Cauliflower Soup with Roasted Shishito Salsa and Chili Oil, and how to make pureed veggie soups without a recipe


I’m one of those weirdos who really, really likes purees. Basically baby food with salt, cream, and butter to make things delicious. I’ll eat them as a side, as a sauce, as a garnish, as a soup. Mmmm, soup. And guess what? They’re super easy to make, so you should love them too.

Veggie based creamy soups include the same elements. Keep these in mind:

  • Aromatics. Usually mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery) and garlic. Leeks, shallots, ginger, or occasionally bell peppers are used in this application too. Don’t leave this out. ALL good things start with mirepoix (or at least garlic and onions).
  • The Main Veg. Cauliflower today, broccoli if I was hankering for a Panera knock-off. Whole canned San Marzano tomatoes are popular in the Triniwood house. Sweet potato, russets, or beans are great hearty choices. Spinach or kale if you’re a certain kind of psycho. Other good choices are carrots, split peas, corn, asparagus, mushrooms, or parsnips.
  • A Thickening Agent. Usually people would used a roux (butter and flour, like you’re making gravy) but lately I’ve been leaving this out in favor of using less broth and letting the natural veggie texture do its thang. Definitely saves me some calories. Another low calorie option that will give your soup some body is to cook in a diced potato with the rest of the veg. Some people use cornstarch or tapioca starch or some ish, but I’m not a fan of the gummy texture they impart. ALWAYS use less broth than you think you’ll need–you can always add more, but its difficult to take liquid away.
  • Extra Flavors. This part is important in creating a well balanced soup. A splash of orange juice adds a sweet acidity to tomato soup, bacon fat adds a good smokiness to potato or bean based soups, curry tastes delicious in carrot or sweet potato, and the cheese is what makes broccoli worth stinking up your kitchen (hah!). This is the hardest part of making soup, because you have to have a bit of savvy to know when to introduce these flavors to the party. We’ll get to that later.
  • The Creamy Part. AKA the BEST part. Favorite agents for this are half and half, sour cream, Greek yogurt, butter, and coconut milk. Or, again, you could be a health nut and leave this part out, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Purée. An immersion blender is easy, but I prefer my Vitamix for the silkiest soups. Leave the soup a little chunky if that’s how you like it! Run it through a strainer before serving if you’re real crazy.
  • Garnish. Croutons are ye ol’ standby, but cream, infused oil, some sort of little salad or salsa, or the star veggie in a different preparation are all excellent. Garnishes add textural contrast and a pleasant top note flavor.

The roasted shishito salsa was a bit of a happy coincidence. I specifically made it to serve alongside meat for a BBQ I hosted last weekend, then realized how damn delicious it tasted. Plus, it’s a clever way to re-purpose leftover shishito appetizers I’m often stuck with. Gonna bust that one out frequently.

You’ll Need

  • An onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced (I saved the leaves on top to garnish my soup with, #roottoleaf)
  • A head of cauliflower, cut into large chunks (cauliflower is softer to cut than you think, just get in there)
  • Leftover bacon fat (olive oil is fine too)
  • 4 cups of chicken broth (or water and buillion cubes)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • A big splash of half and half
  • Shishito peppers (as much or as little as you have on hand)
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Chili oil (optional)

Method

  1. Put about a tablespoon of bacon fat (or a few good glugs of olive oil) in a large pot over medium heat and add the onions, carrots, and celery. Sweat the veggies for 8-10 minutes, until veggies have softened a bit and onions are translucent. Add the cauliflower, chicken broth, and a dash of kosher salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let bubble away for about 25 minutes. Alternatively, you could do this in an Instant Pot and pressure cook for 15 minutes.
  2. While the soup is simmering, toss the shishitos in olive oil and kosher salt, and place in a hot pan (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat. Stir every minute or so until they’ve softened with black spots all over, breaking up into batches if you need to to ensure you aren’t crowding the pan.
  3. Remove shishitos and place on a cutting board, letting them sit until cool enough to handle. Use a knife to chop off the stems, then rough chop the shishitos into slightly uneven, bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and toss with a few good glugs of olive oil and a healthy splash of red wine vinegar. Taste and add more salt or vinegar if it needs it. Set aside until ready to use. PS: this can be done in advance and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. PPS: this “salsa” would taste awesome over steak, chicken, pork, or fish, spooned over cream or goat cheese and served with crackers, tossed into a salad or with roasted veggies, or served with eggs.
  4. Remove the soup from the heat and let it cool for 10-15 minutes or so. Puree with a stick blender, or in a regular blender in batches (be sure to hold down the lid with a towel, a hot soup explosion would be a disaster). Pour back into the pot and stir in the half and half, some fresh cracked black pepper, and kosher salt to taste.
  5. Serve soup with shishito peppers, chopped celery leaves, and chili oil as garnish.

Remix The Dish: For broccoli cheese soup, mix a few handfuls of cheese in with the half and half and add white pepper. For mushroom soup, omit the carrots and celery and add dried porcini mushrooms in with the onions instead, and use 4 pints of fresh mushrooms and use 3 cups of broth. 2 bundles of asparagus should do for asparagus soup, and use greek yogurt or sour cream as the creamy element. Bacon and crouton garnish would taste awesome with split pea, bean, or white potato soup. I love making carrot or sweet potato soup with red curry paste and ginger added in while the aromatics saute, lemongrass and honey while it simmers, then add coconut milk right before you puree. A fall favorite of mine is pumpkin beer cheese soup, which sounds nuts but tastes awesome. Use a large can of pumpkin puree instead of the cauliflower, reduce the broth to 2 cups and stir in a whole bottle of ale mid-simmer, then add some cheddar after you puree. Garnish with croutons and fried sage leaves.