I certainly was of that misguided mindset when I recently prepared dinner for friends. As I considered and discarded one dish after another, I ended up settling on a rather elaborate braised lamb shoulder. It was, of course, delicious. But that wasn't the dish people commented on.
On a whim at the last minute I decided to make a soup, something robust enough to stand up to the rest of the meal, but nothing particularly heavy. This soup is what got the raves.
And it couldn't have been easier. A simple 8-ingredient creamy soup that actually contained no cream. Or any dairy product. Yet it was thick, rich, savory and just a little sweet. It cooked in less than 30 minutes and took only about 10 minutes prep time. For a salty, crunchy contrast, I topped the soup with tamarai-toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds). You could buy them, but they take only a couple minutes to make.
I was so smitten with this soup, the next day I tried a variation on it. I followed the same recipe, but substituted an equal amount of broccoli florets. It was just as delicious
The only unusual ingredient here is the miso, but it's widely available at most grocers (usually in the refrigerated section alongside the Asian produce, but sometimes in the international aisle). Miso varies in flavour intensity; the lighter the colour, the milder and sweeter the flavour. For this recipe, you want a light miso (sometimes labeled sweet or yellow).
CREAMY CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH TAMARI PEPITAS
Don't be intimidated by the inclusion of hot sauce. You're adding just a splash to give the soup a bit of vibrancy. At that amount, it acts more like salt, highlighting the other flavours, but not adding any heat.
Start to finish: 30 minutes (15 minutes active)
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into chunks
1 yellow onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns (black or mixed)
2 tablespoons yellow (or other light) miso
Hot sauce, to taste
1/4 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
In a large saucepan or stockpot over medium-high, combine the cauliflower, onion, garlic, broth and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very tender. Working in batches if necessary, carefully transfer the mixture, including all of the broth, to a blender. Make certain the blender cover is secure when working with hot ingredients. Puree until smooth.
Add the miso and hot sauce (start with 1/2 teaspoon) to the blender, then puree again to blend. Taste, then season with salt. Return the soup to the pot and keep warm over low heat.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast the pumpkin seeds. Stir the seeds constantly until they all have puffed and barely begun to brown. Add the tamari to the skillet, being careful about splatters. Stir until the tamari has completely evaporated and coated the pepitas. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and top each serving with pepitas.
Nutrition information per serving: 130 calories; 40 calories from fat (31 per cent of total calories); 4.5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 8 g protein; 880 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org