Aaron and I just returned from a long weekend Up North. Up North is the mystical land that exists in the Northern parts of the American Midwest. It’s the land of lakes and woods and hills and rivers. It’s the land of sweaters even in the summer, bonfires, and mugs of tea and hot toddies all day. It’s a location, yes, but mostly a state of mind. I’m convinced that going Up North is a requirement for being a Minnesotan. It was my first time experiencing Up North, so it only took me three years to belong to where I live.
It was a wonderful weekend. We were on the shore of Lake Superior, which Aaron casually informed me is the largest lake by area in the world. It was almost like a sea, complete with tides. The color shifted- here gunmetal gray, here dark pink, here churning blue- by the hour, and the shore was strewn with driftwood. We slept with a down comforter and the windows open. Aaron whittled a walking stick. I read a novel in a day. There was a wood fire hot tub. It was the exact mini vacation we needed.
I did not make this soup on our trip. I left most of the cooking to our friends who were with us, save some cookies and pies made in a truly dicey oven. But this is the soup that I made when we returned, and I spend a good part of our three hour drive home planning it. I’d also like to publicly proclaim my love and gratitude to Aaron, who not only tolerates my endless discussions of whether sage or thyme is better with cauliflower, but offers his opinions.
This is a deliciously easy soup. Onions and leeks form a sweet backbone, and the nuttiness of the cauliflower is echoes in the brown ale. The whole mess is seasoned with nutmeg, cardamom, mustard, and thyme (because that was the eventual verdict). It’s warming and comforting, clean but not bland. It’s the type of soup makes sense whether it’s sipped from tin cups in a cabin or served in china with cloth napkins.
The garnishes are completely optional, as always, but I find that they bring the whole soup together and make it feel like a full meal rather than two-thirds of one. If you’re interested supplementing this soup, it would be fantastic with some crusty bread, good butter, and a bountiful green salad.
Cauliflower and Brown Ale Soup
When choosing the beer for this soup I’d prioritize malt over hops. I went with Newcastle Brown Ale, because it’s nutty and malty and sweet but not heavy. Any beer with those same qualities should be delicious.
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
1 large onion, diced
1 cauliflower head, trimmed and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon (about a pinch) cayenne pepper
2 cups brown ale
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
pepper flakes, such as Aleppo
In a large pot warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and onions and a pinch of salt. Let the onions and leeks soften, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to take on a bit of color. This should take about 10 minutes.
Add in the cauliflower, garlic, thyme, mustard, spices, and a teaspoon of salt. Stir well, and let it cook until the cauliflower is just starting to break apart. This should take about 5-8 minutes. Add the beer and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft enough to break apart with a spoon.
Using a blender or an immersion blender blend the soup until smooth. Add the apple cider vinegar, and taste. Add as much salt as it needs, and taste again. It should be creamy and mild, nutty but not boring. Blend again while slowly adding the last two tablespoons of olive oil.
Serve hot, topped with yogurt, Aleppo pepper flakes, crushed walnuts, and a drizzle of olive oil.