Summer is in its last flush here in California. The days are warm and clear and oh-so-slightly breezy. The farmer’s markets are still overflowing with stone fruit and tomatoes. The figs on my landlord’s trees are stubbornly waiting to ripen until the temperature really drops. But night is falling earlier now; the equinox glided by this weekend, and it’s time to face facts. Fall is creeping in.
As always, I’m half-sheepishly mourning the long hours of daylight. But I’m also excited, because fall weather means fall food. And right now, as the nights get chillier, fall food means soup. My little Ikea soup pot has been sitting on the stove all summer, quietly gathering grease spatters whenever I got up the gumption to stir-fry something. Last week I brought that poor patient soup pot back into commission, with my first soup of the season. And it’s a good one: a smooth, lightly spiced puree of cauliflower, red lentils, and roasted garlic.
This is a light-yet-lush soup, built on layers of sweetness: sharp-sweet onion, sugary-sweet apple, cabbagey-sweet cauliflower, and syrupy-sweet roasted garlic. The red lentils give a hint of body and an appealing earthiness, and a hint of cumin makes the whole thing smoky and slightly exotic. I decided at the last minute to add a big dash of turmeric–cauliflower and turmeric are great friends, and the spice played up the color of the lentils, taking the soup from muted gold to dandelion-yellow. It’s not absolutely necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch.
I especially like that there’s no dairy or starch in this soup, because the whole thing is at once comforting and nearly weightless. For a pureed soup, it’s a little on the thin-and-fuzzy side, which I happen to like. You could certainly add a small peeled and diced potato along with the lentils, or finish the soup with a drizzle of cream. I tried a dollop of yogurt in the picture below, but didn’t end up loving it–the richness of the yogurt masked the subtle sweetness of the vegetables, and blunted the spices. Call me a purist, but I prefer my soup as-is.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the lovely crispy-looking garnish on top …tune in next time for that story.
Roasted Garlic, Cauliflower, and Red Lentil Soup (serves 4-6)
Note: Because there’s no starch in the soup, it will separate a little if refrigerated or frozen. Just give it a stir once it’s reheated, and it’ll be good as new.
2 heads of garlic
1 lb (about 1/2 large head) cauliflower
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium apple (any variety), peeled, cored, and chopped
2/3 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground turmeric (optional)
Pinch of crushed red chili flakes
6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) water
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Roast the garlic according to your preferred method. My usual procedure is here. While the garlic is roasting, cut or break the cauliflower florets into 2-inch pieces, and the stems into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
While the garlic is roasting, heat olive oil in a large saucepan or stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and a large pinch of salt, and sweat for 5 minutes; add apple and sweat for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the apple pieces are soft and the onion is translucent. Add lentils, cumin, turmeric (if using), and red chili flake, and saute for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add water and bay leaf and bring to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the lentils are starting to get tender. Add cauliflower pieces and simmer for an additional 8-10 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and the lentils are falling apart. Remove the bay leaf.
Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and add them to the pot. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth, or transfer the mixture to a bar blender and puree in batches. Season with salt and pepper to taste. At this point, the soup may be cooled, transferred to an airtight container, and refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to 2 months.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup to just below simmering. Ladle into bowls, then top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm.