Man, March kills me. I can’t believe it’s snowing outside right now. Actually, that’s not true. I can totally believe it. Doesn’t this happen every year? Luckily, I made us some soup.
About that soup – I’ll get to it in a minute. But first I
want need to tell you about this puffed, toasted quinoa. It’s my newest addiction, and thankfully it happens to be super healthy. It’s also super easy to make. All you do is toss raw quinoa into a hot pan with a smidge of oil and stir it around for a few minutes until it starts to pop and smell nutty. Season with a pinch of salt, and you have this crunchy, toasted, irresistible snack that I couldn’t stop shoveling into my mouth and crunching away.
I used red quinoa since it’s what I had in my pantry, but this works with any variety. Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, so it doesn’t technically require cooking in a liquid to be digestible. Simply toasting the seeds causes them to get crispy, lighten in texture, and take on the most wonderfully toasty flavor. It pops up a bit like popcorn, only it’s not quite as dramatic. Less “kernels” will actually puff up, but the seeds will all become really nice and crispy. The taste is a little reminiscent of popcorn, too.
Now about that soup. It’s light and silky with a slightly sweet and earthy flavor from the parsnips. I really wanted to keep this recipe vegan, so I didn’t use any of my usual flavor crutches like chicken stock, butter, cheese, or cream. On it’s own, the soup is good, but it lacks a little depth. I knew it needed something for a variation in texture and another something to boost it’s flavor. A lot of the time I’ll tell you that toppings are optional, but in this case they’re essential.
First, a drizzle of olive oil is needed to give the soup body and improved mouthfeel. It does the same thing cream does, but in a much healthier way. Drizzling it over at the last minute preserves the integrity of the oil and keeps all those bright, grassy flavors. Use the best extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on – it makes all the difference in the world.
Second, it needed a fresh herb. I considered including thyme in the actual soup, but wanted to keep the color totally white and free of any specks (hence the white pepper). So I saved it to use as a garnish and it wound up working out even better. The fresh thyme adds a pop of earthiness that compliments the flavors in the soup like a boss, and gives it a decidedly different feel than if it had been cooked down with everything else.
Finally, the puffed quinoa. It’s toasty and nutty and salty and gives this soup a real personality. Without it, the mellow pureed cauliflower and parsnips can come off a little bit like baby food, but when you sprinkle all that good stuff on top, it’s more akin to something you’d get in a fine dining restaurant. It’s also totally gluten free, nut free, and vegan. BOOM.
Whether you do the gluten free / vegan thing or not, this soup should totally become part of your repertoire. It’s obviously super healthy, but also really tasty and unique. Plus, since there’s no dairy, it freezes exceptionally well, too. And having soup in the freezer is always a major plus on these random, cold, snowy days in March.
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- salt and white pepper, to taste
- 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cubed (about 2-3 cups)
- 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into pieces (about 5-6 cups)
- water, as needed
- 1/4 cup quinoa, any variety
- fresh thyme leaves for serving
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, stir, and cook for one minute, then add garlic. Season with a pinch of salt and white pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add parsnips and cauliflower, season with more salt, stir, then add enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring up to a simmer, cover, and cook until all vegetables are completely tender.
- In the meantime, make the puffed quinoa. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a medium pot or saute pan with high sides. Get the oil nice and hot, then add the quinoa and lower the heat to medium-low. Stir the quinoa around constantly until it starts to pop and smell nutty, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a paper plate to drain and season with salt. Set aside.
- Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it's completely smooth. Alternatively, you can do this in batches with a traditional blender, but always practice caution when blending hot liquids. Thin out with more water as needed to achieve your desired consistency. Season liberally with more salt and white pepper to taste. The more water you add, the more salt it will need.
- Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, top with a few teaspoons of puffed quinoa and finish with fresh thyme leaves. Serve hot.