The very first vegetable soup I ever made was a carrot soup, the recipe for which I found, of all places, on the Williams-Sonoma website. That bookmarked link no longer goes anywhere but the recipe lives on in my kitchen as a sort-of template for a large number of vegetable soups: carrots cooked with sauteed leeks in stock till softened, pureed and given some brightness with acid. The recipe I have for you today differs in some important ways—there are no potatoes in this, the acid comes from tamarind, and I add toasted spices and finally the nutty zing of a mustard seed-curry leaf tadka. But the structure is still the same. My thanks to whoever it was that put that recipe up on the Williams-Sonoma site back in the day.
A quick note before we get cooking. The easiest way to disqualify a writer of Indian cookbooks is to see what they say about using tamarind paste. If they tell you to do so put the book down and move on. That stuff is vile; if you want proper tamarind flavour please do not use it. Fresh tamarind pods are best but if you can’t find any the far superior substitute is the blocks of tamarind found in any South Asian or East Asian grocery store. And if you don’t have one of those within reach there’s always Amazon–the “wet” seedless variety linked to here is extremely easy to make an extract from. Okay, on to the soup.
- 2 lbs carrots, peeled
- 1/2 lb leeks, white and green parts, sliced into rings
- 1 tblspn grated ginger
- 1 tblspn grated garlic
- 1.5 tblspns cumin seeds
- 3/4 tblspn coriander seed
- 1 inch piece of cinnamon
- 3 hot dried red chillies
- 1 tblspn jaggery or dark brown sugar
- 6 cups stock of choice
- 1.5 tblspns worth of block tamarind or equivalent in fresh tamarind
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 tpsn fish sauce (optional)
- 1 tspn dark brown mustard seeds
- 2 sprigs worth of curry leaves
- 2 tblspns ghee
- 2 tblspns grapeseed oil or similar
- Smear the peeled carrots with 1 tblspn of ghee and roast in a 450º oven for about 45 minutes. Turn the carrots over at the halfway mark. When done remove and cut each carrot into 6 or 7 pieces.
- While the carrots are roasting, toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, chillies and cinnamon over medium-low heat in a cast iron pan or similar for 2 minutes or so till aromatic. Stir occasionally and don’t let the seeds darken too much or the chillies scorch. Spread and cool on a plate and when cool grind to a fine powder.
- Soak the tamarind in 2 cups of warm water for about 10 minutes and the squeeze by hand to extract the pulp completely.
- Heat the oil in your soup pot over medium heat and add the leeks. Saute for 3-5 minutes.
- Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add the roasted carrots to the pan and mix in.
- Add the ground spices, mix in and saute for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the jaggery or sugar and the stock, mix in, bring to a simmer and cook covered for about 15 minutes.
- Transfer to a large bowl, let it cool for 30 minutes or so and working in a couple of batches puree the soup to a velvety consistency.
- Return the pureed soup to your soup pot and bring back to a high simmer.
- Strain the tamarind extract into the soup, pushing down on the solids in the strainer to extract as much tamarind flavour as you can.
- Add the fish sauce if using, taste and add more salt as necessary.
- Once the soup is done, heat the remaining tblspn of ghee in a small pan and add the mustard seeds. As they begin to pop, add the curry leaves and stir for 30 seconds or so. Then dump the contents of the pan int the soup and stir to mix.
- As with almost anything made with tamarind, this will take on more of a pickled flavour on the second day.
- With roughly 8 cups of liquid added this still makes a fairly thick soup. If you want to make it thinner you can either reduce the carrots by half a pound or add another two cups of stock. It will be less carroty though.
- I used 3 fairly hot dried chillies. You can tone the heat down if you like by using mild Kashmiri or Byadgi chillies
- This would probably be quite good with 1 cup of coconut milk added at the very end but that would reduce the carrot flavour even further.
- Use vegetarian stock of some kind and leave out the fish sauce and this is both vegetarian and vegan.