Citrus-y Carrot Soup

Andreae Prozesky turns carrots into gold.

“But he wasn’t one bit hungry for monkeys! What he wanted was some more of that tasty carrot stew. So off he went to visit the rabbits.”

—Kathryn Jackson, The Tawny Scrawny Lion

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For many of us in this part of the world, steamed, puréed carrots are the first proper food—after breast milk and cereal mush—to pass our wee infant lips. Unadorned by salt or butter or freshly-grated nutmeg, strained to remove the slightest lumpy bit, warmed to body temperature and delivered in the tiniest of spoons, carrots are among the first things that tell us what food is.

And then, after a while, we pretty much forget about them.

Well, I’d pretty much forgotten about them. And that’s terribly sad.

There were the junior-high years, where carrot sticks formed the bulk of my school lunch. I truly believed that through massive carrot consumption—and no other adjustments to my generally sedentary lifestyle—I would be transformed from roundish adolescent to leggy model. (A total failure, that plan.)

There have been carrot muffins and carrot cakes, and carrots used for soup stock, but other than that they’ve been trapped in side-dish prison, dragged out of the mis-named crisper now and then to add some colour to a plate of roast chicken.

Somehow, among the more exotic vegetables, the Swiss chard and the Japanese eggplant and the delicious sweet baby Brussels sprouts, carrots have disappeared. When I want orange vegetables in a dish, I add some Hubbard squash or some sweet potato or some bell peppers. Carrots don’t really cross my mind, unless I’m looking for a vehicle to transport hummus into my daughter’s mouth.

And that’s just foolish. I’m always going on about buying local produce and supporting our province’s farmers and not shipping your food from California when you can get it from Foxtrap. You know what farmers in Newfoundland are growing? Carrots. They might also be growing cabbage and potatoes and daikon and endives and edible flowers and kale and beets and tomatoes and broccoliflowers, but you can be almost sure that somewhere among the other veggies, carrots are shooting their orange roots downwards and their feathery fronds upwards. They’ve been doing it for a very long time, and they’re quite good at it. When other vegetables have a look at the Newfoundland climate and its rocky soil and say “I’m not so sure about this, guys…”, carrots holler “bring it!”

I would bring it, too, except for one daunting detail: many of the carrot recipes I enjoy—the salads, the muffins, the sandwich fixins—require grated carrots. And there’s something about grating carrots that I just can’t stand. I don’t mind peeling them, but the sensation of forcing crunchy, fibrous carrots through the holes of a box grater makes my joints ache. It’s a nails-and-chalkboard kind of thing. I don’t mind grating soft foods, like cheese or zucchini, or even potatoes, but grating carrots makes me crazy.

And no, I don’t have a food processor. There’s enough of a racket in my house at any given time without one more plug-in appliance adding its whiny voice to the overall dissonance.

So I’m lucky, then, that carrots lend themselves so well to soupery. Not to say that carrot soup is universally, or even very often, delicious. In fact, most of the time it’s downright insipid, or not nearly as smooth as it should be. I think this might come from the impression that carrots are a diet food, and that therefore they shouldn’t be allowed near any other ingredients that might add oomph to their homey pleasant-natured-ness. A little effort and a few extra ingredients are well worth it to bring out carrots’ sweetness and their inclination toward silkenness. Never mind that carrots are little nutritional superstars—a good carrot soup is comforting, reviving, and cheap to prepare.

The recipe below is for a carrot soup I made recently to cheer up and fortify a run-down friend. It seemed to do the trick, at least momentarily, and that’s all you can ask for, isn’t it? The carrot and orange flavours combine beautifully, and the rice and cashews make the soup creamy without the addition of actual cream. Be sure to use a blender or a food mill to purée the cooked soup—a food processor won’t give you the velvety texture you’re looking for. At least, not from what I recall.

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Citrus-y Carrot Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly-grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes, according to taste
8 large carrots, trimmed and cut into quarters (I don’t bother peeling them)
6 cups water
1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews (find them at the bulk store or in the baking section of the supermarket)
1 tablespoon uncooked basmati rice
1 cup orange juice
sea salt and black pepper

In a large pot, sauté onions in olive oil over medium heat. Add ginger and sauté one minute, then add garlic and sauté another minute. Reduce heat to low and add spices. Cook, stirring, until spices are fragrant, about one more minute. Add carrots and water, and stir in cashews and rice. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until carrots are tender, 20-25 minutes. Let soup cool a little and then purée it in batches. Return puréed soup to the pot and heat through. Stir in orange juice, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Top with a dollop of yogurt, a swirl of coconut milk, some toasted cashews or a few chopped raisins.

Note: the cashews and rice can make this soup quite thick, which is how I like it; if you prefer a thinner consistency, add some additional water or stock, or a little white wine.

Serves 6-8

Send your questions, comments, and visually acute suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca