Friday, March 28, 2014

Curried Broccoli-Cauliflower Soup with White Cheddar

I am heading out of town in a few days, and I wanted something to eat this week that would be readily available and somewhat detoxifying, as I know calorie-laden food will probably abound while I’m on vacation.  I settled on broccoli soup, akin to the one in this post, but as I contemplated my plan of attack, the recipe evolved throughout the day, into a new and blog-worthy form.  Initially, it was supposed to be the vision of simplicity: broccoli, onion, and potato, simmered in chicken broth, then pureed and finished with a little white cheddar, but this beast had a mind of its own.  First, I thought that cauliflower would be a welcome addition.  Then, while skimming through Google searches for recipes, the word “curry” seemed to leap off my computer screen, and land squarely in my mouth.  My dinner’s direction and suddenly become very clear.

The truth is: the smell of curry powder destroys me: mystifying, intoxicating, delightful.  This reaction may seem extreme, but perhaps you have never experienced the aroma that ensues when curry powder hits a hot pan.  Or maybe you weren’t paying attention.  It is one of those instances when the whole exceeds the sum of its parts.  I love foods that fall under this category, as it is truly the magic of cooking; a great pot of soup and other slow cooked dishes tend to spring to mind, as I ponder this notion.  What could be more fitting that a curried soup?  My most recent jar of curry powder (curry powder must be fresh) had a detailed list of ingredients, relative to the other available brands of curry, whose ingredient lists’ consisted vaguely of “turmeric and other spices.”  The jar I purchased included fenugreek, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, amongst other things.  I was pleased to have access to the list, and tried to engage in a little sniff test to see what I could identify; yet, all I could do was deeply inhale and smell the whole earthy combination.  I nearly chocked a couple of times, but it was worth it.

The recipe that resulted from all this excessive thought is a winner for more reasons than one.  First of all, I started the right way: with butter.  This soup is essentially a big bowl of pureed vegetables, and I felt that it needed the rich boost in its base that only butter can provide.  Well, that and bacon fat, but that’s sort of crossing a line when it comes to being considered “vegetarian.”  Regardless of semantics, butter provided a richness in both texture and flavor that was the right fit.  Onion and garlic were then sautéed in the frothy butter foam, until tender; curry powder, nutmeg, and a little cayenne were then lightly toasted in the buttery onions.  Next came the cauliflower and small-diced potato, with just enough broth to cover.  The potato is only there for body, so dice it fine, allowing it to disappear into the soup.  Additionally, it’s crucial to not use excess broth because that will make this pureed veggie soup seem unsatisfying.  After a few minutes, I threw in the broccoli and a touch more broth, and allowed everything to become soft and unctuous.  I whirred the veggie concoction together with my favorite toy, my immersion blender, until it was smooth, with a few stray pieces of curry-stained cauliflower.  A bay leaf would have been a nice touch, but I was too twitterpated by the aroma of the curry powder, and it just slipped my mind. 

I finished the soup with cheese: a sturdy, sharp white cheddar.  Cheese may seem a little off-putting in conjunction with curry; however, the soup needed some sort of salty, creamy, savory element to round out the flavors, soften the edges, and bring them together.  Cream certainly would have been the more obvious choice, and could easily by substituted with about a quarter to a half-cup, but cheese is a clear favorite in my book.  I also think the sharpness of the cheddar adds depth, and a little “je ne said quoi.”  On night two, I actually bedazzeled my soup bowl with a lightly fried egg with a runny yolk.  Delicious.

Curried Cauliflower and Broccoli Soup with White Cheddar

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
4 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or lemon juice
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar
Toasted pine nuts for garnish (optional)

-       In a large soup pot, preheat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat
-       Once butter has melted, add onion, and season with salt and pepper.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened, about 8 minutes
-       Add garlic, curry, cayenne, and nutmeg.  Sauté for about 1 minute
-       Add cauliflower, potato, and enough chicken stock to just cover the vegetables.
-       Bring to a boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. 
-       Then add broccoli, and simmer until all vegetables are very tender.
-       Puree with am immersion blender until smooth, with a few stray chunks of cauliflower.

-       In the soup bowl, serve soup with a couple of tablespoons shredded white cheddar, stirred in so that it melts.  Garnish with additional cheese, toasted pine nuts, and/or a poached or over easy egg.

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