Okay. I can't even tell you how excited I am to share this recipe with you. Here are the top five reasons why:
1. This soup is all kinds of expectedly and unexpectedly good. More on the unexpected later (see paragraphs 4 and 5).
2. My friend Lisa in the OC emailed me and a bunch of our other kitchen-and-food-loving friends across the nation a link to the recipe on which my recipe is based, found on Alicia Silverstone's vegan-lifestyle blog. (It's an interesting blog - way existential - I used to reference it a lot when I briefly, without much personal conviction, tried to be vegan - and also, hello, I am of the Clueless generation, so a little Alicia Silverstone in my adult life every so often is sort of sweet and nostalgic. Now if you'll excuse me while I go break in my purple clogs.) Lisa, with incredible foresight, rightly thought the recipe sounded wonderful, encouraged one or all of us to try it and report back, and I jumped on the challenge because I had a lot of cauliflower in my refrigerator begging to be used in something that wasn't baby food. (My husband and I are not huge fans of cauliflower, particularly because our oven doesn't work a lot of the time so we haven't had a chance to try any of the roasted cauliflower recipes out there insisting that cauliflower can be delicate, rich, and sweet all at once. As if.) Anyway, Lisa - thank you!
3. This post allows me the opportunity to rave about my VitaMix. You should all get one! I know it's expensive, but it's AMAZING. And quite handy, especially when you have to use it three times to make one soup.
4. I get to boast here about a v. successful nut substitution. You see, one thing that deters me from the vegan diet, along with bacon, is that vegans eat a lot of nuts, and I'm allergic to them. I can do seeds, however, and legumes (e.g. peanuts) for now, so I substitute sunflower seeds, pepitas, and sesame seeds where I can. The original recipe for this soup, however, called for making "cashew cream" - a puree of cashews + vegetable broth - and I just wasn't sure if a seed cream would provide comparable consistency and flavor. And, to be fair, I guess I don't know if the seed cream I made is as good as the cashew cream would have been, since a taste test would be the death of me. I simply know that, while "sunflower and pepita cream" doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nicely as "cashew cream," it definitely gave the soup a creamy texture, a significant nutritional boost (hi, protein!), and, when added to the soup along with lemon juice, a really unique, unexpectedly buttermilk-like flavor and aroma. You realize how amazing this is, right? The soup is vegan. But it tasted like buttermilk. I want to make sunflower and pepita cream all the time now. It was delicious.
5. When I served this to my husband and friend last night for dinner, the general consensus was that you couldn't even taste the cauliflower. Now that might not be a selling point for all of you, but I bet it is for at least some. I mean seriously. It's cauliflower. (Which reminds me - I'm convinced that two pounds of potatoes or other mild-flavored root vegetables or winter squash could be substituted for cauliflower with great success.)
So. Other than my variation on the cashew cream, I made a few additional modifications based on what I had in my kitchen and some personal cooking preferences, based on experience, such as:
I didn't have Herbes de Provence, so I used a Penzey's blend called Bouquet Garni, with a little ground fennel seed, which is evidently an important ingredient in Herbes de Provence.
I doubled the amount of lemon juice called for and added it in after the soup was pureed, along with the sunflower seed and pepita cream. I never add lemon juice while a soup is cooking because I think that dulls the bright flavor that citrus brings to a warm food.
I used whole wheat breadcrumbs from a loaf my husband baked last weekend. Combined with buttery Earth Balance margarine (which I doubled), the breadcrumbs were great, but they required the use of more senses to test for doneness than white breadcrumbs would have, because they were already brown, so I couldn't exactly rely on "browning" to know they were done. I just waited for them to smell toasty. That worked fine.
I guess that's all the preface I've got for you today, other than: SERIOUSLY, THIS SOUP IS REMARKABLE. And also, it feels v. nourishing in your belly. Especially after a weekend of over-consuming beer, pizza, and cookies. (Not my weekend, but my husband's. I did eat a whole lot of chocolate zucchini cake though.)
Dreamy Creamy Cauliflower Bisque
Yield: about 6-8 servings
For the soup
1 large white cauliflower, coarsely chopped (2 lbs)
5 cups vegetable broth, divided
2 cups water
2 1-inch pieces of lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, diced
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence (or 1 teaspoon any old dried herb mix + 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed)
1 cup raw seeds (I used 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds + 3/4 cup raw pepitas)
For the breadcrumbs
1 slice whole wheat bread, processed in blender or food processor to make coarse crumbs
2 tablespoons non-dairy margarine
Place cauliflower in a large soup pot with 4 cups of the vegetable broth and 2 cups of water. Add the lemon zest and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes, at which time the cauliflower should be quite soft.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the carrots, celery and onion, along with half a teaspoon salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and dried herbs/spices, and sauté for 2 minutes more.
Add the sautéed vegetables to the cauliflower, and stir gently. If the cauliflower is quite tender, keep the burner on low. If not, you can turn the heat off and let the soup-in-progress cool a bit.
In a blender or food processor (if using the latter, be careful of spilling - have a cloth handy), mix your raw seeds and the remaining one cup of vegetable broth until it becomes a thick, smooth puree.
Melt 2 tablespoons of margarine in a skillet and add the breadcrumbs. Stir over medium-high heat until toasted - about 2-3 minutes.
Now that the cauliflower, vegetables and broth have cooled a bit, using an immersion blender or regular blender, puree the soup, in batches if necessary, until silky smooth. If using a blender, return the pureed soup to your large soup pot.
Gently pour the seed puree along with 1/4 cup of lemon juice into the soup. Taste and add salt and pepper or more lemon juice as you see fit.
Sprinkle a heaping spoonful of warm buttered breadcrumbs over each serving of soup at the last minute and garnish each bowl of soup with a pinch of sweet paprika, chopped parsley, or freshly grated nutmeg.
Do you think Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd ever get together for fair trade coffee and reminisce about the good old nineties?