Carrot & Coriander Soup

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I promise not all of my Favorites are soup but hey it is still February in Ohio and the snow is still blowing!

This soup hasn’t been on my table nearly as many times as the Albondigas but it does evoke a favorite memory  and is mighty tasty on a cold winters day.

In in fall of 2000 I had the great fortune to be able to take my daughter with me on a business trip to Europe.  We had many great meals in Paris , Beauvais, London and Bath but the most memorable of all was a bowl of Carrot & Coriander soup in the city of York.   It was a blustery November day and after taking a brief walk about the city following the train ride from London we happened upon a small  tea shop serving soup and Belgian Waffles topped with whipped cream.  It was near closing time and there was only one bowl of soup to share among three very cold and hungry travelers.  Perhaps this is why each spoonful was so delectable but I truly believe that this was one of the most well-balanced and flavorful soups I’ve had the pleasure to taste over the years.  The sweetness of the carrots was balanced by the warm and citrusy flavor of the coriander.  So simple but so satisfying.

Upon returning home I searched the web for a recipe to no avail.  I guess back then there were not so many postings from the UK sharing their best dishes.  So, as with the Albondigas soup  I worked to recreate the soup from memory.   I never felt I was as successful at hitting a match to that soup from York, but it’s really hard to compete with a memory of something eaten in such a memorable setting with people you love.  I do think, however, that I’ve finally gotten to a pretty solid Carrot & Coriander soup that I’m happy to give a Very Good rating to.

The Ingredients

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The key to a simple soup like this one is to source the best possible ingredients.  Carrots that actually have carrot flavor (not those “baby” carrots whittled down by machine from giants and shipped across the country).  If you have access to a farmers market or belong to a CSA, the carrots they have will be excellent.  One of my favorites is Honeystick Carrot  grown by Wayward Seed Farms. Unfortunately at this point of winter I’ve eaten all of them and have to use the next best quality available at my local market.

The next key ingredient is the broth or stock.  I’d love to say I always make my own, but it’s not practical even for a retiree like me and certainly wasn’t true when my children were young.  So choose one you like in can or paste form and save the homemade stuff for a time when you really need it to sing as the main flavor note.  In this recipe it’s all about the carrots and the coriander which is why I use part stock and part water.  Too much stock  and it becomes more like chicken soup with carrots.

The spice coriander of course plays a star role and in this soup.  I like it best with just  the lone spice, but coriander pairs well with ginger and with cumin. So here is your place to add your touch.  My go to source for all herbs and spices for many, many years has been Penzeys.  If you don’t have one in your city I’d really suggest you go on-line and order your spices or find a good spice store near you (if you’re in Columbus Ohio check out North Market Spices).

The one ingredient you will not find in my soup that appears in many recipes that are now on-line is fresh coriander (cilantro).  I dearly love cilantro, but for me its sharp flavor doesn’t marry well with the warm citrusy flavor of the dried seeds from this plant.  But as always, it’s your soup so if you like, add some minced cilantro as a garnish at the end – lots of other people do.  If you’re in the middle of fresh carrot season and have access to the carrot tops, they would make a lovely garnish without detracting from the flavor of the soup.  In the middle of winter, I opt for a bit of flat leaf parsley if I have it on hand.

Last but certainly not least is the cream.  My original version was with sour cream,  The second contained no sour cream or cream at all, the only dairy was just a bit of butter to saute the carrots and onions.   Then came along Snowville Creamery and the best tasting dairy products you’ve ever consumed.  So if you have access to Snowville products or a local dairy producing good milk and cream, a splash of cream or crème fraîche at the end will take the soup to the next level.

The Method

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For guidance in the creation of the original soup I relied on Julia Child’s The Way To Cook recipe for Cream of Carrot Soup: Potage Crécy.   It seems that  Crécy France is known for its carrots.  So perhaps I should rename my current soup Wayward Carrot Soup!   In any case her soup is based on a method of cooking a vegetable with onions until tender and then simmering them in broth along with some white rice until tender and then puréeing the soup with an optional finish of heavy cream, sour cream or crème fraîche.

The Way To Cook was published in 1989,  when even Julia was looking at ways of cutting back on fat (using rice to give the body that would formally been provided by copious amounts of butter and cream) and letting the pure flavor of vegetables shine.  Her method of using master recipes takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, this book may become your go to reference for building great meals as well as for great late night reading.

Back to the soup!!

Once the carrots are translucent stir in the coriander and let the flavor bloom for a minute or two.  Add the rice, salt, broth and water, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the rice is done and the carrots are tender.

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Now you get to use one of my favorite kitchen tools-the immersion or stick blender.  It enables you to make a relatively smooth puree without the hazards of transferring hot soup to a blender or food processor and creating more things to wash.  If you want a perfectly smooth soup you will need to use one of the aforementioned tools and perhaps a fine mesh strainer as well.  I’m not opposed to one or two pieces of carrot or onion in my bowl, so I nearly always go the immersion route.  If you are just building your set of kitchen tools and don’t have a power tool,  you can always make a “rustic” soup and simply smash everything with a potato masher.

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After the soup is processed to your desired consistency, give it a taste for salt and pepper and if you’re serving it immediately stir in the cream etc.  This is optional however as the soup is quite tasty without any dairy at all.  If you’re planning to chill the soup and serve it later, wait until heating for serving to stir in the dairy.

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The perfect accompaniment for this soup is a scone-so guess what will be coming in my next post!!!

Stay Warm and Enjoy

M.B. Einerson

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 Carrot & Coriander Soup

 by: M.B. Einerson

 Adapted from the Master Recipe for Cream Soups & Cream of Carrot Soup: Potage Crécy by Julia Child in The Way To Cook

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • 3 Tbs. butter or olive oil (I like a combo of the two-but if you want a vegan soup go for the oil)
  • 1 lb. (6 to 7 medium size) carrots, roughly chopped-my rule of thumb is peel them only if they are not organic.
  • ½ medium onion, sliced (1 cup), any kind will do but a sweet onion will give you better caramelization and a slightly sweeter soup
  • 1 Tbs. ground coriander
  • ¼ cup raw rice-Julia’s original was white, but I don’t keep that in my pantry these days brown works just as well, it just needs to cook a bit longer and may require a bit more broth.   Basmati or Jasmine rices are also excellent choices.
  • 4 cups good quality broth or stock-my personal preference is chicken, but a mild flavored vegetable stock works as well.
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt to taste (the amount will depend on the broth you are using)-I start with ¼ tsp and adjust just prior to serving.
  • ½ cup heavy cream, sour cream or crème fraiche (optional-but in my opinion it makes the soup and my preference is for cream)

Heat butter or oil in a medium size soup pot (I use a 3.5 qt. Dutch oven).  Stir in the carrots and onions and sauté until the onions are translucent.  Add the coriander and continue to sauté for another minute or two.  You want the coriander flavor to bloom.  At this point your kitchen should be filled with a wonderful aroma!

Stir in the rice followed by broth, water and salt.  Bring the soup to a simmer, cover and cook on medium to low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until the rice is done and carrots are very tender (i.e. taste it – a good time to check the salt level too).

When the rice and carrots are done and the soup is seasoned to your liking, purée it with an immersion/stick blender.  If you don’t have one of these, the alternatives are to carefully transfer in batches to a food processor or blender for pureeing or smash it really well with a potato masher (call it “rustic”).

Once the soup has been puréed to the consistency you like, stir in the cream and heat gently to serving temperature.  If you are planning to chill the soup or freeze it and serve it at a later time don’t add the dairy until you are ready to heat and serve.

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