What do you do with three-quarters of a cauliflower? That’s what I had left over from the Winter Tabbouleh I made on Friday evening. It’s actually quite a lot of cauliflower for a girl to use up on her own. I considered making the wonderful Cavolfiore Affogato – Drowned Cauliflower – again, as the addition of pine kernels and raisins in this Neopolitan recipe, which ‘drowns’ the vegetable in olive oil, is rich and delicious. But then I remembered the fabulous cauliflower and cumin soup my daughter made for me on Mother’s Day when I visited her in Birmingham and, with the cold easterly wind still blowing outside, something warm and spicy seemed an excellent way to go. So out came my favourite Moro East and I got cooking.
I had to do a bit of work today (I’d agreed to do a rush proofreading job over the holiday – a cookbook!) and I imagined that making a cauliflower soup for lunch would be a quick and simple affair (thinking of my usual soup making). But as it turned out, although the recipe has only a few ingredients, the preparation takes time and care and it’s not a case of putting it all together and disappearing for 40 minutes or so, but standing close and doing quite a bit of stirring or it would all catch and spoil. The Sams’ recipe uses 1 very large or 2 medium cauliflowers; I reckoned my three-quarters was from a medium one, so I had to adjust the ingredients a bit, doing roughly half. The first thing to do was caramelise some butter with chilli powder, which involves very gently melting 30g butter in a saucepan and letting it separate out and continue cooking until all the white bits at the bottom turn golden brown (but watch carefully so they don’t burn).
Then you remove from the heat and add about 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder. Set aside till ready to serve. Now make the soup. Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan and add 1 tablespoon of pine nuts. Stir a bit until they become golden brown all over and then remove with a slotted spoon to a small dish.
Add 30g butter to the oil left in the pan and when it’s bubbling, add 1 medium onion finely chopped. Fry for about 20 minutes over a low heat until golden brown but not burnt. While the onion is cooking, dry roast 1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds in a small frying pan then grind them in a mortar and pestle. The smell is gorgeous; one of my favourite spices. Add them to the golden and translucent onions with 1 chopped clove of garlic, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and cook for another 5 minutes.
Now stir in the cauliflower. First you will need to remove any leaves, cut out the core and then roughly chop. Mix well with the onion and spices, add salt and pepper, then put on the lid and then leave to cook on a very low heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring quite frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan or burn.
Then take off the lid and mash with a potato masher and cook for a little more. (I didn’t do these two steps for as long as the Sams as I had much less cauliflower and it was starting to look well done). Now add 200ml vegetable stock or water, 100ml milk and 135ml coconut milk (I had a small tin of coconut cream so I just added some and guessed!). Stir and bring to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft.
Blend with a hand blender until smooth (I needed some extra hot water here to get a good consistency). Check final seasoning. Serve in a bowl and drizzle over some of the reheated chilli butter and sprinkle some of the toasted pine nuts on top.
I had some of Ruben’s Bakehouse lovely sourdough bread with it. I remember being really impressed by this soup when my daughter Nicola cooked it and really, again, it’s just the most wonderful dish. It made me realise that putting in a bit more time and effort sometimes really does pay off because the soup has a depth that comes from all that careful browning of the spices and cauliflower. It’s velvety smooth and really delicious. The Sams’ recipe – before I halved it – was for 4 and I had two nice portions – so there’s one left for tomorrow’s lunch!!