soup that makes me want to stay home, stay warm, and cook up a storm. I can smell those savory spices now! Thanks for the recipe, as I just love cauliflower.

  27. I have admired Alice Waters for many years, for being such a visionary and almost-singlehandedly pushing the cause of fresh, locally-grown produce. Thanks for letting us know about Better than Bouillon: I have the same problem as you with veggie stock, and avoid bouillon cubes because of all the chemicals they contain, so I will definitely be on the lookout for this product. Hopefully the Whole Foods here will stock it.
    The soup sounds delicious, and I loved the photograph of the street lamp.

  28. Spicy cauliflower soup looks very inviting with that lovely cracker across the cup, and the lovely autumn leaves :) Perfect on a chilly evening such as this! I like the wintry evening shot, too -- setting the mood for your soup!
    Will definitely give this a try :)

  29. Your review was perfect, gave a very nice peek into what the book has to offer
    And the last pic is simply beautiful

  30. Made the soup y'day and LOVED it! This one is gonna' be made again and again! The first gulp and i did a lil' dance :). You know me so well :-D. You got it right, dear: its those lamps!! And like you said, the nostalgia is brought even stronger with the Sepia tone. Ah, the lovely memeories!

  31. Yeah she's been championing the slow food movement for quite a while now.

  32. Hi Nupur,
    Cauliflower is one of our favorites too and this sure is an interesting and different way of making it. Perfect for chilly winters and healthy too :-)

  33. Hey Nupur,

    The ease and promise of this recipe had me scurrying home to make it last night. It was pretty good! Thanks for posting! I'm thinking of adding this book to my collection.

    I am also a ghaat transplant in the US and know exactly what you mean about flipping through "Western" cookbooks anticipating inspiration to try something and often not finding it. There is one cookbook though, that I was lucky enough to get my hands on pretty early on and it has always come through for me. It's Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This book has been such a steady source of delicious, informative and healthy recipes over the years. The margins of almost every recipe has ideas about what to serve with, or variations or substitutions. Many recipes are very simple and let the flavor of the main ingredient shine through. This is definitely my desert-island cookbook.

  34. Hi,
    Am a faithful follower of your blog and love reading your stories and your recipes. Had my eye on this soup since the moment you posted and finally made it today with only the addition of some extra chilli powder and a spoon of coriander powder. Really liked it a lot, wasn't outstanding (felt like something was missing to give it that touch of perfection, but couldn't quite put my finger on it, oh well)but very good in addition to being very simple and quick to make and wholesome. So a keeper and will definitely be made again with some experimenting. Thanks for sharing this recipe. And for doing what you do on your lovely blog.

  35. Thanks for the feedback, took me too long to respond to the comments here :(

    Julia, thank you for the sweet comment; it is so nice to hear from you! I hope you are able to tweak this soup and make it your own. You are right- "wholesome" is the best way to describe the taste. I appreciate your feedback!

  36. The book, and the soup, sound excellent.

  37. Hi Nupur,

    I tried this for the Tried and Tasted Event and it was lovely. Thank you once again for a lovely recipe.

  38. Nupur, I also tried this soup for the event and it was so good. It's definitely going to be a regular in our house. My husband loved it. Thank you very much.

  39. Nupur, I tried this soup yesterday for lunch - added one tiny potato too. It was very good. Thank you. :)

  40. I tried this recipe the other night! Delicious!

    I used 1/2 cauliflower, 1/2 broccoli, and added 1/2 cup of toasted quinoa. Also added 1 potato, sliced, to the pot when it was covered.

  41. Hi! I ran across this page on the web last night and thought this soup would be a wonderful way to use my cauliflower. Well, I made it last night and it was awesome! I added 3 cloves of garlic and 1/2 cup of soymilk and pureed well. Now that I look over the recipe again, I see that I completely forgot to add lemon juice at the end! It still turned out very well, and that just gives me a reason to try and make it again. Thanks for posting such a yummy soup recipe. We spent the whole day in the rain at a motorcycle race and this warm soup really hit the spot!

  42. Hi Nupur:

    Somehow had never thought of cauliflower as a soupable veggie.. the lovely florets made it almost a pity to puree. Seemed like they needed to be preserved as close to whole as possible like in a gobi "manchurian" or other fried/roasted/grilled/sauteed avatars. But I suppressed my reservations and made it exactly as directed. I must say I was quite wowed by it!! Superbly simple recipe.. Thanks for posting!

    Am a long long term lurker on your blog BTW and have followed your culinary interests and your life stories with interest. Best of luck to you and your family on your move to your new city and keep up the great work!

    1. Hi Janani! I'm so glad the recipe worked for you. I so agree with you that cauliflower florets are perfect just as they are. But once in a while cauliflower soups and purees do make it to my table and we love them.
      Thank you so much for the sweet wishes and for reading my blog.

  43. Comforting healthy soup.. Will try it soon..


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