Golly, it’s been a while, huh?
A very long while… like, an inexcusably long while.
*Ducks head in shame*
Okay okay, I know! I get it. Please stop yelling at me. It’s just, despite its inexcusability, there are, um, excuses.
Like, I was without internet for a month in October! Yup — true story. First there was a week of testy internet service, followed by a week of no service at all, which in turn led to a few lengthy (and largely ineffectual) conversations with Time Warner’s Customer Service department. After coming to the realization that it was time for a new modem, I finally got one… only to give it back a week later because, well, (and here comes excuse #2) I moved!
That’s right. I probably didn’t even need to give you excuse #1, did I?
Yes, I moved. To Brooklyn, to Park Slope. And I love it. Like, really really love it. The pace is slower, the sidewalks are wider, and the streets are quieter. The air outside actually smells like earth and water and smoke and wet leaves sometimes, and I am within four blocks walking distance to the subway, the park, and the farmer’s market.
Thinking of the farmer’s market (and all of the many Saturday mornings I spent trudging back from it) reminds me of a favorite little ritual I developed while living in my old neighborhood. It was one of those little secrets that make the everday just a bit more special — and now I’d like to share it with you.
Back when I was living in the West Village, I walked everywhere — or more specifically, walked home from everywhere — most commonly from the frenzied Union Square farmer’s market, claustrophobic East Village bars, or from the high-energy salsa socials and dance studios of Chelsea, where blaring music reverberated through rooms packed full of sweaty breathless bodies, spinning and twisting and constantly in motion.
I loved where I lived, and I loved the energy of all of these places, but sometimes I dreaded leaving my quiet cobblestoned bubble to face the chaos of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Rounding the corner from 7th Ave with dance-weary legs or my arms full of groceries, I came to recognize a magical little block; one that marked a noticeable shift, from the chaos of the city to the treelined tranquility of my neighborhood. After turning that corner, I knew I only had to go a handful of steps before I encountered one of those sweet little silences you get every so often in the city. You know what I’m talking about: one of those moments when a red light has temporarily silenced the roar of street traffic, when no taxis are honking, no busses are beeping, nobody is yelling, and you can actually hear a bird chirping or a brief breezeful of leaves rustling.
Rounding that corner quickly became a favorite little ritual. Those few steps along 11th street were always fraught with expectation — the anticipation of quiet and of the city shrinking away — and never failed to disappoint. By the time I crossed Waverly, I was home.
Living in Brooklyn is like living in that little moment all afternoon.
And so, I’ve been settling in, enjoying the wide swaths of silence, exploring the park, following the patches of sunlight that tumble over my bed in the morning and slowly migrate across my floor… and falling in love with a spiced carrot soup: a soup so comforting, so unexpected yet familiar in its flavors and so amazingly simple that I cannot wait any longer to share it with you.
I discovered this soup my first weekend here, on a Sunday. I’d already bought all the food I thought I’d need for the week at the Grand Army Plaza market on Saturday… but one taste, and I was hooked.
I had to have it.
I immediately began plotting ways to use up the rest of the perishable food in my refrigerator in order to make room for a whole lot of carrots.
It wasn’t until almost week later, when a friend of mine casually mentioned a great Moroccan-spiced carrot soup he’d had on a recent trip to the Southwest, that I threw up my hands. That was it — it was a sign. I stopped caring about the other foods in my refrigerator that needed to be used up first. Nevermind I hadn’t made the stock yet, or that I feared the carrots I’d been unable to resist purchasing the day before weren’t sweet enough. None of that would get in my way. We were making that soup. Tonight. Non-carrot-soup foods be damned.
Well, make it we did… and let me tell you, despite a number of things that could have been done differently, or could have gone wrong, it was perfect.
On the first try.*
That said, I was in quite the frenzy to throw this soup together, and didn’t really measure anything, so these are all roughly eyeballed measurements… but this is the kind of throw-together recipe (as most of the ones I’m drawn to are) that’s quite flexible anyway. It’s really up to you whether you want a thicker soup, or whether you want to thin it out with more stock; whether you want a sweeter soup, or a more buttery one, or a spicier one.
Note: the second time* I made this, it came out a bit thick (as you can see from the photos), and I had to add a little extra water to thin it out. I also had to go back in and add a touch of melted butter, having skimped on it when sauteeing the onions. I didn’t think I’d miss it, but it actually made a big difference. So, take note: tempted though you may be to push this recipe over the line from “healthy” to “virtuous”, don’t. It’s already damn good (and pretty good for you), so don’t mess with a good thing like I did.
Now go forth, buy a big bunch of carrots, hit up your spice rack, and use this as your guide. You will emerge from your kitchen with a hot potful of earthy and spicy and sweet orange soup that will play nicely with your sandwiches and keep you warm and happy for a week.
Spiced Carrot Soup with Cumin and Honey
- 3-4 tablespoons butter
- 2 large yellow onions
- 6-8 good-sized carrots (roughly 4 heaping cups sliced)
- roughly 2 cups light-tasting vegetable stock (see below)
- 3-4 tablespoons honey (plus more to taste)
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- dash or two of paprika
- dash of ground ginger
- pinch or two of mesquite-smoked chili powder (or alternatively, ancho chile powder or cayenne)
For the stock:
- Large pot of water (roughly 10 cups)
- 2 onions
- 1 leek
- 4-5 carrots or mixture of carrots and parsnips
- 3-4 celery stalks
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- I also included about 5 whole peppercorns, 1/2 star anise, and a very small dried whole chili pepper
First, make the stock. Set the pot of water over high heat. While that’s heating, chop the onions (no need to peel them), wash and chop the carrots (no need to peel them, unless they’re really dirty), leeks and celery, leaving whatever tops and ends may be on there. Toss those into the pot with the bay leaf, salt, and whatever other seasonings you want. Once the water gets hot, but before it begins to boil, lower the heat, and low-simmer for about 30-45 minutes.
As that’s simmering away, peel and chop the onions and place in a thick-bottomed pot with 2 tablespoons of butter over a low heat. Cover and allow to sauté and sweat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, while you peel and slice the carrots. (You can add the onion and carrot peels and tops to the stock.)
After the onions are softened but not necessarily browning — although I suppose you could caramelize them for longer if you wanted to — give them a final stir, toss in another tablespoon or two of butter, raise the heat to medium-low, add the sliced carrots and pour in 2 cups stock. (The carrots may not be totally covered but that’s okay.) Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20-30 minutes or until the carrots are tender (depending on how thinly you sliced them).
Once everything is tender, it’s time to puree. I used a hand blender, but you can also allow the soup to cool and puree in a blender or food processor. It’ll take a little bit of time to get it smooth, so puree it just to the point that it’s a fairly consistent consistency (I know that sounds redundant, but I can’t think of a better way to say it) and then add in the honey and spices, and more stock or water as needed to thin it out. Puree a little more, both to creamify (yup, I did just say that) the soup and to blend the spices.
Taste, adjust seasonings, thin out with more vegetable stock or water as necessary, and puree a little more whydon’tcha.
Serve this however you want, but (as I mentioned above) I think this is a great soup to have for lunch with sandwiches. And I almost never eat sandwiches… but for some reason, this soup makes me want a sandwich. Maybe some turkey and greens, with a little whole-grain mustard and mayo. On whole wheat rye bread with caraway seeds.