Cauliflower Soup with Leeks, Carrots and Cheddar

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I grew up in Portland, OR, at a time when it wasn’t quite as cool or slick as it is now. Back in those days, Balony Joe’s still fed the homeless off the Burnside Bridge, thrift stores weren’t particularly hip and the best place in town for a quick lunchtime cup of soup was Winchell’s Donuts (sadly, most of the old Winchell’s locations have been turned into Starbucks in recent years).

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As an occasional treat on those drizzly Portland Saturdays, my mom would take my sister and me to the Winchell’s that used to be on 82nd Avenue in SE Portland. It was located between the now-defunct Bargain Station thrift store (razed to make way for a Walmart) and Value Village (happily, still there). We’d each order the $2.49 lunch special, which consisted of a cup of soup, a drink and a donut for dessert (a rare indulgence).

It’s such a cozy memory, sitting on battered stools along the counter, spooning cream of potato soup out of a thick, contoured china cup and watching the rain pattern down the side windows of the restaurant. Since then, I’ve associated sturdy, creamy soups with rainy days and deep comfort.

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Monday, feeling the need for a little homey-ness, I made a huge batch of cauliflower soup that was inspired by those Winchell’s lunches (I couldn’t, however, justify a full-on homage, as the soups we ate back in those days were heart-stoppingly heavy). Mine was full of vegetables (cauliflower, leeks and carrot) simmered in home canned chicken stock (learning to can homemade chicken stock in the pressure canner has revolutionized my pantry) and enriched with a quick, cheddar-y white sauce.

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We’ve been eating this soup all week, garnishing the bowls with some browned ham cubes or just a handful of pretzel twists. As I write this, there’s just enough left for one final bowl. I’ve got my sights set on having it tomorrow for lunch, unless Scott gets to it before I do.

Think of this as more of a soup method than a recipe and play around with it. Swap broccoli in for the cauliflower. No leeks? Use onions instead. Want a pure white soup? Skip the carrots (although they do lend a nice sweetness). Want to make it vegetarian? By all means, use veggie stock in place of the chicken. Have a spicy-loving palate? Add a dash of cayenne pepper. You get the picture.

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Cauliflower Soup with Leeks, Carrots and Cheddar

Ingredients

  • 2 heads cauliflower, roughly chopped
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 leeks, well-washed and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 quarts chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 7-8 grinds of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • For the Cheesy Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 heaping tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3-4 grinds black pepper

Instructions

  1. In a large soup pot (I used my 7 1/2 quart Le Creuset), saute the chopped cauliflower, carrots and leeks in the butter and olive oil. Allow them to soften and brown for 7-8 minutes over fairly high heat. When the bottom of the pan begins to brown, deglaze the pan with the white wine (if you don’t want to use white wine, feel free to skip it and head straight to the stock). Use a flat wooden spatula to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken stock, reduce the heat to medium, apply a lid and allow the veggies to simmer for approximately ten minutes (the larger your veggie chunks were, the longer you’ll want them to simmer).
  2. In a medium saucepan, begin the white sauce by melting the butter over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and use a whisk to work it together. Let it brown up a bit. When it begins to develop a nice toasted color, pour in a couple of tablespoons of milk and whisk it in to incorporate. Add the milk bit by bit, whisking to incorporate after each pour, until all the milk is worked in (if you pour in all the milk at once, you’ll get lumps).
  3. You should have a white sauce that is of moderate thickness. Add your grated cheese and stir until it’s melted in. Now add the cubed cream cheese (I realize that this is sort of a trashy addition, but believe me, it makes it really yummy). Finally, add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Once the sauce is smooth, turn the heat down to it’s lowest setting and return your attention to your pot of veggies.
  4. By now, your cauliflower, carrots and leeks should be pretty soft. Now it’s time to puree. I like to use an immersion blender, because you don’t have to dirty another vessel and it doesn’t make the soup too smooth (I like my soup to have some texture). If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a blender, food processor or food mill. Take care when using a blender or food processor though. Work in small batches and use a folded kitchen towel to cover the lid to prevent splatter.
  5. Once the soup is smooth-ish, pour in the cheesy sauce. Carefully stir to incorporate it. Taste and adjust seasonings. Unless you used a salty cheese, it will probably want a bit more salt.
  6. All that’s left to do is have a nice, warming dinner (with plenty of leftovers that you can store in jars and stash in the fridge).
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27 Responses to Cauliflower Soup with Leeks, Carrots and Cheddar

  1. 1
    Lindsay says:

    Mmm, that soup looks good. And come to think of it, I haven’t seen a Winchell’s around here in a long time. The one near us (off McLoughlin Blvd) has turned into some other kind of doughnut shop. Heavenly doughnuts or something? Weird.

  2. 2
    Melynda says:

    That looks great, cauliflower will be in my shopping cart the trip out.

