Cauliflower and Cheese Soup (Berlin, February 20, 2012)

Today I made a trip to the airport, but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t get on a flight. Cesar left Berlin today to go back to Chicago, and I returned to my apartment. Cesar has just been in Berlin for seven weeks and it’s been great. As much as I enjoy my solitude on certain occasions, I much prefer living with other people. I had forgotten how much I missed planning dinners and making joint grocery lists and being able to have a conversation about my day while chopping carrots or peeling potatoes. It’s a good thing.

The days of such departures are always awkward for me. This is the case if I’m the one leaving or if I’m the one seeing someone else off. I tend to mill around the house aimlessly and find it difficult not to say things like “this time tomorrow I’ll be waking up in….” Or, “in just a few hours you’ll be arriving at….” I’ve always been one to dwell on the future instead of the now and the anticipation of imminent trips is no exception.

The day flew by though. This morning we recreated our usual Sunday ritual, which is to listen to various podcasts over coffee in the living room. After that, we went to [ Rogacki ] for the fish soup. This is something that I think should be on everyone’s “to eat” list in Berlin. It’s a perfect, simple dish: chunks of mild, white fish are covered with a ladle of golden, almost buttery broth and the whole things is topped with a handful of freshly-cut dill. It was a great way to celebrate the end of a great seven weeks. After that, there was just enough time to grab luggage and head to the airport.

On my way back home from dropping Cesar off, I got off several stops earlier than usual at Südstern, ostensibly to check out an indoor market on Bergmanstrasse that I had been thinking of trying out. What I really needed was to change my routine. It would have been far more difficult to exit at my normal subway station, to see the same advertisements and walk past the same kiosk and turn the same corner that I do every evening, just to come home to an abnormally silent house. The market was boring and overpriced, by the way, but the long and irregular walk home through the park and down a few back streets served its purpose.

Right now, the apartment is silent except for the sound of the neighbor’s television. Having returned home from a shopping trip made more difficult with the knowledge that I’m back to cooking for one, I’m feeling the need for some music or a podcast to fill the empty space.  All this is not meant to sound whiney. In fact, I’m not sad. This empty feeling, while unpleasant, serves to confirm to me that the last seven weeks – the longest span time for which I’ve lived with Cesar or any other partner or boyfriend – were a very good thing, indeed.

Cauliflower and Cheese Soup (adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender)

I’ve been eating a good deal of cauliflower lately, probably in part from being bored with the other winter root vegetables that make a regular appearance on my grocery list. Thumbing through Nigel Slater’s Tender, I found this soup, attractive due to its simplicity and the cheap ingredients involved. It had comforting flavors and was low-maitenence, perfect for a night like tonight.

Notes: The original recipe called for whole-grain mustard and Gruyere or Cheddar cheese. I used what I had available: Dijon mustard and a not-so-great Gouda-style cheese. If you’re not using a salty cheese like Cheddar, make sure to taste for salt at the end and adjust. The original recipe also called for crème fraîche. I skipped this and thought it was creamy enough on its own.


1 large cauliflower

1 yellow onion

2-3 cloves garlic

50 grams or so of butter

120 grams of sharp cheese, such as Cheddar or Gruyere

1 teaspoon of grain mustard

Salt and plenty of black pepper


First prepare the cauliflower by removing the outer leaves and cutting off the base of the stem. Rinse the whole thing, then cut it half down the middle and remove the florets from the core. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and put the florets in until just soft, around 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely dice the onion and garlic. Heat butter in a deep pot and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent. Then ladle the cooked cauliflower florets out of the boiling water and into the pot with the onion and garlic, stirring to coat the pieces. Next, add 3 cups of the water used to cook the cauliflower to the pan, along with a healthy dose of salt and pepper, and bring the whole thing to a boil, cooking until the cauliflower is soft, around 15 minutes.

When the vegetables have softened, spoon the mixture into a blender and pulse until just smooth. You will probably need to do this in two batches. Once smooth, return the mixture to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the shredded cheese and stir until melted.

Adjust seasonings and serve immediately. This soup was excellent with slices of dense, dark bread and a salad of arugula, oil and vinegar.

  1. Leslie Beard said:

    I’ve grown to love cauliflower too and will enjoy making this soup (will let you know how it turns out). Thanks for the recipe and for the quiet, haunting writing about the departure of a loved one.

  2. sabaladas said:

    Thanks for reading, Leslie – and I’d love to hear how the soup turns out!

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