Hot summer days are quickly descending upon us and experience tells us all that, from a culinary heading, we should be moving into the season of freshly prepared, lite and healthy dishes. However, Louisiana cooks don’t seem to follow conventional wisdom. This time of year, you are just as likely to see a hearty etouffée or a platter of steak, rice and gravy on the dinner table.
Try as I might, shifting gears is not easy, but inspiration is always welcome. “Green Mom” is my wife’s tennis friend and an advocate of healthy eating. Tanya is her real name, but her zeal for a healthy, organic lifestyle for her family and several television interviews later, she will forever carry the title of Green Mom.
The brilliance of her natural, whole foods lifestyle is in substituting ingredients that some down-home Cajun traditionalists might view as unorthodox. She has introduced a legion of her South Louisiana converts to quinoa and couscous, brown rice and whole wheat, fiber laden replacements to the tried and true, gravy-laced Cajun recipes.
Like most everyone I know, my family loves a velvety smooth, cream-based potato soup – true comfort food. Following the lead of Green Mom, my wife and I began a search for a lower calorie, natural version that doesn’t sacrifice taste or texture. Green Mom had the answer – cauliflower.
The value of nutritionally dense cauliflower is that it is low in fat and carbs, but high in vitamin C and fiber. I prefer steaming because aggressive boiling reduces the levels of these compounds by as much as 75%. As a white vegetable, I initially thought the similarities of cauliflower to starchy carb-laden potatoes pretty much start and stop right there. But, once I steamed a large head of cauliflower and took a stick blender to it, I began to see its potential as my new “potato” soup.
Cauliflower has a distinct taste that is difficult to mask – either you love it or hate it. While I do not mind it, I intend to elevate it in a different direction with garlic, fennel and olive oil. The anise-flavored fennel takes on a subtle sweetness when sautéed in olive oil and a smidgen of garlic. And with a splash of almond milk, this soup is rich and creamy but without the guilt and shame.
Finally, I’ve seen the lite.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 cups water
- 2 large heads cauliflower, green leaves and stalk removed
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, plus more if needed
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Pinch of white pepper
- ½ cup creamy goat cheese
- 4 – 6 toasted crostini rounds
- Fennel fronds, for garnish
- In a skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add the onion and fennel slices, and cook until the fennel begins to soften and the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking while stirring until the garlic begins to soften. Reduce the heat if it begins to brown. Turn off the heat and move the pan to the side.
- In a large pot over high heat, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Break the cauliflower into florets of approximate equal size so they will cook evenly and place in a steam basket. Position the basket in the pot over the boiling water and cover. Let steam for 15 minutes until completely tender. Remove cauliflower and drain.
- Drain the water from the pot and put back on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the chicken stock, cauliflower, fennel, onions, and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook until the chicken stock has reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Add the almond milk and decrease the heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes.
- With an immersion blender, blend the vegetables and liquids in the pot until thickened and all chunks become smooth. If it becomes too thick, add additional almond milk until it is a creamy chowder-type texture. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking.
- Taste the soup and finish with a pinch of kosher salt and white pepper to desired taste.
- Spread the goat cheese liberally on top of the crostini. Broil on high heat just until the cheese softens but not long enough to turn brown.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a goat cheese crouton. Garnish with a sprinkling of fennel fronds and serve while hot.
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