Vegantine’s Day: Spice Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Fried Capers
The second course in this year’s romantic Vegantine’s Day menu had to be a soup. I’m a salad girl through and through (have you ever physically yearned for lettuce? Because I have, and I feel no shame about that), but there’s just something innately sexy and homespun about a soup. To make a special appetizer salad that is texturally balanced, seductive and intriguing can be a bit of a challenge, but somehow soup just always seems like a win.
When you make a soup, it is always perceived as being more effort than a salad, regardless of whether it’s an elaborate three day bouillabaisse or simply a warm puree of San Marzano tomatoes with a sprinkle of fresh herbs. I might grumble sometimes at the thought of making soup because the leftovers are less “lunch worthy” to Mike, which means that they often get pushed to the back of the fridge until several days later, but truth be told I adore making soup. Gently stirring a simmering pot invariably feels seductive to me in a domestic goddess kind of way, and I dare say that the act of making soup is, at least to me, less homey than lascivious.
To make a tempting soup is easy enough as long as you remember the three basic principles of enticing food:
1. You eat with your eyes, so make it pretty.
2. Texture matters. A silky texture feels more provocative than a chunky stew, and if you can add other elements for a bit of crunch or interest that’s all the better.
3. If it smells delicious, it usually is.
This soup begins with cauliflower, roasted to a state of caramelized sweetness with some heady South East Asian spices like garam masala and coriander. To a base of purchased stock (hey, there is roasting, straining and swirling going on and this is only one of the 4 courses. Must I really make my own vegetable stock as well?) we’ll add a potato for thickener, and deepen the flavor with some spicy ginger and garlic. The creaminess of the soup comes from preparation (boil, puree, strain) as well as a generous splash of non-dairy milk. Top with a honeyed herb oil and a sprinkle of crunchy fried capers (love!) and a captivating and exotically romantic vegan soup is yours.
Spice Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Fried Capers
Serves 4 as a light meal with salad and bread, or 6 as an appetizer portion
- 1 medium cauliflower (1 lb/450 g)
- 4.5 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1.5 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 large white potato (1/2 lb, 225 g)
- 1″ knob ginger
- 3 tbsp capers
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1.5 cups unsweetened soy milk *
- salt and pepper, to taste
Honey Cilantro Oil
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1″ knob ginger
- 1 tbsp honey OR agave nectar **
- small bunch cilantro (1 cup packed)
* If this is vegetarian rather than vegan you can use regular milk or even a splash of light cream with some water. However, if you are a vegan and soy milk isn’t your thing, you can substitute rice milk or even almond milk for a richer flavor.
** I don’t get the whole “honey isn’t vegan” thing, but I do respect that. If you’re making this for your sexy vegan lover, use agave nectar instead.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
Chop the cauliflower into florets. When it comes to the stem, there’s no need to waste. Peel any bits that look really woody but cut the rest into chunks about half the size of your florets. Toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garam masala and ground coriander. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread the cauliflower evenly onto a baking sheet and roast it in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is caramelized in spots and quite tender.
Peel the garlic but leave the cloves whole after slicing off the woody base of the cloves. Peel and mince the ginger. Peel the potato and cube it. You want to do this now so that as soon as your capers are fried you’re ready to use the same oil (on a much lower heat) to start the soup base. As a time saver, I chopped up all the ginger at once and put half of it aside to use for the cilantro oil.
Pat the capers as dry as possible. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in your soup pot, set over medium high heat, until it is shimmering and barely starting to smoke. Add the capers to the oil and fry them, turning with a spatula, until they are puffed, dry and slightly browned.
Remove the capers from the pot with a slotted spoon and spread them on paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Leave the frying oil in the pot but reduce heat to medium low.
Three tablespoons of fried capers is far more than you’ll need for garnish, since a scant sprinkle will add enough briny salt and crouton-ish crunch to each bowl of soup. However, I challenge you to take a “quality control” nibble on one of those crispy, nutty, salty browned capers and see how many are left by the time you’re ladling up the soup. I average roughly 50%, but that’s just me.
Add the garlic and ginger to the pot and saute gently for 3-5 minutes until the garlic is golden but not browned.
Add the potatoes and roasted cauliflower. Pour the vegetable stock into the pot and cover it. Let this simmer for 40 minutes to combine the flavors.
Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender and handling the hot liquid with care and attention), puree the mixture until it is evenly smooth and lump free. If you’re using a free standing blender you may want to do this in batches.
For a silky soup, pour the puree slowly through a fine mesh strainer. Use a wooden spoon to stir inside the strainer and press out all the liquid. Discard any solids that remain in your strainer and return the soup to medium low heat.
Stir in the soy milk and let the soup heat through. Adjust the salt and pepper as you see fit. You can make the soup up to 2 days in advance and keep it in the fridge in a tightly sealed container, or freeze it to reheat as you see fit.
The cilantro oil is easy enough to make and will keep for up to 2 weeks in a tightly sealed container, although the flavor does get milder over time. Mince the ginger and add it to the oil in a small pot set over medium heat. When the oil starts to bubble around the ginger, let it go for 1 minute (remove from heat immediately if the ginger starts to brown).
Coarsely chop the cilantro, stems and all, and pour the hot oil on top. Toss the herbs to make sure they are well coated. Let this sit for 30 minutes.
Puree the honey, cilantro and oil in a blender or small food processor.
Pour the mixture through a small mesh sieve or strainer, stirring and pressing down with your spoon to get all the oil away from those pesky solids. Discard any solids that remain.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Give the cilantro oil a quick whisk before drizzling on a splash of the cilantro oil and sprinkling with a garnish of fried capers.
If you’re feeling particularly aesthetic, make the drizzle pretty by dribbling it on in a round swirl shape and then using a toothpick (or bamboo skewer) to gently brush the oil out from the core into wispy little curlicues. You don’t need to, of course, but this is a special Vegantine’s menu and your sweetheart had better take note and appreciate all the work you’re putting in. Somehow a pretty swirl just makes things seem like more of an effort, which means that you’ll reap more of the praise.
I could go for some fried capers right now, as a matter of fact. The soup is warmly spiced and luscious in texture, the honeyed cilantro swirl just sweetens things up enough to be particularly libidinous, but crispy and salty fried capers…oh, my soul for a handful of fried capers.
Next stop on our Vegantine’s menu: vegan crepes stuffed with eggplant and beet greens with a pomegranate glazed beet salad with parsley and toasted walnuts.