While some may think of December as the nadir of the cold, dark season, I prefer to think of it as the perfect time to indulge in comfort food. There’s nothing like a little chilly, damp drizzle, a few blustery flurries and a snippy, nippy wind, to make us crave creamy soups and stews, mac’ and cheese and puddings and pies, not to mention butter-drenched mashed potatoes. I am a great advocate of “Feel free to occasionally indulge”. But if you value your health and your waistline at all, keep in mind that it is possible to cook tasty meals using less calorific choices.
The operative word here is “tasty” — I never seem to be able to go the way of tofu and fat free yogurt, and carrot sticks and celery are crisp and crunchy, but “tasty”? I think not. Anyway, one of the best demonstrations of delicious yet sensible food occurred at a recent Go Cooking session with Riley and Jaime Bennett from Twin Elements Catering (www.twinelementscatering.com/) Twin Elements is a Burlington-based company, but their catering services extend from Toronto to Ancaster, and points in between. (The name of the company is derived from the fact that Riley is a twin and the couple have two-year old, twin sons.) The youthful couple are both very slim and svelte, and, of course, they’re happy to prepare a variety of food with lots of sugar, butter and cream when required. But this was a special evening devoted to saving calories.
The menu was simple but imaginative. A creamy cauliflower soup (sans cream), a warm salad based on Puy lentils, marinated flank steak and a really splendid dessert — an oven-warmed walnut cake topped with a tart lemon gelato and a few droplets of cherry balsamic vinegar. As they cooked, the couple provided some good tips for keeping the calories down: Use vegetable broth, for instance, instead of chicken broth to avoid the chicken fat; a light spray of oil instead of a big lump of butter will keep food from sticking to the grill or frying pan; a judicious sprinkling of herbs and spices add flavour and aroma when the fat is lower; and leaner meats, such as flank steak, can be made tender and juicy with marinades. It’s an “every little bit counts” philosophy that’s easier to stick to than the accursed “diet.” In fact, I’ve always found the advice of my best friend’s personal trainer to be a useful paradigm:
“80% of the time,” he says, “watch what you eat. The rest of the time eat whatever you like.”
Now, if only I actually did that …
In any event, the cauliflower soup intrigued me because it could be frozen and therefore, was a good way to use up a big, beautiful cauliflower without having half of it linger and turn brown in the fridge. (Or having to eat cauliflower every night for two weeks.) Here’s my adaptation of Riley and Jaime’s recipe:
Creamless Cauliflower Soup
My adaptation of a recipe created by Twin Elements Catering
2 coriander seeds
1 tsp. butter
2 white onions peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. peeled and diced ginger
2 litres vegetable stock
zest and juice of one lemon
sliced green onions for garnish
1) Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Toast the coriander seeds for about 5 – 7 minutes until very fragrant. Reserve.
2) In a large heavy-bottomed pot, over moderate heat, add the butter and melt.
3) Add the onions and cook until tender.
4) Add the ginger and garlic and cook until very fragrant.
5) Add the cauliflower(broken up) and the toasted coriander.
6) Cook for 3 minutes on medium heat.
7) Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes until the cauliflower is very tender.
8) Puree the soup in a blender. Push through a sieve to remove the spices.
9) Add lemon juice and zest to taste.
10) Adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.
11) Float a few sliced spring onions on top just before serving.
1) I cannot tell a lie. I used vegetable stock cubes. The chef made his own vegetable stock. My vegetable cubes turned the soup a beige colour instead of the nice white colour of the chef’s soup.
2) The chef used maitake mushrooms for garnish. I couldn’t find any anywhere so tried it with spring onions. You probably could use sliced cremini’s also — not as pretty as the chef’s but still good.
3) Only other quibble: be careful of the lemon juice. If you use too much, it takes away from the cauliflower flavour.
4) Have frozen and then reheated this soup. It is still delicious.
5) Six servings with 126 calories per portion — but you’re going to want to eat more.
And here’s the chef’s original recipe:
Creamless Cauliflower Soup
2 pcs coriander seed
1 tsp. butter
2 pcs white onions (peeled and sliced)
2 pcs garlic cloves (crushed)
1 tbsp ginger (peeled and diced)
2 l vegetable stock
1 pcs lemon (zest and juice)
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
2. Place the coriander seed on a tray or pan
3. Toast for about 5-7 minutes, until it’s very fragrant
5. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, over medium heat, add the butter and melt
6. Add the onions and cook until tender.
7. Add the garlic and ginger.
8. Cook until very fragrant.
9. Add the toasted spices and the cauliflower.
10. Cook for 3 minutes on medium heat.
11. Add the stock and then simmer for 30 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.
12. Remove the spices and puree the soup in a blender.
13. Add the lemon juice and zest.
14. Adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.