Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Carrot Soup with Ginger: An Answer to the "Cold Front"

I think a good measure of the seasons changing, nowadays at least, is not necessarily the day on the calendar, but when you get a week of 70º weather after a 90º+ heat wave. Known in Louisville as a cold front, this 70º weather can induce chronic outdoorsiness, the desire to become more active during the daylight hours, and returning to an open-window policy. I am happy to say that I fell subject too all of these symptoms, and it has been a good week! Generally, when fall is knocking at our doors, we have a little fluctuation period of hot weeks and cooler ones. In order to get into the spirit of fall, I took this cool week to make up a soup I hadn't made in a long time.

Carrot soup with ginger is my favorite autumnal soup. It contains the best veggies from this part of the season, it is comforting and smooth, and it is versatile enough to transform into new dishes from the leftovers. It is also a soup that is better the 2nd and 3rd day after you make it--I absolutely love those! It's like you forgot how great it was the night before, and magically you formed super senses to enjoy the dish even more! I'm easy to please.

This soup can have any number of ingredients and forms. You can make it creamy or not, you can puree it or not, the choice is yours (as with everything). I like to start it out as kind of a stew--we can get into the debate on what is a soup and what is a stew, but my basic definition is that if the pieces are small enough to eat it with a spoon and not a fork, then it is a soup. I eat chili with a fork, so its stew. I'll try to suggest a few variations though for you soup-purists (which includes pureeing).

Carrot Soup with Ginger
2 Celery Stalks, trimmed and sliced thin
1 onion, chopped
8-9 Carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1-2 Potatoes, depending on size, with or without skin, cut into 1x1/3" pieces
About a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated (I actually used a zester)
3-4 Cloves of garlic, sliced
8-10 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
Black Pepper
Cream (optional)

To prep the vegetables, I like to slice them all thin (except the potatoes stay a little more substantial). If you have a mandolin slicer, I would get that out and go to town; depending on your knife skills it could save you some time. If not, chopping them up isn't too bad--I like using prep work to relieve stress--the more stress, the more complex the meal coming out of the kitchen. Is anyone else like that? Hah. Anyways, everything should be about the same smallish size, this makes sure that every ingredient is cooked quickly and evenly, has a chance to distribute its flavor, and still fits in the soup category.

I group the onions and celery together in one bowl, and the potatoes, carrots, garlic, and ginger in another. You will heat some butter or olive oil (or a mixture of both) in a large pot and cook the celery and onions first, until they are fragrant and translucent. Then you add the second bowl with the carrots, potatoes, garlic, and ginger and stir around until the carrots become soft (probably 10 minutes). If the veggies stick to the bottom a little, don't freak out, we are about to de-glaze the pan with the broth or water. Relax.

Okay, when the veggies are tender, but not mushy, it is time to add the broth and finish the cooking process. Bring all of the ingredients to a boil (save the seasonings and cream, that comes at the end), and simmer on low for about 20 minutes, stirring a bit here and there. Now it is time for the finishing touches. Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste, then add about a 1/2-3/4 tsp of nutmeg. If you are adding cream, you can stir in 1/4 cup at this point, and reheat, but not to boiling (curdling is bad). To serve, sprinkle some parsley on top...the soup can do the rest.

On the 2nd and 3rd day you can puree it and serve it either cold or hot. Additionally, you can throw some homemade croutons (bread that you dried in the oven) and good-quality olive oil into the puree for some interesting layers.  This time I actually went a little avant-garde and put some pumpkin seed oil in there, for the win, which added the most wonderful nutty flavor to this already warming dish. It is magnificent for lunch or dinner on any day of the week, and the ginger-carrot combination will make you smile :)

Enjoy my friends!

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