Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Smoky Soothing Soup

Soup has to be one of the best foods on the planet.  It's warm, comforting and a fantastic way to use up food in your fridge or cupboard that might be on its last legs.  Today, I have a whole pile of carrots in my fridge.  They're not quite soft and squishy, but they're heading that direction.  Thing is I'm not a massive fan of carrot soup.  Usually, I find it a bit insipid, a bit watery and boring.  Teaming carrots up with ginger or coriander helps, but it's still not top of my list of favourite soups.

So, just before lunch I considered all the ingredients I had to hand and figured what I was really looking for was depth of flavour with a comforting, rich smokiness.  Smoked paprika is my 'go-to' spice for that particularly deep flavour.  So much tastier than bog-standard paprika.  I've also been caramelising onions for lots of different recipes lately and thought, yup...caramelised onions, smoked paprika and carrots might just do the job.  I had also defrosted a litre of home made chicken stock yesterday, which would provide lovely rich flavour.

From a nutritional perspective this soup kicks some serious butt.  Carrots are rich in beta-carotene (hence the colour) and are fantastic for protecting your blood vessels from damage.  Beta carotene also improves eye health, particularly protecting the macula densa from free radical damage and reducing the risk of macular degeneration.  Home made chicken stock is full of lovely nutrients, particularly those residing in the bones of the chicken like silica, calcium and boron, important for bone health.  The fats in the stock will also help to absorb the beta-carotene.  I added half a bulb of garlic, which is rich in Allicin, wonderful as a flu & cold fighter and also remarkably good for probiotic bacteria in your gut.

Making the soup was easy peasy.  I began by slicing 2 medium brown onions and cooking them over a low heat with a little butter to caramelise.  It took about 30 mins in total, which might seem like ages, but they cook away happily without much interference, apart from the odd stir, so it's easy to work on other things while they're getting sweet and chewy.  Once they were beginning to colour and starting to stick to the saucepan, I added 2 tsp of smoked paprika and gave everything a stir.


If, like me, it drives you completely spare that those tall spice jars are too narrow for a standard teaspoon, then I highly recommend you invest in a set of measuring spoons.  I have a lovely 'Nigella Lawson' set that I bought years ago and they are some of my most used implements.  The 1/2 teaspoon fits those annoying jars beautifully and means I don't end up shaking half the jar into whatever I'm making.  Anyway, that's an aside...


Once the onions and paprika were mixed, I added the stock and some water, about 1.5l in total, about 750g carrots chopped into chunks, roughly the same size (unpeeled if organic) and half a bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and finely chopped.  Then I brought everything to the boil and reduced the heat,  simmering until the carrots were soft, about 15 minutes.  The final job was to blend til smooth.  I used an immersion blender, which saved me from transferring everything into a jug blender.  If you are using a jug blender, give the soup time to cool a little.  Boiling hot soup and glass don't always make the best of friends, so play it safe.

Season with salt and pepper to suit your own taste and serve!  If you have some bacon fry it up, chop into pieces and sprinkle on top, or as I did, crunchy onion bits (a favourite here in Sweden)  I don't bother making these myself, in fact, it was Mountain Man who picked them up originally, but these organic ones from COOP aren't bad, no nasty weird ingredients and pretty tasty.  Try it out and let me know how you get on...

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