The Curious Properties Of Carrots
Lately, I’ve had a strong craving for carrots. I even dreamed about making carrot soup, so this morning as soon as I woke up I started cooking. The sky was streaky with pale pink and gold clouds and the sun was just coming up when my soup was ready. I often eat soup for breakfast, simply because it’s fast, hot, and satisfying. Today’s carrot soup is absolutely scrumptious, comforting that persistent craving with panache. I even gave some to our elderly, cranky old man cat Louie, who sipped cautiously at first, then with surprising enthusiasm, given that it’s a vegan recipe and cats are natural predators.
Maybe I got fixated on carrots while reading The Short Nights Of The Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan, a biography of Edward Curtis, the Seattle-based photographer who chronicled the swiftly vanishing cultures of many American Indian tribes over some 50 years. Among many fascinating observances, I learned that Curtis ate a pound of carrots every day to preserve his eyesight. That’s about 4 large carrots, far more than most of us are willing to chow down daily.
Better Cooked Than Raw
However, what Curtis did not know was that cooked carrots release far more of their beta-carotene than raw ones. Along with plenty of vitamin C and minerals, carrots offer us beta-carotene and numerous other vitamin A precursors, substances that allow our gut to produce that useful nutrient. The idea that carrots assist eyesight is ancient, and has a grain of truth, especially considering the typical extremely limited winter diet most people experienced (in the Western world, anyway), which would indeed be improved by adding any fresh root vegetables.
Many studies have established that vitamin A is indeed important for eye health, and that carrot consumption can in fact be helpful for people who have poor night vision. Aha! Maybe THAT’S why I’m craving carrots, since I find driving at night increasingly challenging. Or perhaps it’s because my skin is already turning winter pale, and if I eat enough carrots, I’ll gain that golden glow produced by high blood levels of beta-carotene and so beloved of European nannies.
Savory Carrot Soup
While I love curried carrot soup (see below), I also appreciate a more European approach, flavoring carrot soups with rosemary, thyme, garlic and shallots and garnishing with toasted nuts, chopped apples, or parsley and chives. Feel free to swap these herb choices for others of your own preference; dill and sour cream give carrot soup a Scandinavian twist, while carrot soup with lemon juice, oregano and goat cheese evokes Greek cookery. I like this soup smoothly pureed, but hearty eaters may prefer chunkier soup, perhaps pureeing only half the ingredients and leaving the rest in bits (very easily done with an immersion blender).
Herbed Carrot Soup
2 teaspoons fruity olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, stemmed
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 stalks celery, chopped
8 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup unfiltered, unsweetened apple cider
4 cups vegetable broth (*)
1/4 cup fresh apple, diced
2 tablespoons toasted, chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons chopped chives
In a soup pot, heat oil with onion over medium high heat and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add garlic, shallots, salt, pepper, and herbs and cook until vegetables are barely soft (6-8 minutes). Add celery, carrots and apple cider and water to barely cover vegetables, cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until very tender (45-60 minutes). Add broth (see below) and puree soup to desired consistency, or just enjoy as is. Serve hot, garnished with diced apple, walnuts, and chives. Serves 4-6.
I made mine using all the scraps from soup prep: onion, garlic and shallot peels and root ends, celery ends and root, carrot ends and peels, herb stems, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Add 5 cups water, bring to a low boil, reduce heat to low, cover pan and let it simmer while your soup cooks. Then, strain it through a colander and add it to your soup for free and delicious broth with a lovely golden color, thanks to the onion skins. Makes 4-5 cups and freezes well.
A Gingery Carrot Soup
Ginger and Indian spices are natural flavor enhancers for carrots, which are an important part of Indian cuisine. Black and dark purple carrots, closest in color to wild ones, are prized in India, where they are bred to have the sweeter flavor and straighter, less forked roots of modern carrot hybrids. If you can only find orange ones, they work just fine in this spicy soup, as do carrots of any color.
Curried Carrot And Cauliflower Soup
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inches ginger root, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons garam masala or curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium head cauliflower, cut in florets
1 can organic coconut milk
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup unsweetened, toasted coconut curls
1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts
In a soup pot, heat oil with onion over medium high heat and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, salt, seeds and spices and cook until vegetables are barely soft (6-8 minutes). Add celery, carrots, cauliflower and coconut milk, cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until very tender (45-60 minutes). Add broth and heat through. Serve hot, garnished with coconut curls and peanuts. Serves 4-6.