Carrot Soup

Top Chef Boston Week 9- Spicy Carrot Soup with Barley and Mushrooms

It is week 9 on Top Chef Boston, and it was exciting to see a creative challenge posed to the contestants. Each chef was given a different famous local author and asked to create a dish that was inspired by a piece of the artist’s work. Surprisingly, this led to both a number of visually inspiring dishes, and vegetable heavy food. With Christmas right around the corner, I was happy to take on a dish that was high in veggies and low on butter for this week’s challenge. Mei ended up winning with roasted vegetables, that were enhanced by “onion soil” and a Thai coconut “snow,” but I felt more drawn to Doug’s flavorful carrot soup. 

Doug’s soup was silky smooth. Personally, when I make a soup for my main course, I want it to have a lot of texture to give it a more hearty feel. Smooth soups that have been perfectly pureed just don’t do it for me; no matter how many ingredients may be in the final product, a bowl of liquid psychologically doesn’t feel like a complete meal. I gravitate more towards stews, chowders, and chillis. So for my carrot soup, I took the idea of Doug’s Emily Dickinson inspired “sunset in a cup” carrot soup, and added barley and shitake mushrooms.

You can find about a million different carrot soup variations online. I looked at several, and couldn’t quite find one recipe that had everything I wanted; in this case, something fairly simple, with lots of flavor and a hearty feel. So I present to the blogosphere, my own carrot soup recipe.

For ingredients, I used:

1 yellow onion                                                    1 lemon-ginger teabag

1 large leek                                                          2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 jalepeno                                                            1 cup of pearl barley

4 cloves of garlic, minced                                 8 oz sliced shitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, grated              Half a can of lite coconut milk

6-8 carrots (or 1 1/2 cups carrot juice)

Plus, olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, and crushed red pepper for seasoning.

For this recipe, the most time consuming part is the vegetable prep. Dice the onion, leek, jalepeno, and put it into a large bowl with the minced garlic and grated ginger. When prepping fresh ginger, I cut off a chunk, peel it with a knife, and then grate it the same way I would grate cheese, on the fine textured side of the grater. If you are seriously intimidated by the weird looking shape of fresh ginger, you could substitute powdered ginger. But I recommend biting the bullet and becoming acquainted with the fresh stuff. If you didn’t grow up using fresh ginger it might take some getting used to, but it has great health benefits and will give your soup a more intense flavor.

Vegetables

Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a deep pot, and add all of your veggies. Sautee on medium heat until soft.

In the meantime, if you have a juicer, juice as many carrots as necessary to make 1 1/2 cups carrot juice. The number of carrots needed will depend on the carrot size and the quality of your juicer. I didn’t count very carefully; I just started throwing them in the machine until I had enough liquid. It took me three rounds with the juicer to get the amount of liquid I needed.

If you don’t own a juicer, you have a few options. You can either buy fresh carrot juice from either a store that sells it, or a local juice bar. The other option is you can boil carrots until soft, puree them in a food processor with some liquid, and then push everything through a strainer until you have a smooth carrot liquid. But if you have a juicer, or access to fresh carrot juice, save yourself some time. It’s so much easier.

Slice up a package of shitake mushrooms, and add them to your pot with a cup of pearl barley. Sautee until the barley is a little bit toasted and the mushrooms brown and release a little liquid.

At this point, season your veggies with salt, pepper, crushed rosemary and crushed red pepper. I won’t tell you how much to use; season according to your own tastes. I tend to be a very light salter; just a couple of dashes. However, when my mom comes to visit, she always seems to be looking for the salt, so you may prefer to use more. On the other hand, Luke is a big fan of heat, so I can be heavy handed with the red pepper, while it may be too much for others. Taste as you go, and stop when it tastes good to you.

Shitake Mushrooms

All of the slicing and dicing is done! Now for the easy part. Add the carrot juice, and broth to the veggies. Throw a lemon-ginger tea bag into the mix as well, and simmer the soup for 25-30 minutes, or until the barley has reached a desired texture. (If you have never had pearl barley before, it will be chewy).

Stir the pot occasionally while the soup cooks. The barley will absorb a lot of the liquid; if it absorbs too much to the point where it doesn’t look “soupy” enough, add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time.

Once the barley is finished, turn off the heat. Remove the tea bag, and finish the soup by stirring in the coconut milk.

Carrot Soup

Dig in! I’ve never actually made (or eaten) carrot soup before, and I can’t say that Luke was particularly enthused when I told him my dinner plans, but this was a pleasant surprise.

When I eat a vegetarian dish, I always think it is successful if the dish has enough flavor and texture to the point where I wouldn’t notice that it is meatless. This soup is a home run on all counts. The jalepeno and ginger give a great spiciness, while the barley provides a nice chewy quality. It would be a great dish to make on a cold winter day, if you are feeling under the weather, if you are coming off of a rich food binge and need a little detox, or even if you are entertaining a meat-free guest. Luke deemed it the best soup I have ever made. So give it a try, it is husband approved!

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