Roasting the cauliflower mellows its flavor in this hearty, creamy [but dairy-free] Roasted Cauliflower and Dill Soup. Substitute vegetable broth for the chicken stock and you’ve got a satisfying vegan meal. Recipe below.
A quick note: I’ve totally dropped the ball in terms of providing any ideas for Thanksgiving this year. But at the end of the post, I’ll provide a few links for some interesting sides.
As proof that you just never know where inspiration will strike, this soup started out as a tuna sandwich. On a recent Sunday, that’s what sounded good for lunch. But Marion and I wanted our sandwiches on better bread than we had at home, so we walked up to Kurowski Sausage Shop, a Polish deli/grocery/bakery in our neighborhood. By the time we had walked the five or so blocks in the brisk November air, though, some soup was sounding pretty good—and Kurowski serves up delicious homemade soups fresh and cheap in their refrigerator case.
After flirting with bigos and borscht and some other Eastern European delights, we settled on a hearty cauliflower soup flecked with fresh dill. Being no fools, we got two containers—a whopping $1.29 each. Back home, the tuna sandwiches became half-sandwiches, bit players to the soup’s star performance. And as I leaned over my steaming bowl with big chunks of cauliflower and carrots, I knew I would be attempting my own version soon.
Big flavor and healthy goodness
Okay, let’s get this over with. Yes, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, a member of the cabbage family, like broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts. For some people, the flavor is just a little too big. If you’re one of those people, I’d hazard a guess that you formed that opinion when you were a kid and were served cauliflower [or broccoli] cooked to death and not given a fighting chance to woo your young taste buds. Maybe it’s time to revisit it. I only recently discovered that I now like beets, for instance.
Whatever cauliflower camp you’re in, roasting it mellows the flavor beautifully, giving it something of a root vegetable or squash quality. The carrots, roasted along with the cauliflower, become sweeter, and the whole soup tastes of autumn.
Good taste aside, cauliflower is just plain good for you. According to How Stuff Works, “After citrus fruits, cauliflower is your next best natural source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that appears to help combat cancer. It’s also an important warrior in the continuous battle our bodies wage against infection.” Cauliflower is rich in fiber, folic acid and potassium too. And studies have shown it to be a natural cancer fighter. Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, a substance that may affect the metabolism of estrogen in the body, helping to prevent breast and ovarian cancer. It may also be associated with a reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer. Want more? Cauliflower is a blood and liver detoxifier. It actually triggers the liver to produce enzymes that can remove cancer-causing chemicals. And it can stop the spread of cancer cells, even in the later stages of their growth.
Deconstructing, reconstructing a soup. The soup we got at Kurowski had some nice things going for it—the aforementioned big chunks of vegetables, for one thing. And the fresh dill, a light, refreshing note. By contrast, most recipes I found called for puréeing the soup; for me, this demotes a robust bowl of soup from potential main course to first course—not enough to hold my interest for a whole meal. And they used thyme instead of dill. Nice, but not as lively as what I wanted here. They also called for heavy cream or at least half and half, every last one of them. Sometimes I like that in a soup, but I wanted creaminess without cream this time [I achieved this by puréeing part of the soup—you'll find details in the recipe]. Pretty early on, I decided to roast at least the cauliflower, a step the original soup was lacking—I knew this would add a satisfying depth. And it did.
Roasted Cauliflower and Dill Soup
4 main course servings [if served with plenty of crusty bread]
Florets of 1 head of cauliflower, about 6 cups
3 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped [see Kitchen Notes]
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth [see Kitchen Notes]
2 cups water
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Using a knife and your hands, break cauliflower head into bite-sized florets and place in large bowl. Peel and slice carrots and add to bowl. Drizzle vegetables with olive oil and toss to coat. Spread into a single layer in a large roasting pan [or onto a large baking sheet with a rim] and season with pepper. DON’T add salt at this point; your broth will probably add plenty. Roast vegetables in the middle of the oven until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, for about 25 to 35 minutes [mine took the full 35]. Remove from oven and transfer back to the bowl you used earlier. The soup can be made a day ahead up to this point; cool vegetables slightly, then cover and refrigerate.
If you’re making it right away, peel and chop onion and garlic while the cauliflower mixture roasts. When it’s ready, heat a large, heavy pot or dutch oven over a medium flame. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté onion until softened and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add cauliflower mixture to pot, along with broth and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low to let soup simmer 20 minutes or so.
Toward the end of this time, carefully ladle out 3 cups of cauliflower and broth and purée it in a food processor or blender. Avoid puréeing carrots with the cauliflower and broth. I do this partly to maintain the soup’s pale, creamy color and partly because you want the sweetness of the carrots to be isolated bites as you eat the soup, and not to add an overall sweet flavor to it.
Return the purée to the soup pot and stir to blend. Remove from heat, stir in the fresh dill and adjust seasoning with salt. Serve.
Garlic—do as I say, not as I do. Every recipe that included garlic and roasting said to roast it along with the cauliflower. I had my doubts, but did so anyway. As I feared, the small bits of garlic roasted faster than the chunky vegetables, and some of them burned. The simplest approach, I think, is to sauté the garlic with the onion, as I have written here. If you really want to roast it, try adding it in the last 10 minutes of the roasting time.
Getting the broth right. Honestly, my first choice would be some of Marion’s homemade chicken stock. But store bought broth is getting better. I used Trader Joe’s Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, good and inexpensive. If you want to make this with vegetable broth, one kind I can recommend is Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base, by Superior Touch.
A little something on the side for Thanksgiving. First I’m assuming you’re either doing turkey or not doing turkey and already have that covered. If you need more information on preparing the iconic Thanksgiving bird, there are far better informed sources than me on the topic a phone call or Google search away. So here are a couple of traditional sides we do here. Marion has written about them in years past:
Kasha, a wonderfully nutty grain that just loves gravy.
Sweet Potato Vichyssoise, a beautiful, elegant, cool surprise for a first course.
And last but by no means least, Susan over at Food Blogga has taken it upon herself to post a boatload of interesting Thanksgiving sides this year. You’re sure to find something wonderful there.