Jane Austen’s (vegetarian) White Soup

cauliflower and white bean soup

As everybody knows, Mr. Bingley! (his name has to be followed by an exclamation mark – by law!) couldn’t hold a ball at Netherfield until his cook had made enough white soup. I’ve always been mildly curious about the nature of white soup. After a bit of research, I was excited to discover that this white soup is not dissimilar to a tarator sauce, comprised, as it is, of nuts and bread soaked in water. This one has almonds in it, which help to give it the lovely ivory color. The original version also had capon or gamon or something, but obviously I’m having none of that! I decided to use cauliflower, because it’s white, and it makes such a tasty puree. And I decided to use white beans. Can you guess why? That’s right! They’re white! And delicious.

I had read that white soup was traditionally garnished with pomegranate seeds and pistachio kernals. Red and green! On a beautiful, creamy pale soup! It’s the perfect Christmas dinner starter!

I have to admit that I was mostly playing around with this recipe. But it turned out to be exceptionally good to eat, too! It’s creamy and smooth, but there isn’t a jot of cream in it. In fact, if you omit the dollop of butter it would be vegan. And how did it taste? Mrs Bennet is quoted as saying, “Mr Bingley! This soup is mother-flipping delicious!!”

Here’s Nina Simone’s amazing performance of Little Liza Jane, which takes care of two Bennet sisters in one song title.

3/4 cups blanched almonds, flaked or slivered
1 piece of white country bread or baguette (1/2 a cup, maybe? Maybe a little less) de-crusted and soaked in water
2 T olive oil
1/2 a head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 can (15 ounces) small white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup white wine
2 bay leaves
2 small shallots – finely diced
2 cloves garlic – finely diced
1/2 t. sage
1/2 t. thyme
1 t. rosemary
1 t. basil
red pepper flakes
1/2 t. mustard powder
dollop of butter
dash of white wine vinegar

pomegranate seeds and pistachio kernals for garnish.

1. Warm the olive oil in a large soup pan. Add the shallots, then the garlic, then the herbs. When everything starts to brown slightly, add the mustard powder, the pepper flakes and the white wine. Stir and cook till it’s syrupy and the pan starts to dry out again.

2. In a blender, combine the almonds, the bread (which has been squeezed dryish) and 2 1/2 cups water. Blend for quite a while till it’s pretty smooth.

3. Add the cauliflower – stir to coat and cook till it starts to brown. Add the beans. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

4. Pour the almond/bread mixture over the veg and beans. Add 1/2 t. salt. Stir and cook. Add enough water to make sure everything is covered with liquid, and it’s not too thick. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 20 minutes, till the cauliflower is just soft.

5. Add a dollop of butter and a dash of vinegar.

6. Remove the bay leaves, and blend the soup till it’s velvety smooth.

7. Return to the pot. Add enough water to make everything the consistency of heavy cream. (or however thick you like it)

8. Serve with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and roughly chopped pistachio kernals.


4 thoughts on “Jane Austen’s (vegetarian) White Soup

  1. Pingback: Pecan-whole grain tarator sauce | Out of the Ordinary

  2. Pingback: Vegetarian broth (and savory baked custards) | Out of the Ordinary

  3. I made this before, and it was wonderful. I made it again and doubled the recipe, and now, it is very bland! It has no taste! I do not know what I did wrong. I even added more spices, and it still does not taste good. Can you advice me? I am not sure what I did to make such a difference in taste. Thank you!

    • Hello! I think maybe if instead of doing a straight doubling of the recipe you double the more flavorful things but not the blander elements, that might work. So double shallots, garlic, herbs, cauliflower, beans, but just add slightly more almonds and bread. I think that might work!

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