When I married a half-Indian man, I inherited one small, silver spice tin. Nestled inside was an array of neatly- labeled cups holding loose spices, vivid yellows and red-browns. My father-in-law explained that this traditional spice tin was a fixture in Indian kitchens, and he taught me to toast the spices at the start of every dish. I trotted the spice tin out for the occasional chana masala or curry, but I didn’t realize its value until winter came.
January cooking can feel a little grim, if you’re not careful. Likely, you’re lled with some kind of resolve to eat better or spend less—so you set out, emboldened, only to get bogged down in a glut of mid-winter’s uninspiring root vegetables. Here’s where the spice tin came to my rescue. The bright colors and deep flavors of more familiar tastes, like turmeric and garam masala, and foreign ones, like vagar and jeera, brought new energy to winter dinners.
This Indian-spiced cauliflower soup is one such discovery. Ginger, turmeric, fennel seed, cumin seed (jeera), and green chile give a simple soup electric flavor. Nearly neon, the soup is bright—in the bowl and in the back of your mouth, thanks to the lingering heat of the chile. A cooling swirl of yogurt and a pile of naan on the side will serve you well. And when the soup has disappeared, its faintly exotic taste may have you eyeing other pantry staples with a similar transformation in mind.
INDIAN-SPICED CAULIFLOWER SOUP
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. whole fennel seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped 2 tsp. peeled and chopped fresh ginger 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 fresh hot green chile, chopped
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp. red chili powder or cayenne About 4 cups cauliflower florets
(from about half of a large head)
2 (14-oz.) cans of diced tomatoes
2 tsp. salt
For serving: Chopped cilantro Plain yogurt
Cooked basmati rice Toasted naan
1. Heat oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and a few seconds later, the fennel seeds. Toast for a few seconds, and then add the onions and potatoes. Stir and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chile and stir for 1 minute more.
2. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, and red chili powder. Stir for 1 minute. Add the cauliflower, tomatoes, and salt, and stir for 1 minute. Add 41⁄2 cups water, stir, and bring to a boil over medium- high heat. Cover, lower the heat again, and simmer gently for 25 minutes.
3. Let the soup cool slightly, then blend as smooth or chunky as you like, using an immersion blender for ease. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Ladle into bowls and add a generous swirl of yogurt. Finish with a squeeze of lime and a large spoonful of cooked basmati rice, if desired. Scatter with cilantro and serve with toasted naan.
Originally published January 2017