Friday, February 27, 2015

Cauliflower Con Queso Soup

Cauliflower Con Queso soup was a naturally evolved creation from a spicy cheese sauce for broccoli and cauliflower, which in its turn, evolved from dipping fresh vegetable crudites into a Mexican queso dip back in the 1980's  And though our hairstyles have changed since then, the appeal of this particular taste combination has not.  A recipe for potage, a creamy French soup, provides a silky foundation and the ensuing pas de deux or tango of tastes created by combining French and Mexican dishes was an easy step and a personal favorite.  But I didn't know that it would become my mother's favorite; in fact it became one of her table staples and at each subsequent visit to Mom's I filled up her freezer with  plastic containers of "cauliflower soup".   I am a fan of this vegetable immigrant from the Middle East and like me, you may be attracted to anything "cauliflower".   That would include my daughter....since her name means cauliflower in Arabic she was a star at the produce stands in Jordan!  The vendors were delighted to learn her name, flattered that Americans would give their child an Arab name, and would often present her with a free head of cauliflower - she was too young to be offended.  I can't imagine any of them suggesting that she resembled her name for she was a beautiful child.  Luckily, her name also means rose, but I don't remember anyone ever offering her a flower. And although she does like to eat it, I'm not sure she would be flattered by a comparison to it. The addition of crunchy fried flour tortilla strips as a garnish to the soup and a sprinkle of fresh cheddar on top might help to ease the sting of such an insult! 

Cauliflower Con Queso Soup:
5 tab. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 head of cauliflower, cored and broken into florettes
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3 cups rich chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup salsa, mild or medium, to taste
1 1/2 cup milk or half and half
3 tab. flour
6 ounces American processed cheese
1  cup shredded colby jack cheese
4 flour tortillas, cut into 1 inch strips

-Melt butter in large soup pot. Saute onions, carrots and cauliflower in butter until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour chicken stock over vegetables, cover pot and simmer until cauliflower is very soft, about 30 minutes.  Let soup cool for about 15 minutes.  Remove about 1 cup of cauliflower florettes and place the rest of the vegetables and broth in a blender and puree until very smooth.

-Melt another 2 tablespoons butter in bottom of soup pot.  Stir in flour with whisk until smooth and cook over medium high heat until roux is smooth and bubbly, about 1 minute.  Stir in milk and bring to a boil until thickened, stirring frequently over medium high heat. Remove from heat, add cheese and stir in until melted.

-Return pureed soup to pot with milk/cheese sauce and stir in salsa.  Heat soup through stirring frequently.  Stir in reserved cauliflower.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

-Heat 1/3 cup canola oil in small saute pan and fry tortilla strips in batches until crisp and golden.

-Serve soup in individual serving bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of grated colby jack cheddar cheese and tortilla strips.

Persnickety P.S.
**Freezes well.
**A soup is only as rich as its base, so take the time to make sure the base, the chicken broth, is flavorful.  In a hierarchy of best flavored bases, the bottom spot goes to the lowly bouillon cube which is often bland and relies on salt for the weak flavor it imparts and at top of the list is a rich homemade stock.  But our lives are often governed by practicality so take what you have on hand and the next time you make soup, try one of the other options and compare the tasty results!

             Flavor Hierarchy of Chicken Bases for Soup:

                   1st Place:    Homemade Stock
                   2nd Place:  "Better than Bouillon" paste
                   3rd Place:   Boxed Chicken Stock
                   4th Place:   Boxed Chicken Broth
                   5th Place:   Chicken Bouillon Cubes
                                        (Magi Cubes recommended)

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