Photos by Zachary Cross
Spring is really here and along with it warm days, cool nights, and some rainy days and nights. Soup is still a good option on the menu, especially one that can be served hot or cold.
Carrots are a versatile vegetable, and a beautiful one, too. Typically you’ll find orange ones at market but sometimes purple, red, yellow, or white ones as well. The colors aren’t just pretty, they represent different types of nutrients. We associate beta carotene with carrots and the color orange, but orange carrots also contain xanthophylls and lutein. Both are also carotenoids and associated with eye health. I know my mother told me that carrots would help me see at night! Red carrots contain lycopene like tomatoes do. Purple carrots contain the flavonoids anthocyanins instead of carotenoids. Anthocyanins are considered powerful antioxidants.
Originally, cultivated carrots were primarily purple, occasionally white, yellow, or red. Sometime around the 15 or 1600s Dutch growers bred yellow carrots with wild carrots, eventually ending up with the orange we associate with carrots today.
The carrot family is very large, though the family name is Apiaceae. Otherwise known as Umbelliferae, this family’s plants have upside down umbrella-shaped collections of flowers, or umbels. The most well known decorative family member is Queen Anne’s Lace (one kind of wild carrot) but you probably know many others: parsley, coriander/cilantro, caraway, cumin, dill, celery, parsnip, along with many, many others.
Coriander complements its cousin carrot’s sweet flavor, both in seed and leaf form. Though two parts of the same plant, they nevertheless have distinctive flavors of their own. The spice we call coriander here in the U.S. is typically the dried seed of the plant. Ground it has a sweet and almost citrusy flavor (though Serious Eats would disagree and say grinding takes the citrus taste out - I still smell and taste it!). You can buy it already ground or whole and grind or crush your own - it’s a simple job with a mortar and pestle. Jeffrey prefers the flavor and texture of crushed but I confess to preferring the convenience of buying ground.
Cilantro is the form of coriander you will find at market. Looking like Italian parsley, it has a much different smell and taste and some say it tastes like soap. Although this is supposed to be tied to your genes and nothing you can do can change it, I have found that repeat exposure to it, usually paired with yummy Mexican or Asian food, has made me go from hater to fan. Apparently this can work for anyone . If you are a cilantro hater, try it in pesto form or otherwise well chopped to help you acclimate.
We’ve been making carrot soup for a long time. It’s another of our favorites from Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook Menus. The pages in the books are spattered and wrinkled - a sign of a good recipe!
It’s a pretty basic recipe, too. Shallots and coriander are sautéed in butter; carrots and stock are added, boiled, and pureed. A little cream adds body and a sprinkle of cilantro and chives add a nice touch of color as well as flavor.
We’ve followed this basic recipe pretty closely over the years but Martha says, “I find that the flavor of the carrots is greatly enhanced by adding a parsnip or a leek or even a ripe pear or apple to the soup while it is simmering.” The times we’ve tried a parsnip in the soup we found it bitter, but they were supermarket parsnips, not market ones. Maybe someday we will try again!
From Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook Menus
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
4 cups chicken stock (I used vegetable stock)
1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced (optional) (I did not use)
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
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