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Key to a better cauliflower soup: Don’t skimp on the garnish

For pureed soups, reserve some of the ingredients to use as a garnish. (Laura Chase de Formigny/For the Washington Post)
For pureed soups, reserve some of the ingredients to use as a garnish. (Laura Chase de Formigny/For the Washington Post)
By Joe Yonan Washington Post

If you’ve ever eaten a pureed soup and, after the first dozen bites or so, found yourself getting a little bored, you need to learn the following trick: Hold out some of your ingredients, before or after cooking, and add them back in the form of a garnish right before serving. It makes all the difference in the world, giving enough textural variation to keep things interesting as you drain the bowl.

The garnish ingredients can be raw or cooked, as long as they’re pleasant enough to eat.

In the case of this recipe from Christopher Kimball’s new cookbook “Cookish,” the garnish consists of some of the almonds that you use to start off the dish by frying in oil and harissa spice blend (rather than the paste). The almonds offer richness and body to this cauliflower soup, making it creamy without cream. The spice blend gives a mild kick of heat, but don’t fret: If you can’t easily find it, you can easily sub in good old chili powder – or whatever other spice or blend you might have around.

After you reserve half the spiced almonds, you add the cauliflower and some onion, simmering the mixture in water until everything is soft before pureeing it smooth. A little fresh lemon juice brightens the soup, and on top go those nuts – plus some chopped cilantro.

It’s such a smart combination that you can easily think of it as a blueprint, subbing out elements at will and to your taste: nuts + spices + vegetable + liquid = soup, all fall and all winter long. Just don’t forget that garnish.

Harissa-Spiced Cauliflower Almond Soup

Adapted from “Cookish” by Christopher Kimball (Little, Brown, 2020).

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups (6¾ ounces) sliced almonds

2 tablespoons harissa spice blend (may substitute chili powder)

1 (2 to 2½-pound) head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 medium yellow onion (about 10 ounces), chopped

6 cups water, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste

1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped

In a large pot over medium heat, combine the oil, almonds and harissa and cook, stirring, until the oil bubbles, about 3 minutes. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup of the mixture.

Add the cauliflower and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring, until the cauliflower begins to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the water and salt, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering. Cover and cook until the cauliflower is soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Using a blender, puree the soup in batches until smooth, then return it to the pot. (Or, if you have an immersion blender, puree right in the pot.) If the soup is too thick for your liking, add water, 1/4 cup at a time, until your desired consistency is reached. Stir in the lemon juice and reheat. Taste, and add more salt and/or lemon juice, if needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the cilantro and the reserved almond mixture, and serve hot.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

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