Transform a popular autumn veggie into an elegant first course for Thanksgiving
Cauliflower is the new Brussels sprout. Or maybe it's the new kale. Whatever the latest vegetable trends may be where you happen to live, it's a fairly safe bet that you're beginning to see more of this ivory-hued member of the Brassica family -- which also includes cabbages and broccoli -- among the first-course and side-dish offerings on top restaurant menus.
With its pale color and relatively mild flavor that combines pleasing hints of nuttiness, sweetness and bitterness, cauliflower really is a sort of blank canvas that invites creativity. I've seen it separated into florets and either caramelized or battered and deep-fried; roasted whole or sliced into steaks and grilled; separated into florets that were tossed with cheese sauce for a cauliflower gratin, or riced and pan-fried to make cauliflower hash browns; or pureed for a light and delicate alternative to mashed potatoes.
So, as you make your menu plans for Thanksgiving, I hope you'll find a way to include cauliflower on your family table. To help inspire you, I'd like to share one of my favorite recipes for creamy cauliflower soup as a first course option.
Keeping cauliflower's gentle flavor in mind, I begin making the soup with a classic aromatic base of yellow onion and garlic, which I saute for several minutes to reduce their harshness when raw and develop their natural sweetness. I then add the sliced-up raw cauliflower and patiently cook it over very low heat, covered; it's an hour-long process that enhances the vegetable's flavor and turns it absolutely tender.
Then, into the pot goes chicken stock (you can substitute vegetable stock if you want a vegetarian version) along with a little heavy cream (substitute your favorite unsweetened nut milk for a vegan version), chopped tomato, a little cumin, a hint of sugar and some fresh herbs, all of which help develop an extra subtle dimension of flavor as the ingredients simmer together.
Though the entire cooking process will take you about an hour and a half from start to finish, much of that is devoted to sauteing and simmering that call for minimal involvement by you, so you'll be free to work on other elements of the meal. Or you could even make the soup a day ahead, let it cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate it in a covered container overnight. Before serving time, gently reheat the soup, thinning it if necessary with a little extra stock.
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I hope this recipe solves another key piece of your Thanksgiving menu puzzle. Maybe your guests will even remark on how innovative and exciting your first-course is!
CREAMY CAULIFLOWER SOUP
Makes about 3 quarts (3 l), 8 to 12 servings
2 large heads cauliflower, about 5 pounds (2.5 kg) total weight, trimmed and rinsed