  3. 3
    Joy Manning says:

    This looks fabulous. I love a cauliflower soup. Thanks for the great recipe.

  4. 4
    Donna says:

    Looks great and I’m not a huge cauliflower fan. I would go vegetarian,(my daughter is one) and how about swapping out the carrots for parsnips if you want it pure white?

  5. 5
    daisy mae says:

    the cheese sauce/roux is an interesting addition. i’ve never seen that done before – especially the addition of cream cheese. i usually make my version of “cream of ___” soup with evap milk.

  6. 6
    wes says:

    I found out about adding cream cheese when I was making mac and cheese one time and just threw it in an impulse. It was THE best mac and cheese ever. It just made the sauce so silky smooth.

  7. 7
    Bonnie Story says:

    Delicioso! I’ll be taking out some of my frozen cauli this winter and have been looking for a recipe like this. I might add some roasted rutabaga to the mix.

  8. 8
    Erica says:

    Will all the dairy make this a bad soup to freeze?

  9. 9
    molly says:

    I do love myself some soup. And cauliflower soup is a favorite. I’ve never added cheese to mine, and can’t wait to try.
    I went to college in Portland before it was quite so fab, and Value Village was an important part of it. Many household items and and half my wardrobe came from there….

  10. 10
    Erin says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories as well as this recipe. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since you mentioned it on Facebook.

  11. 11
    Jase says:

    Mmmmm, cauliflower soup. Sounds so good I might just make it tonight. Thanks for the recipe.

  12. 12
    gwen says:

    I would love to peek in your cupboards to see all the good things you have squirreled away for winter. Such a wonderful blog…Brilliant!

  13. 13
    Jase says:

    As always the recipe was absolutely delicious. We just finished it up today! I added garlic powder and cayenne pepper, was going to add mini yukon golds but I forgot ’till the soup was already done. Maybe next time. Thanks again for another great recipe.

  14. 14

    Hooray for soup weather! This looks great. Last night I made soup with literally all the leftovers in my fridge but I could probably stand to actually follow a recipe sometime :-)

  15. 15
    Meg says:

    I made this soup last night and it was stupendous! Thanks for a great recipe that gave me a chance to use my immersion blender (I like to think of it as the magic wand of the kitchen).

  16. 16
    Danielle says:

    Hello,
    I just discovered your blog and its very inspiring! I have a question that’s not related to the cauliflower soup but I couldn’t find another place to ask it. You mentioned in a previous posts that plums can be canned whole in either water or syrup. Do you think they could be canned in red wine? I just made a recipe from Molly Stevens “All About Braising” that was sausage braised with plums and red wine. It was soo delicious and I was trying to figure out a way to preserve plums for winter so that I can make this dish when it’s really cold outside. Do you have any thoughts on whether preserving in wine would work? Thanks for your blog, its making me really excited about canning possibilities.

  17. 17
    Marisa says:

    Oops, I’m really behind in replying to comments! I am so glad to hear that you guys have tried and enjoyed the soup! Personally, I’ve already made it twice now.

    Erica, yes, the dairy makes it not so good for freezing. If you really wanted to, you could make a version of this soup without the cheese sauce, freeze that, and then spice it up with some yogurt and grated cheese upon reheating.

    Danielle, I’m going to email you directly with an answer.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    jordan says:

    well it’s taken me a few months, but i finally got around to making this soup last night! (i had starred it on my google reader back when it was posted, but then forgot about it somehow!) well, i have to say it was absolutely delicious and super easy! i also love how it can be adjusted to use whatever it is you may have in the fridge at the time. thanks for a great recipe :)

  20. 20
    Marisa says:

    Jordan, I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed this soup! Hooray!

    • 20.1
      James says:

      Hey Marisa I made this soup over the weekend along with the ground beef soup. Both were really good but the Califlower was amazing! Why am I the only guy on here? This a great way for me to package up individual meals for the week or month. It adds diversity and saves me lots of money. I’m thinking of adding well done bacon bits to the Califlower to see what that adds. Eventually I hope to start jarring up some veggies. Thx for all you do-James

  21. 21

    […] me start by sharing the fact that I am not really a doughnut person. Growing up, doughnuts were a rare treat and sadly, those we did have were not representative of the best a doughnut can be. As I’ve […]

  22. 22
    Annalisa says:

    I bookmarked this a while ago and made it last night — I wish I had made it sooner! I added 3 carrots and 3 celery stalks as I only had 1 head of cauliflower. I also cut back on the cheddar a bit (used 6oz.) and I think it came out fantastic. I can’t wait for leftovers!

  23. 23
    Annie says:

    This is great. I will have to remember to use it next time I get cauliflower in my food co-op box.

  24. 24
    Sara says:

    This recipe was amazing! I was actually looking in my fridge and thought, “What am I going to do with 2 heads of cauliflower and some leftover cream cheese?” Brilliant! Thank you.

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