Carrot-Ginger Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons

carrot-ginger soup

On cold days nothing gives me more comfort than hot soup. The flavor combination that I find most comforting in soups is sweet and savory. It's an ideal pairing in many foods that have come to represent autumn. Certain vegetables like sweet potatoes and squashes are all made more flavorful with a touch of sweet, be it from sugar or other sweeteners such as honey or molasses. Carrots also benefit from being paired with sweetness and even spiciness. But I add no sweeteners to this carrot soup. Its sweetness is all made possible naturally from a specific blend of ingredients. The soup is made all the more potent and aromatic with the addition of fresh ginger and a distinctive blend of Middle-Eastern spices that carry warm and nutty profiles. It's the perfect combination to elevate the humble carrot to new flavor heights.

This recipe is all about building flavor one on top of the other. I start with a base of sautéed leek, which adds a sweet onion flavor. The spices each add their own distinct profiles: caraway tastes of anise, coriander has hints of citrus, and cumin adds a a touch of bitterness, lots of warmth, and helps draw out additional sweetness from the carrots. The paprika also adds sweetness and a characteristic rusty glow. The celery adds a bright profile and my secret ingredient, an apple, adds another level of sweetness. Once it's puréed, the soup is perfect as it is, but I like to add a splash of vinegar for some tartness and a drizzle of olive oil for a vegetal touch and fruity aroma. Top a bowlful with earthy chocolate-like pumpernickel croutons and it's the ultimate in comfort soups.

Carrot-Ginger Soup

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 medium leek, white and light-green parts, thinly sliced
coarse sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup grated ginger
1 Gala or Fuji apple, peeled, cored, and quartered
4 cups chicken stock
sherry vinegar
chopped chives, for garnish
pumpernickel croutons, recipe follows

Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic, shallot, and leek. Cook until translucent and soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add spices and toast for 1 minute. Add carrots, celery, ginger, apple, and stock; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.

Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until silky smooth. Return soup to pot and reheat. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with oil and vinegar, garnish with chives, and top with croutons. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Pumpernickel Croutons

4 slices day old pumpernickel bread, cubed
olive oil
coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Toss the bread cubes with a drizzle of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Yield: 6 servings.