SOMEHOW unassuming cauliflower has become a celebrity vegetable. Darling of the ketogenic diet, applauded for its versatility, it’s called on as a substitute for everything from rice to chicken wings. I’m not here to push cauliflower pizza crust as a replacement for the real thing, but I’m as susceptible as anyone to the charms of the ubiquitous brassica.
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Cauliflower is a chameleon ingredient, readily absorbing other flavors. And because of its high water content (around 90%), it lends itself especially well to blending in a soup. In the recipe at right, kombu adds salinity and depth, providing the backbone for a vegan stock. Bolstered by crunchy, savory croutons, showered in Vitamin B-rich nutritional yeast and fresh herbs, it’s nourishing yet light. For added heat, I love drizzling on some Chinese chile crisp. A dollop of crème fraîche or a non-dairy substitute also plays nicely here.
This soup is a staple in my home, subject to endless riffing. I’ve swapped in steamed clams for the croutons, which makes sense since the blended cauliflower has a chowderlike texture. In the winter, I’ve added sauerkraut to the soup ahead of blending for a hint of tang. But I never leave out the turmeric, which imparts a comforting, earthy note as well as a vivid golden hue. Like cauliflower itself, that color seems to go with just about everything.
- 7 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 cloves garlic, sliced, plus 1 clove, grated
- ¼ teaspoon chile flakes
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
- 8 cups water
- 1 (4-inch) square kombu
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon ponzu
- 6 slices country bread, torn in bite-size pieces
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
- Mint or cilantro sprigs
- Chile crisp (optional)
- In a large pot, heat 4 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt, and sauté until translucent, 4 minutes. Add sliced garlic, chile flakes and turmeric, and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Add cauliflower, water and kombu. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is fork-tender, 5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and ponzu. Discard kombu.
- Working in two batches, carefully ladle soup into a blender and purée until smooth. Return soup to pot. Season with salt and pepper.
- Make the croutons: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a baking sheet, combine bread, remaining oil, grated garlic and nutritional yeast. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle on chile crisp, if you like. Top with croutons and fresh herbs.
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