09 March 2011

World’s Cheapest Recipe for Mock Cabbage Soup

At last, a low-cost solution for those who gave up cabbage for Lent

Of all the vegetables that people despise, surely few are more versatile or more repellent than cauliflower. A good-size head of cauliflower can stretch across several meals for a small family or couple, so long as they’re either completely indifferent to taste or else fanatically pursuing the detested crucifer’s nutritional value, including significant levels of Vitamins C, K, and some Bs, to say nothing of manganese (essential to helping the body digest Japanese comic books), Omega 3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, and an aroma that persuades you that, really, anything that smells like that must be good for you.

Start with the white, deceptively puffy-looking part of the cauliflower, and chop it into up: the smaller the pieces, the less they resemble bits of brain. These pieces, called florets, can be served raw, whether as crudité snacks with a powerfully flavored dip to disguise the taste; or tossed in a salade composée with a dressing that also may fool you into thinking that you’re eating hard Styrofoam packing material or any other more palatable substance. Boiled, the florets will still smell like cauliflower, but they can be tossed in butter and garnished with caraway seeds; or smothered in rich, creamy sauce béchamel, sprinkled with grated gruyère, and baked in a gratin. Cauliflower florets can be added with other ingredients to a number of curries, soups, and stews, where they are less likely to be noticed; they can also be dipped in batter and deep-fried in beignets, or tossed lightly in olive oil and pan-roasted in the oven.

There are other recipes, too, but by now you have run out of cauliflower and must go out and buy more of the repulsive stuff. Yet you must concede how economical cauliflower can be: already a single grotesque, brain-like head has provided you with almost a week’s worth of meals — or more, if your household contains many children (or adults) who run screaming from the table whenever cauliflower is served. Moreover, the aroma is enough to put many people off their appetite, meaning that the other dishes you’ve prepared may stretch further, too.

However, the truly great cook is a thrifty cook. Like me, you look on in horror as the average cauliflower chef strips away the greens and throws them away. This is a senseless, shocking waste. Around the world, starving people would kill to eat those greens, although these are principally people who have never tasted any part of the cauliflower and don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.

Above all, the greens are what make cauliflower (chou-fleur, in French) remind us of another hated vegetable, cabbage (chou). So, to help you make your cauliflower budget go even further than ever, I’m happy to share another family favorite, a uniquely easy and delightful recipe from my cozy kitchen in the heart of the French countryside.


1. Do not throw out the cauliflower greens when you are preparing a dish calling for cauliflower florets. Even though the greens don’t keep as long as the florets, let’s be honest: they’re a time-consuming pain in the neck to use. So put them in a bag and store in the back of the refrigerator.

2. Proceed to use the florets, quick, before they turn brown and even more disgusting than they are when they’re fresh.

3. When you are ready to prepare Mock Cabbage Soup, retrieve the bag of greens and dispose of any leaves that have turned slimy and black while they were sitting in the refrigerator, day after day.

4. Carefully wash the surviving cauliflower greens under cold running water, until your fingers are numb, cracked and bleeding.

5. Optional: If you are preparing Vegetarian Mock Cabbage Soup, remove the tiny green worms and tinier white mites that cling to the leaves.

6. Pay no attention to the little black spots that you will find, particularly on the outer leaves. They’re nothing. Probably.

7. If you bought your cauliflower from an organic grower, those little black spots are just manure. Cooking will kill the germs and bacteria. Probably. Scrub more thoroughly.

8. If you bought your cauliflower from a French supermarket, those little black spots are probably just ash from the grocer’s cigarette; if you bought your cauliflower from an American supermarket, those little black spots are probably just solid-particle exhaust from the truck that delivered them. Probably. Scrub more thoroughly.

9. If you are still in any doubt about those little black spots, hold a leaf in one hand and address the spots politely. If they answer, they are probably the result of hormones and chemicals used in farming. Apologize, then ask them to go away. If they don’t answer, there’s no reason to worry. Probably.

