Looking for a warm, comforting soup, I cracked open my copy of "Small Plates & Sweet Treats" by Aran Goyoaga. It is one of my favorite recipe books, a treat for the eyes and creative senses as much as for the stomach. The cookbook focuses on gorgeous and unique seasonal and gluten-free recipes. I found a real winner on page 99: this roasted cauliflower soup, which is topped with a smear of a surprising kind of pesto.

Never having used dandelion greens before, I wasn't sure if they were seasonal or what. I was ready to substitute arugula, another bitter green that works well for pesto, if I couldn't find dandelion greens. But sure enough, my local market had some gorgeous deep green leaves in stock. I used lightly toasted hazelnuts as well as some macadamia nuts I'd had stored in the cupboard. Walnuts might also be a great option for this pesto. I made a big batch — about double what the recipe calls for — as the leftover pesto (which keeps in the fridge for about a week) is great on some multigrain crackers with a bit of fleur de sel sprinkled on top.

The soup filled the kitchen with an amazing herby, roasted vegetable smell. And when blended, it is thick and creamy. It's hard to remember that there is no half-n-half or heavy cream in here. That's thanks to both the potato and coconut milk. And the coconut milk also adds just the tiniest touch of sweetness, which is then cut by the bitter, nutty flavor from the pesto. A wonderful combination.

For garnish along with the pesto, I mixed up paprika with a smidgen of nutmeg. Something about the mix seemed suiting, and it added just a little something extra to the soup. Here is the recipe with my adaptations.

Prep time: 45 minutes 

Total time: 45 minutes 

Yields: 4-6 servings

Cauliflower and Leek Soup With Dandelion Green-Hazelnut Pesto

Ingredients for Soup

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 leeks, cut into rings
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tb olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 medium russet potato, diced
  • 3 c vegetable stock
  • 1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tb dry thyme leaves (or 1 tsp fresh)
  • 1 tsp paprika (optional garnish)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional garnish)
Ingredients for Pesto
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cup dandelion greens
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
The soup's ingredients being prepared
A completed bowl of pesto

Cooking directions

  1. For the Soup: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, toss together the cauliflower, leeks, onion, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, and olive oil. Pour onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and place in oven for 20 minutes or until golden.
  2. In a large soup pot, combine the roasted vegetables, potato, vegetable stock, coconut milk, thyme leaves and remaining salt. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from heat.
  3. Using a wand blender (or in batches in a regular blender) puree the soup until it is creamy.
  4. For The Pesto: In a dry skillet over medium heat, gently toast the hazelnuts.
  5. Add to a food processor or blender along with the garlic and process until a fine crumble.
  6. Add the dandelion greens and salt and process again until the greens are well chopped, then drizzle in the olive oil as the food processor or blender is running, and let everything process into a paste. Add more olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, if needed to make it the desired consistency.
  7. Ladle out the hot soup into a bowl and top with a dollop or two of pesto. For the optional garnish, just mix together the two spices, and sprinkle a pinch over your soup. You can be fairly generous as the flavors won't compete with the soup.

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup with Dandelion Green-Hazelnut Pesto
The recipe's surprising pesto adds a touch of bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the coconut milk.