I love soup. In the winter months there are few eating experiences that are as pleasant as a piping hot bowl of soup with a chunk of homemade bread. Fortunately for all, there are few eating experiences as easy to achieve. You can put almost anything into a soup and be sure that it will come out wonderfully. Vegetables, pulses, meats, and cheeses are all delicious simmered up in a broth and can be made as hearty or rich or brothy as you want by pureeing or adding cream or roux or chopping your ingredients large or small. In the soup world you are limited only by your imagination. Unfortunately though, it seems like when it comes to broccoli and cauliflower soups, people always stick to the old chestnut creamy, cheesy soup. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; that has been one of my favorite soups for as long as I’ve been alive. I just wanted to make a soup showcasing cauliflower without resorting to the standby. This spicy roasted cauliflower soup with French lentils is a perfect winter warmer.
I came up with this recipe on my own (no big feat, as you’ll see it is extremely simple) through the help of an amazing book that I got for Christmas: The Flavor Bible. Going out on a limb here, I’ll say that you’ve probably heard of this one before, and as if it needed repeating, I’ll say that it lives up to its sub-title of the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity. There’s no recipes in here, just a cross-referenced list of ingredients that complement each other. Say you decide you want to make something with cauliflower and lentils (see where I’m going with this??), you can look up both of those things and see what the numerous chefs interviewed by the authors think go well together. There are also a lot of sidebars where chefs will talk about specific ingredients and a really great introduction. Together with Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, I’d say this is the best reference book for home cooks.
Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Soup
1 medium to large or 2 small onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 head of cauliflower (about 4-5 cups) chopped
10 cups stock or water
1 cup French lentils
2 T. garam masala (I strongly encourage making your own with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, bay leaves, cumin, and coriander)
red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
Pre-heat your oven to 425.
Get out your cauliflower and chop it into bite-sized florets. Don’t throw away the stump! Chop that into bite-size pieces too, and while you’re at it, chop up the stuff for your mirepoix to whatever size will give you a soup with the chunkiness you prefer. Named after a town and its dukes in France, mirepoix is the combination of carrots, celery, and onions sauteed in fat to form the base of a sauce, soup, or stew.
Toss the cauliflower with some oil and and salt and pepper and then lay it out in one layer on a baking sheet. Throw the cauliflower into the oven and start roasting it. This part takes a little while, so this might be a good time to clean up a bit, or have a beer or something as this soup really doesn’t make much of a mess.
After your cauliflower has been roasting for twenty-five minutes or so and you can see that it is starting to brown up, you can get some oil going in a stockpot over medium heat and start sweating the aromatic vegetables with some salt and pepper. Smell your kitchen almost immediately fill with a wonderful soupy aroma. Add your garlic, garam masala, and crushed red pepper after five or so minutes and then add your stock and lentils once that starts to smell really good, maybe around two minutes. Bring the soup up to a boil and then reduce the heat until it is just simmering. Cover it up and let it simmer until the lentils are tender, probably 40 to 45 minutes.
When your cauliflower looks like this, turn off the oven and add it into the soup. At this point, check the seasonings and see if there is anything you want to add. I think I may have put in some oregano at this point or even some tomato paste. I’m not sure I remember. Continue to let this simmer until the lentils are done and then serve it up. I made some croutons out of some old bread we had and put some parmesean cheese on top because I love it like that. Also, there is something so cozy about eating soup out of an oversize mug, so if you’re so inclined and have the means, I recommend that sometime.
Makes probably 12 cups or so of soup, a whole bunch really, and it’s even better the next day.
Beer recommendation: I would like to have this with an Extra Special Bitter most likely, or even a malty bock if it’s getting toward springtime. If you’re ready to settle in for a long winter’s nap, a Russian Imperial Stout, like Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout or Old Rasputin would go nicely.
Music recommendation: I’m going to double up on this one and recommend both “Tried & True” by Wilco, which is a demo from the Summerteeth sessions that became the song Summer Teeth on that album, though I like this version better; and “World Sick” the brand new song by Broken Social Scene that was just released today. This kind of sprawling mostly instrumental song is right in the vein with most of BSS’s stuff, and I simply cannot wait for their new album, Forgiveness Rock Record, on May 4th.