Cauliflowah Cumin Chowdah

My confession: You know. You “experiment” in college. I used to be ashamed of it, but I can say it now:

I love puréed soups!

French cuisine’s powerful, simple heart of darkness. Beguilingly simple, flavorful, healthy… soup.

Club Med La Caravelle, Guadeloupe

My friend, who was a medical student at Columbia, talked me into taking an adventure:  A student Spring Break deal at the Club Med on the island of Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean. College girls, fabulous beaches, tiki bars, college girls, and, as I found out when we got there, puréed soups.

Each night started with a different  potage (soup), taking advantage of a good supply of vegetables that were grown on the island by the hotel, an early stab at sustainability by the French owners.  Simple vegetables, a carrot-ginger. or a potato leek, or a lentil, combined with a spice or two, can create amazing flavors. These potages were hearty, nutritious, and so fibrously filling, that they kept you from over-indulging on the later courses.

A few of us played beach volleyball in the afternoons with the kitchen staff. They worked out their aggressions on the guests who were willing to endure their volleyball Thunderdome.

David, the Potager (soup guy), looked more like Goliath out there. He had a big mane of black hair, a rocket serve that could leave a huge welt on your arms if you actually stopped it. He always sported a massive, and confident grin, a visual affectation that telegraphed his palpable Parisian smugness. He had a right to be cocky. He was the kitchen’s rock star. His soups were the opening act of every evening’s meal.

One day, a few of us were allowed to come to the kitchen. I discovered David’s secret weapon was not a slingshot, but steam! He didn’t drown the vegetables, only adding enough liquid to make his soup, and leave enough room in his massive pot to allow for the  steaming of his vegetables before puréeing. It maxed out the flavor and nutrition!

Fast Forward thirty-five years to 2017, in Killarney, a charming coastal tourist town south of Cork, situated near beautiful parks, on the verdant coastline of Western Ireland.

These days the big draw is a tiny rock of an island, Skellig Michael,  recently made famous by Luke Skywalker’s appearance on it in final scene in Star Wars Episode VII.

The chef at the amazing Brehon Hotel, Charlie Byrne, rekindled my romance with puréed soups. His wicked wonder is a cauliflower soup, with a toasted cumin seed.  The cumin seeds compliment the cauliflower brilliantly!

This is my more humble, and low-volume home homage to the soups of the Caribbean and Kilarney, with a lot of the heavy fats lifted from past recipes that I’ve tasted/reviewed, that rely on a lot of butter. Fats are a necessary part of our diet, but too much is a bad thing. Fatphobes, don’t freak out about the cream! 118 ml/ 1/2 cup, distributed over 12 servings, is only 10 ml per 148 ml serving (5 oz). By contrast, a pat of butter is about 12 ml. (1-1/2 tsp.)

It’s simple, easy to make with a good blender or an immersion blender (my fave). It’s also really  inexpensive!

Serves: 12

THE STUFF

MISE EN PLACE

THE STEPS

  1. Set the pots and pans on the stove. Set your 8″ sauté/fry pan to medium low.
  2. Add the cumin seed to the 8″ fry pan. Swirl gently to distribute the seeds across the pan or stir with a non-stick spatula. Remove when lightly toasted, meaning if y’all can smell the fragrance of the cumin oil warmed up, it’s done. We’re not looking for burn marks like toast.  3-7 minutes depending upon stove equipment. Use the spatula to put the toasted seed into a mini glass work bowl. Set aside;
  3. While toasting the seeds, trim off the base and leaves from the heads of cauliflower.  Open the head up by trimming clusters, breaking them down into smaller 1-2″ (approx) bits. Smaller chunks of cauliflower let steam work more efficiently to cook more evenly and help the immersion blender work better.. Stop and swirl/stir the cumin as needed.  Put the cauliflower florets into the stock pot;
  4. Peel the carrot. Quarter it.  Put in the stock pot.
  5. Clean the celery.  Quarter.  Put it in the stock pot.
  6. Very coarsely cut the onion. Spray or coat the nonstick frying pan with avocado oil. Set to medium. Put the into the 12″ frying pan. Cook, stirring periodically with the spatula, until the onion softens and starts to turn translucent.
  7. Add enough water to fill up about 1/3 of height of the vegetables. About 2 cups. Mostly we’re worried about steaming the veggies here. You can always add more water if it is too thick down-road;
  8. Set the pot to medium. Cover. When is reaches a boil. Set to low to simmer. Cook for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until tender enough that the cauliflower falls apart easily when poked at with the spatula but still has some structure. Resist cranking up the heat, and let the steam do its job. Fiber is lost when overcooking.
  9. Add the cumin, cayenne, and white pepper. Add the cream or coconut milk with coconut cream in it.
  10. Using the pimer/immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth and creamy. Keep the blender down, and use the low setting, working in a circle by blending in different places to break down the bigger pieces.PIMER/IMMERSION TIPS:
    • REMEMBER TO STOP COMPLETELY before you pick up the immersion blender and move it, or stuff will go everywhere.
    • Don’t rest the stick on the bottom. Keep it just about a 1/2″ from the bottom to let the vegetables get under it.
    • If your stick has a Turbo feature, like the All-Clad, featured below, stick it in the middle. Get it positioned well. Brace yourself and hit it. Turbo can have a bit stronger pull, so hold on. This will get that final, nice smooth pureé quickly though. Otherwise you have to keep moving around on low speed to get it to the same consistency.

    BLENDER/FOOD PROCESSOR TIPS:

    • Make sure it has a good motor. Soups can put more load on the motor than smoothies.
    • Empty the vegetables and any liquid in the pot into a large work bowl, as you’ll need to work in batches.
    • Reserve the pot, as you’ll return the finished puree back to it, and then finish the soup there.
  11. Add salt to taste. If too thick, add a little water. Stir.

Serve.

The Jazz Chef’s Cauliflowah Cumin Chowdah goes great with slices of a nice crusty French bread. It can easily be frozen/reheated.  If you do freeze or store, you may need to add a little water to thin it.

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