The chilly winter temperatures mean two things in the culinary world – it’s time for heartwarming soups and stews. Root vegetables are the base of so many good soups, and they are now, having endured a frost or two, juicier, sweeter and more flavourful than at any other time of the year. One of the most versatile and yet overlooked veggies of this group is the carrot.
When cooking carrots, make sure they are exposed to heat long enough to soften and develop their full sweetness without becoming mushy. In a stew or casserole, carrots develop flavour and complexity with the long slow cooking in a tasty liquid.
It’s surprising to learn that nutritional benefits from things such as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are better accessed when carrots are cooked, rather than when consumed raw. It’s harder for the body to break the carrot down its raw state, although happily carrot juice is the exception to this rule. Be sure to store your carrots in the refrigerator, as they wilt quickly and lose their crispness when not well chilled.
Carrots are a relatively inexpensive vegetable and their versatility is unbounded. One of my favourite ways to serve carrots is to peel and cut them lengthwise and toss them into a frying pan over low heat with butter, good olive oil or coconut oil. Slowly cook them with a little salt until they are tender and have lost their crunch. It’s important to keep the cooking temperature low as the sugar content in carrots is high and can burn quickly at high temperatures. The carrots will need tossing occasionally while cooking. Once ready, they can be showered with freshly chopped herbs or a few seeds.
This soup recipe is inspired by an unusual dish I ate in a New York restaurant, Jojo’s, many years ago. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has set up a succession of great restaurants in a long and successful career. His recipe was for shrimp in a carrot and orange juice. I have taken his concept and reworked it to make a wonderfully easy smooth-blended soup. The prawns are optional, as it is not easy to find a good Aussie prawn. Substitutes to finish the soup might be a spoonful of coconut cream, some Greek yogurt or a large garnish of fresh herbs and black pepper.
Carrot and Orange Soup with Prawns
1 tbsp sesame or coconut oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 kg carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
800 mls vegetable or chicken stock
1 orange, zest and juice
Flaky sea salt
8 prawns, peeled and steamed
(try to find wild caught Australian prawns)
3 tbsp fresh dill
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the shallots, carrots, ginger and cumin. Cook gently over low heat until the shallots and carrots begin to soften. Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and allow the carrots to simmer for 20 minutes, until fragrant.
Remove the pan from the heat and puree with a blending stick or process in a blender. If the soup is too thick, thin it with a little extra water.
To serve, reheat gently, add the orange juice and zest, and taste. Add salt as needed.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with a couple of warm prawns and some snipped dill. Serves 4 to 6.