This week was, in fact, the first week of spring.
Shocking, I know.
I mean, what screams spring more than tons of freezing rain and snow; thick clumps of slush falling from the sky and pelting your umbrella, which you had hoped you could put away for the time being, as you practically sprint home from work. Yesterday, the temperature was so low that in just the ten minutes that it takes for me to walk from my subway stop to my apartment (okay, so the market below my apartment), my hands went completely numb and turned blue. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s just the sort of thing I hope to say arrivederci to come springtime.
With Cara lounging on a Carnival Cruise pool deck in the southern Caribbean this week, and loads of terrible weather swirling around outside my home in New York, last night appeared to be a rare occasion where I had a) the apartment all to myself, b) nothing to do, and c) absolutely zero motivation to venture out into this big ol’ city and have an adventure. When the nice weather is back, I’m sure that urge will hit me, but last night, nothing was more appealing to me that reorganizing my kitchen and cleaning out my closets.
Inspired by this blog I’ve just discovered, I was pretty amped to get to work fung-shui-ing . But with a big project like this looming on the horizon, I was unsure what to do about dinner. I’d just gotten home from work, and wasn’t exactly hungry, but I knew that after a few hours of reorganizing cabinets and packing away winter clothes, I would be.
Then it hit me. Soup! Usually I look forward to the end of soup season in springtime, but when the weather turns cold, rainy and raw when you least expect it, soup seems the only way to warm your spirits – from the inside, out. Plus, we’d just covered the art of soup making in class at ICE, and I was eager to put these newly learned “Pillars of Soup Making” to the test. In case you were curious, these pillars would be “Extraction, Dilution, Concentration” – but more on that later.
I was initially eager to test out a recipe for a Silky Cauliflower Soup that I came across on Smitten Kitchen, but sadly the market below my apartment was fresh out of cauliflower, and there was no way I was prepared to brave the two block walk to the grocery store in that downpour. So I scooped up some extra-large carrots, bright red peppers, garlic, ginger, and onion, and hurried back upstairs to set to work.
Two-and-change hours later, I was left with this: a savory, somewhat sweet, slightly spicy, super satisfying soup that made me drop the broom and completely melt away into the deliciousness of this dish. I’m not even sorry that I wound up making about 3/4 of a gallon – I’d eat this soup every day (and now it looks like I’ll have to)! Challenge yourself to become a Soup Master – make some Carrot and Red Pepper soup, or use the same guidelines below with just about any veggies and experience the same great success I did!
Creamy Carrot, Red Pepper + Ginger Soup – Makes 7 – 1.5 cup servings
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 large red bell peppers, cored and chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp ginger, minced
- 3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 – 6 ounce container of low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 quart of low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Salt + pepper, to taste
- Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
For this recipe, I’m going to break it down into the three key steps of soup making I outlined above. Now, all in all, this might not seem so different from how you’ve made soups in the past, and that’s great – that means you’re doing it right. The most important thing to remember is that each time you make soup, the ingredients might change, but the steps in this process will not – sticking to these guidelines will ensure you have a rich, flavorful soup time and time again!
To start, chop all of your vegetables – the carrots, red peppers, onions, garlic, and ginger. Since the garlic and ginger are smaller, you want to mince these. For the carrots, red peppers, and onion, you want to chop them as finely as possible, making sure to keep the pieces uniform. A very fine dice of 1/4 to 1/2 inch creates a ton of surface area exposure, and the more surface area, the more quickly food will cook and the more flavor you will extract. Uniformity is also crucial, since you want all your veggies to cook evenly so one flavor isn’t more dominant than another.
Then, add the olive oil (or, Paula Deen, you could also use butter) into a large pot, and add in the veggies. Toss all the veggies to coat, then turn on the flame super low – as in, just above a flicker – cover the pot, and walk away.
Walk away. It’s going to be fine.
The key here is to sweat the ingredients as much as possible to extract all of their natural juices and flavors. If the juices and flavors stay inside the veggies, it’s like they’re locked away, but once they come out, they have the chance to concentrate, meld with other flavors, and become much more rich and intense. This is a very good thing. Sweat your vegetables for as long as you can – at least thirty minutes, but up to an hour is even better. Stir them occasionally to redistribute the heat, and adjust the heat as needed.
Once the extraction process is done, there should be a good amount of liquid in your pot, even though you didn’t add any to begin with. This liquid is all the juices you’ve extracted from the veggies – pretty cool, eh?
You’ll dilute the flavors further by adding your vegetable stock, and bringing the whole mixture up to a boil.
Once you reach a boil, reduce the soup to a simmer, stir, and simmer over medium-low heat for another 45 minutes to an hour. You want your mixture to reduce to about 2/3 its original volume, which you can eyeball.
For this stage, it’s also important to use your tongue. Yep, that’s right – your sense of taste is your greatest tool. Once the soup looks like it’s concentrated quite a bit, taste it. If the flavors taste a bit watery and diluted, it still has a way to go. But if you can taste all the distinct flavors and aromas of the various ingredients and are getting a sense of the richness, you’re right on target. This isn’t an exact science; a lot of it is guesswork and preference, but it’s also pretty hard to mess up.
Once your soup has concentrated to about 2/3 its original volume, season it with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, as well as your cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes. Always wait until after the concentration stage to season your soups, unless you’re using hardy herbs and spices that take a while to release their flavors. If you season them during an earlier stage, the seasoning will over-intensify during concentration, and your soup’s flavors will be way off base. Trust me on this one.
Then, get to work pureeing the whole pot! An immersion blender is definitely the easiest way to do this, but if you don’t have one, you can certainly puree it in batches using a blender.
The last (totally optional) step is complete is to add the greek yogurt. I opted to add it for an extra layer of richness and the tangy flavor that the yogurt provides. Greek yogurt is also less likely than, say, a sour cream to break at high temperatures; it’s more like a creme fraiche in that it incorporates very smoothly into the soup.
4. Eat and Enjoy
At long last, the soup is done! Go ahead and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Sure, it took you two hours to make – but look at all you got done in the meantime! Plus, you’ll have plenty extra soup to enjoy yourself and share with friends for the next couple weeks. I enjoyed a steaming hot bowl topped with a crumbled Wasa cracker, leeks, and a little bit of shredded pecorino.
And did I mention this is insanely healthy? Per 1 1/2 cup serving:
115 calories, 6.5 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of fiber. So get in there and make some soup – and let me know how it goes!