Whether roasted, braised, sautéed, gratinéed, or simmered gently into a soup, cauliflower is one of my favorite winter vegetables. I crave it for comfort…its soothing sweetness and versatility. It is a vegetable that takes very well to Indian spices, so when I’m craving that flavor profile, I usually braise it with whole spices that I’ve toasted and ground and serve it as a side dish.
One recent cold night I wanted soup. And I wanted Indian spices. Plus I had some of Annabelle Lenderick’s hand-harvested mustard seeds that she’d given me last summer. I wanted to do something special with them and I didn’t need any more homemade mustard in the house. I decided to try infusing them into oil.
The flavor result wasn’t earth shattering, but instead rather subtle. Toasted in oil as described below, the seeds will turn brown and pop energetically. Strain the oil and drizzle it over the soup. You’ll notice a nutty, warm flavor spreading over your tongue as you sample the soup.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (depending on its level of heat and your preference)
3 tablespoons olive oil or ghee
1/2 of a large yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower (1 medium to large head)
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground fresh pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil for high heat cooking
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
Fresh lemon juice (optional)
Plain yogurt for serving
Cilantro leaves for serving
In a small, dry skillet, over medium heat, toast the cumin and coriander seeds, shaking the pan often, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until beginning to brown and become fragrant. Remove from pan and cool. In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, grind the seeds finely. Stir in the turmeric and cayenne and set aside.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil or ghee. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the cauliflower and the broth along with a few pinches of salt and some pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and then lower heat, cover partially and simmer until the cauliflower is soft, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mustard seed oil. In a small skillet, over medium –low heat, warm the vegetable oil with the mustard seeds for 4 to 5 minutes. They will brown and begin to pop. Don’t let them burn. Cool and let sit to infuse the oil and then strain before using.
Cool the cooked soup and then puree until smooth. Return to the pot and heat slowly. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. If you find the soup needs a little acid, add a squeeze or two of lemon juice to taste.
Serve with a drizzle each of yogurt and mustard oil along with a few leaves of fresh cilantro.