When the shoulder season creeps up on us, any seasoned Capetonian knows that the first cold front will soon be looming over the Atlantic and making its inexorable way for its annual sojourn in the city.
Then again, this is Cape Town, where any weather prediction is open to ridicule and likely to be confounded by whatever the Weather Gods may decide to fling at us.
This is something that Gautengers do not seem able to understand. To many from north of the mighty Vaal, where weather is presumed to be as regular as the daily afternoon thunderstorm, there are thought to be two Cape seasons – one constantly windy, the other constantly wet.
But if you’ve lived in Cape Town for any given year, you know this is far from the truth. It can rain for Christmas, and you can braai in June. Without doubt, there will be plenty of hot, still days any time between January and April, and we can be equally assured that the wind will waft us this way and that many times between September and January. But a still, dry and warm day can pop up any time, in any month of the year, and they’re a delight when they sneak up on us. I’ve known recent Junes when there have been more sunny, still days on average than cold, cloudy ones, and they’re an absolute treat at that time of the year.
A true Capetonian loves the city in all of its moods. In winter, we yearn for the hot summer days of sundowners and braais, of sitting at pavement cafés and strolling along promenades. In summer, once you’ve had your fill of all that, we long for the wild winter storm, the battening down of the hatches, the red wine and the lighting of the fire.
But right now, we’re on the cusp of all that, and thoughts have turned to the heartier meals that will get us through the chilly months. I’ve started putting my mind to soups again, not the light, chilled summer ones but the hearty, steaming winter broths. Certain vegetable soups are great for a cooling evening, and I came up with a recipe this week – having bought a whole cauliflower and mulled over what I’d do with it – to use this sometimes underrated vegetable as a prime soup ingredient and build it up into a meal that will be hearty and not too heavy.
Cauliflower and coconut soup with cardamom croutons
1 large onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
18 cardamom pods, seeds removed and husks discarded
1 whole piece of mace (the outer casing of whole nutmeg)
1 large potato, peeled and cut into quarters
I head of cauliflower
1 x 200ml can coconut cream (not coconut milk)
2 cups (500ml) vegetable stock
Salt and white or black pepper to taste
2 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed
2 Tbsp butter for the onion
5 Tbsp butter for the garnish
I didn’t want to use cream, so decided instead on coconut cream, which is lighter and less cloying. And use of that suggested taking the Asian theme a little further by using spices including cardamom. Coconut cream has considerably more substance and flavour than its cousin, coconut milk, which is runny and insipid. If coconut cream is a little more expensive, there’s a reason why. And coconut lends itself to subtle spices.
This is a delicately spiced soup, filling and a meal in its own right. Start by peeling the potato, quartering it and putting it in a steamer for about 20 minutes over briskly boiling water. Then cut the florets off the head of cauliflower, rinse them in cold water and add to the steamer for 15 minutes or so. Test for softness with a fork but don’t let them steam for so long that they disintegrate.
While that’s all steaming, remove the husks from 10 of the cardamom seeds. Melt the butter and add the cardamom seeds and mace, the chopped onion and garlic, and sauté to soften the onion and develop the spicy flavours. Add the steamed potato and cauliflower and mash until the vegetables are crumbly, then add the coconut milk and vegetable stock (I used Nomu vegetable stock – 2 Tbsp stirred into 500ml boiled water), season with salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes over a low heat to further develop the flavours.
Meanwhile, melt the rest of the butter and add the seeds from the remaining cardamom pods. Simmer very gently for a couple of minutes to develop the cardamom flavour, then pour off a little of the cardamom butter into a frying pan on a moderate heat and, when it’s foaming, lightly fry the bread cubes.
Remove the pieces of mace from the soup and discard. Blend the soup until it’s fine and quite thick. If the consistency is too thick, add extra vegetable stock stir, and simmer for another few minutes.
Ladle the soup into bowls, dot with cardamom croutons, and spoon over some of the cardamom butter.
First published in Weekend Argus April 2012