Lately I’ve been focused on preparing a higher percentage of vegetarian meals in our home. It’s not out of an opposition to vegetables that I attack this cause (in fact there’s nothing I crave more), rather I quite simply believe we are programmed to think “meat” all too often when it comes to menu planning. It’s obviously healthful to consume a diet rich in vegetables, but moreover, I welcome the challenge of eating from a broad range of foods prepared in a broad range of ways.
A few years back, my wife and I enjoyed the pleasure of attending a cousin’s wedding deep within the valleys of the Scottish Highlands. Most of my extended family were in attendance; truly a wonderful occasion.
The post-nuptial celebration took place in typical Scottish tradition, with a céilidh (pronounced KAY-LEE) held immediately following the meal. If you’ve never participated in a céilidh (or even heard of one for that matter), trust me when I say that your muscles will be tired the next day. The Scots know how to take celebration to the next level!
As a Scottish wedding wouldn’t be complete without a dance, nor would it without haggis, one of the many traditional celebratory foods of Scotland, a fact I later realized was much to the dismay of at least a small fraction of the Scottish citizenry in attendance. As usual, when the haggis was served I ate it, but I’ll let it be known that the caterers’ version had nothing on that of my Aunt Karen’s.
The dish that stole the dinner show that evening, believe it or not, was a bowl of soup. Root vegetable soup. Maybe it was the cool moist air, maybe it was the inherent advantage that accompanies the first course in any meal, whichever the case, the soup rang supreme.
The dish was simplistically rugged, packed with color, texture and exotic flavor. Silky and warming, it gave me the energy to sweat my butt off, dancing the night away to songs and choreographed dance moves I knew nothing about.
My first attempt at replicating that dish came this week as I brought home a 5# bag of carrots from my local co-op. They came from Featherstone Farm, a local MN organic produce farm that produces some of the sweetest, crunchiest carrots you’ll ever snap into. I’ve actually heard they go to great measures during the curing of their carrots to achieve precisely this result. Call it cliché, but these carrots taste like what a carrot should taste like. Most don’t.
I believe my version is worthy of sharing, so here goes…
- Enough oil to coat the bottom of a pan
- Two medium onions – Medium dice.
- 3 cloves of garlic – Minced.
- 1 Thai chili (dried) – Leave it whole or it’ll be too hot. Feel free to sub a good pinch of chili flakes if need be.
- 2 bay leaves
- About 10 medium carrots – Medium dice. Don’t even bother skinning them, just give them a good rinse and chop them up.
- 2 quarts veggie stock - You may substitute chicken stock or water if you’d like, but I think the chicken flavor crowds the delicate flavors of this dish. Add extra stock or water to fill liquid to about 3-4 inches above vegetables.
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro – Leaves removed from the stems and chopped. Stems tied together with twine and reserved separately from the leaves. If you are not fond of cilantro, I suggest tarragon as a nice substitute, but of course any mild fresh herb will work here.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Start by heating the oil over med-high heat and sweating the onions until fragrant. Once nearly translucent, add the garlic, chili pepper and bay leaves and allow to toast for a couple of minutes.
- Next add the carrots and allow them to soften about halfway. Add stock/water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add cilantro stems.
- Simmer for 30-40 minutes and remove the whole chili (if using a whole chili) and the cilantro stems.
- Now add in half of the chopped cilantro and blend/puree. If you like chunks of carrot in your soup, reserve some to the side before blending.
- Once the soup has reached the desired consistency, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately, garnishing with remaining cilantro. Heavy handed with the cilantro, please.
Being that I had some bread from my favorite bakery leftover on the counter, and a healthy chunk of 7 yr. Wisconsin cheddar, a crunchy grilled cheese was my go-to side item.
The soup was even better than I remembered!
- As you can see from these photos, for the purpose of comparison I did not puree the cilantro leaves in with the soup when I initially served it from this recipe. I’ll tell you it was good as pictured, but even better when pureed with cilantro the second time!
- If you feel inclined to add cream or milk to your soup, don’t forget coconut milk as an option. This would be very good with coconut milk, sliced ginger, toasted almonds and shredded chicken or pork. I know, this is supposed to be a vegetarian post…