When Berber & Q first opened beneath the arches of Haggerston station in 2015, word quickly spread about chef Josh Katz’s cauliflower shawarma. Having been welcomed with almost religious fervour, the dish has become renowned as the restaurant’s signature dish, going on to set the foundations for a cauliflower revolution of sorts, celebrating the vegetable’s versatility: great in cauliflower soup, salads, side dishes, or even on its own as a main course.
Brushed with a compound butter featuring spices such as cinnamon, sumac, cumin, all spice, and cardamom, the entire cauliflower is heavily charred on the barbecue – with most of the leaves intact – then garnished with tahini, pomegranate pearls, pomegranate molasses, pine nuts, rose petals, chopped parsley, and just a whisper of chilli. It’s then presented like an eminently edible Mardi Gras parade float. Countless chefs have since been inspired by the whole barbecued cauliflower dish, with various riffs on charred cauliflower having become a popular mainstay on so many restaurant menus. Few live up to the original, however.
As well as being suited to barbecuing, cauliflower also works remarkably well with a great number of spices. For spiced cauliflower soup, however, one-size-fits-all curry powder is particularly common, having probably sat at the back of the cupboard for years, containing an undisclosed blend of spices. This spiced cauliflower soup recipe, on the other hand, is heavily inspired by the Berber & Q cauliflower shawarma, using a similar blend of spices. The cauliflower is also pre-cooked in the oven until crispy. Once blended, the spiced cauliflower soup is then ladled into bowls and garnished with a drizzle of tahini (or use yoghurt, if you really must), pomegranate molasses, and a sprinkling of lightly toasted pine nuts. It’s not a patch on the original, but it’s a delicious winter warmer that’s both meat-free and inexpensive to make at home.
- 1 large cauliflower
- 1 large onion
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ tsp sumac
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 50 g butter or vegan alternative
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 1 lemon juice only
- Sea salt
- White pepper
- Neutral cooking oil
- Pomegranate mollasses to garnish, optional
- Toasted pine nuts a handful, to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- Remove the cauliflower’s tough outer leaves, but hold onto a few of the softer inner leaves. Roughly chop the cauliflower into florets and finely slice the thinner reserved leaves. Place the florets and sliced leaves onto a baking tray, in an even layer, then drizzle with some oil and scatter over all of the sumac. Transfer to the oven and cook for 45-60 minutes until the cauliflower is lightly browned all over.
- Just before the cauliflower has finished cooking in the oven, roughly chop the onion and add to a large, heavy-based saucepan with the butter and a generous drizzle of oil. Cook over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic alongside the cinnamon, cumin, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and chilli flakes. Increase the heat slightly and cook for a minute, stirring often.
- At this stage, add the browned cauliflower and leaves to the pan and continue to stir for another minute or so. Season with salt and white pepper, then slowly pour the stock into the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer the soup for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once cooked, allow to cool slightly then blend until smooth.
- Return to a clean pan and add one tablespoon of the tahini and half of the lemon juice (being careful to catch any seeds) and gently reheat. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Add more salt or pepper if necessary.
- While the soup reheats, in a small bowl whisk a tablespoon of tahini with two tablespoons cold water and the remaining lemon juice until smooth and pourable.
- Divide the soup between shallow bowls, then drizzle over some of the whisked tahini, plus a dash of pomegranate molasses and a pinch of toasted pine nuts.