Monday, 5 December 2011

Carrot Soup... and Some More Carrot Soup

Carrot soup is a concept that was a really hard sell for me. It brought up images of the puréed carrots that are fed to babies and I have to admit that the thought made me queasy. I remember the stuff my mother used to prepare for my siblings when were younger, and it wasn't always pretty. I can safely say that I have outgrown baby food.

I was also afraid of how underwhelming the taste would be. Let's face it, carrot juice tastes bland and, while that may satisfy some hippies, my taste buds need a bit more stimulation than that. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to eat healthy but please, make it taste good! And make it look good too!

However, since carrots are little sticks of health, packed with vitamin A, antioxidants and dietary fibers, it's really worth trying to give them back a bit of glory and preparing them in ways that are really appetizing (and a little more varied than baby carrots dipped in hummus…). I confess I got lazy in that endeavor because my chopping technique is deeply flawed. Cutting up the little orange buggers generally ends up with carrot pieces flying all over the kitchen so I usually chicken out of cutting them by grating them to use as a garnish for salads and a few Asian dishes.

So when my dear friend PL requested I post a carrot-orange-ginger soup recipe, my first thought was: "Not those damn carrots again!!". But, ginger and orange are a match made in Heaven flavor-wise and if you take the great nutritional value of carrots, combined with the vitamin C of the oranges and the wonders of the ginger, you get a winning combo as far as winter soups are concerned. It also turns out to be very low in calories and fat, so I had to concede that the idea was genius (who can say no to low-fat when winter love-handles are starting to show?) and I started working on the perfect combination of flavors.

While I hunted down a good recipe to combine those ingredients, I ran across another delicious blend of flavors I wouldn't have thought to mix with carrots: coconut milk and curry. It's obviously not as low-fat (though low-fat coconut milk is a great choice, as it won't sacrifice the taste), but the spicy kick is great and it has a lovely creamy texture.

My boyfriend and I also couldn't agree on which of the two we liked best so I tried again and again to combine the two recipes and create one ultimate carrot soup, but it was never quite right.  I finally decided to keep the two recipes in my collection and to use whichever one I had the ingredients for in the fridge when I fancied a good soup. Both are easy and quick to make, yummy and comforting. It would be criminal not to share them in the colder months of the year.

The first recipe is based on the one found in Jeanelle Mitchell's "For the Love of Soup", but modified to death. It resurrected into the most awesome wintery comfort food; something to be served to people afflicted with a cold, and to ginger-lovers!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
1 thumb-size pieces fresh ginger, chopped
2 cups vegetables broth
1 cup orange juice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon cardamom
1 tablespoon tumeric
Sea salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons cilantro or chives, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)

In a large saucepan or stock pot, heat up the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion and carrot and sauté until the onion is soft and golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the ginger, tumeric and cardamom, and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and orange juice and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Using an immersion blender, pulse the soup until smooth and creamy. Put back on the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer until heated. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro or chives.

Obviously, omit the yogurt or sour cream, and you have a gorgeous vegan soup. I find the garnish doesn't add or subtract to the equation, so it really is up to personal taste and to whether or not you count the calories.

The second recipe is from my dear Isa Chandra Moskowitz's "Vegan With a Vengeance". As it has a creamier texture than the previous one, it somehow feels a bit more elegant. You can save the fancier bowls for this one, but it tastes just as great in the more casual ones.

4 cups carrots, peeled and diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons peanut or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
1 (13 ounce) can coconut milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup

In a stock pot over medium heat, cook the carrots and onions in the oil for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions have browned. Add the garlic, curry powder, salt and a few dashes of ground pepper. Sauté for 1 more minute. Add the broth, cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off. Use an immersion-blender to purée the soup until it has the desired texture. Stir in the maple syrup and serve.

Double the curry powder if you want it spicy. I prefer to keep it moderate because I don't want to drown out the coconut flavor, but that's just me!

Beef them up with a slice of nice crusty bread and an uber-simple salad of mixed green or a garden salad. You can't get a healthier meal than that! Since both recipes wield 4 to 6 servings and reheat very well, I love to take those soups as lunches alongside a sandwich. You can double the quantities and freeze your left overs; they will keep for a couple of months in a sealed plastic container.

A very big thank you goes to PL, for breaking my prejudiced idea that carrot soup is boring. Now I know that a bit of original spicing takes it from "uninspiring" to "divine"!

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