10. The central part of the cauliflower leaf, or rib, requires more cooking time than the green, leafy parts to either side. Using a sharp paring knife, carefully remove each rib and set the green, leafy parts aside, while wondering where your youth went.

11. The ribs are extremely fibrous and tough. To make them slightly more digestible, chop each rib into small pieces, about the size of the tip of your little finger, using the tip of your little finger as a guide.

12. Wash the wound in cold water, and apply a bandage.

13. You’d better chop up an onion, just to keep the soup from tasting too cabbage-y. Also, you’d better chop up a carrot or two, as well, to keep it from looking too green.

14. Toss the rib pieces, the chopped onion, and the chopped carrots into a medium-size pan of lightly salted boiling water.

15. Come to think of it, maybe a cube of bouillon would help.

16. Bring to boil, let simmer until the rib pieces are chewy or, God help you, tender.

17. Add the green, leafy pieces. As they soften, stir them in. Add more water if needed.

18. Optional: If you’re truly conscientious, you can chop the greens, too, in strips about one inch wide. (Hint: Do this before you put the greens in the pot.) But this extra step doesn’t make much difference. Eventually, the greens are going to shrivel up and die in the hot broth. Just like the worm you missed when you were rinsing the leaves.

19. Using a skimmer or spoon, remove the excess worm. Remember that metal utensils can affect the flavor of your broth.

20. Allow to simmer until the rich, cabbage-like aroma wafts through every room in your home.* Hope that the neighbors don’t notice.

21. Now it’s even beginning to look like cabbage soup! Verify the taste. Remember that you, like most people, dislike cabbage soup. Why did you try this recipe, anyway?

22. As panic sets in, say to yourself, “Screw the vegans, let’s add some salt pork. Do we have any salt pork? No? What about leftover Peking duck? Maybe some mustard. The Germans use mustard all the time to distract themselves from the taste of cabbage, right? Have we got any curry?”

23. Optional: Using a mill or mixer, disguise the chunky, stewed cauliflower matter even further by turning it into an anonymous, anodyne, green liquid.**

24. Serve with thick slices of crusty bread; garlicky sausage; a dollop of crème fraîche or a generous pat of butter or margarine; soy, Tabasco, or Worcestershire sauce; high-alcohol-content beer; and anything else that will help you to forget that you’re eating soup made out of freaking cauliflower greens, which anybody else would have thrown in the garbage days ago.

25. Place the unused portion(s) in the refrigerator, for tomorrow’s lunch, and the day after that.

26. Approximately one week later, when you have consumed the last of the soup, congratulate yourself on your thriftiness. Ergo, what a great chef you must be! (But don’t pat yourself on the back: you might burp.)

That was easy — and cheap — wasn’t it?

*NOTE: As an added benefit, many household insects will smell the aroma of boiling “cabbage” and believe that you’ve called in the exterminator to have the place fumigated; even the most stubborn cockroaches will flee spontaneously or else die in confusion — saving you even more money!

**Milling the soup will not necessarily provoke comical references to The Exorcist at the dinner table, but it does increase the risk that somebody will say, “Honey, this cabbage tastes funny. Are you sure it wasn’t spoiled?” Remember that, despite many similarities, cabbage and cauliflower do possess distinctively unpopular flavors.

DISCLAIMER: In reality, I love cauliflower, and more often than not, I do save the greens in order to prepare this soup — and I enjoy it.

BONUS RECIPE: For a side dish that makes a surprisingly good accompaniment for pork, sautée the greens (blanching the rib pieces first) in olive oil with chopped onion, salt, and a little garlic.


kara said...

I honestly had no idea you could eat cauliflower greens, so thank you for the disclaimer at the end. Otherwise, after laughing my way through this post, I never would have tried it!

William V. Madison said...

Thank you. Does anybody know whether there are any inedible parts of the humble cauliflower. I depend on my readers to tell me. Thus far, I have yet to find anything I couldn't keep down. (Give or take the occasional excess worm.)