Local and Seasonal: Carrot-Fennel Soup

The first cultivated carrots were purple and yellow, quite unlike the orange vegetables that we are familiar with today. These early carrots grew 5,000 years ago in the areas surrounding present-day Afghanistan, but they were rarely eaten. Instead, the Daucus carota plants were propagated for their seeds, which were used medicinally. Many centuries, mutations, and hybridizations later, Dutch horticulturists developed carrot plants that had enlarged, sweet, orange-colored roots. The modern carrot was born. French growers contributed additional orange varieties such as the cylindrical, blunt-tipped Nantes and the shorter, stouter Chanteney. Orange became the preferred carrot color in Western Europe and the Americas while the more ancient variety, with its deep purple skin and yellow core, continued to prevail throughout Asia.

Thanks to recent interest in colorful carrots, it is possible to find bunches of purple, orange, yellow, and even white carrots in farmers' markets year-round. Dark carrots are beautiful, but know that their color comes from anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment that leaches out in boiling water and can turn a perfectly lovely carrot soup into an unattractive brown mess. Buy your carrots whole and don't be duped by so-called "baby carrots," which are actually nubs carved from the full-sized vegetable. If you prefer petite carrots, seek out the real, young version in the farmers' market during springtime.

All carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family, a lyrically named plant group characterized by hollow stems and flower clusters. Like tiny, opened umbrellas, the flower clusters, called umbels, radiate from a central point. Tapered and feathery carrot leaves closely resemble Italian parsley because parsley is also a member of this family. In fact, many of the aromatic herbs and root vegetables share this familial relation, including anise, caraway, celery root, cilantro, cumin, and fennel. All are excellent eaten together -- try the following recipe for carrot-fennel soup with cumin yogurt and parsley sauce. It's an edible assemblage of umbellifers!

Carrot-Fennel Soup with Cumin Yogurt and Parsley Sauce
Serves 4
This soup can be served hot or chilled. For the parsley sauce, I like to substitute up to ½ cup carrot greens in place of parsley leaves. They add a woodsy, bitter quality that nicely balances the natural sweetness of the carrot soup. If you can't find carrots with their green tops attached, try using chervil or cilantro instead.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 ½ cups chopped fennel
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound orange, yellow, or white carrots, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cumin Yogurt
1 ½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds
½ cup plain yogurt
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parsley Sauce
2 ½ cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup: Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the olive oil and butter to the pot, followed by the onion, fennel, ¼ teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper. Cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, ½ teaspoon salt, and four cups water to the pot. Adjust the heat so that the soup simmers in the uncovered pot for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the carrots can be smashed easily with a fork. Turn off the heat and purée the soup with a stick blender or a food processor.

For the cumin yogurt: Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Tilt and shake the pan every so often for about 90 seconds. As soon as the seeds darken slightly and become intensely fragrant, remove the pan from the heat. Pound half of the toasted seeds using a mortar and pestle or grind them finely using a spice grinder. Stir both the ground seeds and the whole seeds into the yogurt. Season the cumin yogurt with ¼ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper.

For the parsley sauce: Place the parsley leaves (and the carrot greens, if you are using them), garlic, and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Turn on the processor and slowly pour in the lemon juice and olive oil. Continue processing until the leaves and garlic are finely chopped. Season the parsley sauce with ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Taste the sauce and add another pinch of salt or squeeze of lemon juice, if you like.

Swirl a spoonful of cumin yogurt and parsley sauce into each serving of soup.

About the Author

Maria Zizka is a Berkeley-born food writer and cook. She writes recipes and stories from a little cottage near Santa Monica Beach.
RSS icon

Previous

Weekend Recipe: Beer Can Chicken

Next

The Great Fluoride Debate

LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment