Tag Archives: January

Carrots to brighten up a dreary day

carrots 2

As the New Year gets underway, and the Christmas decorations go back in the loft for another year, it’s only too obvious that January can be a dreary month, a full 31 days long and often with grey, gloomy weather and nothing much to look forward to… (I’m in the lucky position of flying out to Boston again at the end of the month to visit my son, but I’m aware that’s hardly standard!) On grey days, there’s nothing like a bowl of brightly coloured soup to warm us up, and carrots are not only seasonal, but perfect for their zingy orange colour. I already have a couple of favourite carrot soups in my repertoire: the perennially popular carrot & coriander and a fresh-tasting carrot, orange & ginger soup, both already on the blog, but I’ve also been making a satisfying simple carrot & lentil soup for years, and it’s about time I shared that here too. Finally, catching up with the stack of food magazines that had built up in the pre-Christmas rush, I came across a delicious-sounding recipe for a carrot & coconut soup in the Waitrose Kitchen magazine and had to try that too. With a hint of chilli heat, fragrant spice and the sweetness of coconut, it passed my taste test and my slight variation on the original deserves to be recorded here for posterity.

I was given a Braun stick blender for Christmas and used it for the first time to blend my soup, rather than the freestanding liquidiser I usually use. What an improvement on the hand blenders of yesteryear! My old yellowing model dates back over 30 years to when my elder son was a baby and I used to purée fruit and vegetables for him. It hung above the window ledge of our sunny kitchen window in the Peak District and the white plastic soon took on a faded, yellowish hue. It was never very efficient at blending whole pans of soup, whereas this new one is super powerful and produced wonderfully smooth results. I can see I’ll get a great deal of use out of it!

Carrot & Coconut Soup – serves 6

Carrot & Coconut soup

a good glug of olive oil
a 3cm piece of root ginger, grated (I keep some in the freezer and grate from frozen)
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
5 spring onions, chopped (or use a couple of leeks)
600g carrots, peeled and chopped
bunch of fresh coriander
700ml vegetable stock (or use chicken or turkey stock if you’re not vegetarian)
400g can coconut milk
juice and zest of 1 lime
seasoning
Coconut flakes, lightly toasted, to garnish

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the ginger, two-thirds of the chopped chilli and the chopped spring onions or leeks. Cook over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until softened. Add the chopped carrots, coriander stalks and seasoning, cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to the boil and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.

Add the coconut milk and the zest of the lime and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend until smooth with a stick blender or in a liquidiser goblet and add the lime juice. Serve with coriander leaves, the remaining chopped chillis and the toasted coconut flakes as a decorative garnish.

The carrot & lentil soup recipe below originally came from an old M&S vegetarian cookbook (Vegetarian Feast) in the early 1980s. I often make it with chicken stock, but it tastes just as good with vegetable stock – just avoid stock cubes, or even bouillon powder, if you want the authentic taste of homemade soup!

Carrot & Lentil Soup – serves 6

a knob of butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4 carrots, chopped (about 250g)
150g red lentils
1 litre vegetable stock (or chicken if you prefer)
seasoning
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
150ml fresh milk
handful of finely chopped fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a large pan and sauté the chopped onion, garlic and celery gently for about 10 minutes until softened. Add the chopped carrots and cook for a further few minutes, then add the lentils. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 40 minutes until the vegetables are cooked.

Blend with a stick blender or in a liquidiser until smooth, then season to taste and add the milk and lemon juice. Reheat gently, then stir in the finely chopped parsley, saving some to garnish the serving bowls. Freezes beautifully.

Sadly, I don’t do well with growing carrots myself. I thought I had a good crop this year, when I decided I’d grow them without the protective environmesh. This seemed to help with germination as it stopped the slugs sheltering in the warmth under the protective covering, but also meant that the carrot root fly were free to lay their eggs, ruining much of the later crop. Sigh. Back to the drawing board. I still grow them for delicious baby summer carrots, but I’d love to do better with the main crop. Heavy clay isn’t ideal for carrots, unfortunately…

 

January greens

January is such a grey and dismal month: nothing doing in the garden, even less on the allotment, bar those stalwart crops that keep on growing come rain, frost, wind or snow, like leeks and parsnips. Where would we be without them? News of a UK courgette shortage this week made me laugh; I wouldn’t dream of eating courgettes at this time of year (apart from in frozen ratatouille from the heady days of summer courgette gluts), especially the tasteless and fleshy imported ones that are the only kind available. Apparently bad weather in Spain has reduced supplies, so the clean eaters of these isles, with their spiralisers and juicers, are having to forego their vegetable of the moment. Whatever happened to seasonal eating? With broccoli, kale and spinach in abundance now, I rarely buy vegetables at any time of year – and I’m convinced you get better taste and vitamins the sooner after picking you eat, to say nothing of the environmental benefits of those reduced food miles…

Still, man cannot live on veg alone, and I had three egg whites in the fridge recently, left over from the New Year bakeathon. I fancied a change from my usual macaroons, so decided to experiment with Nigella’s pistachio macaroons. She uses two egg whites, but I adapted the quantities to three, and rather than the pistachio buttercream, which rather struck me as nut overload, I thought I’d sandwich them together with lime curd – heaven! Next time, I think I’d be tempted to add some lime rind to the macaroons themselves, though they really were delicious as described.

Pistachio & Lime Macaroons

pistachio-macaroons

110g shelled pistachios
185g icing sugar
3 large egg whites
25g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 lime (optional)

Lime Curd

lime-curd

120g caster sugar
30g butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
juice and grated zest of 2 limes

Grind the pistachios in a food processor with the icing sugar (to stop the nuts turning into an oily paste) until very fine. Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff, then whisk in the caster sugar until very stiff. Fold the pistachio mixture into the whites until combined. Pipe small rounds using an icing bag with a 1cm plain nozzle onto a silicone macaroon sheet if you have one or onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Should make 40-50 individual macaroons.

pistachio-macaroons-on-silicone-sheet

Leave to dry for 20-30 minutes, then place in an oven preheated to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook for 12-14 minutes or until set. If you gently peel one off the base, it should lift off without leaving any sticky residue. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Meanwhile make the lime curd by placing the sugar, butter, eggs, lime juice and grated zest in a pan over a moderately low heat. Whisk frequently for 10-12 minutes, until it is thick enough to hold the marks of the whisk. Immediately remove from the heat and sieve into a bowl. Allow to cool, then use to sandwich the macaroons together. Any leftover curd can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Enjoy! Just the thing to brighten up a gloomy January day….

pistachio-macaroon-single