Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Coconut Milk Soup

I’m really starting to get into this whole ‘living in a house’ thing – being able to walk two paces without tripping over or bumping into something or someone is a refreshing change. Previous to living in the RV I’d been a condo and apartment dweller for the better part of two decades, since I moved away from the parental nest at age 18. This span of time gave me plenty of experience in the art of making do with limited closet space (which always proved to be the ultimate first world problem for this clothes hoarder), living in close proximity to others (including cats and their littery, feathery, toy-mousey paraphernalia), and of course, cooking in very small kitchens – which I waxed on about ad naseum during those 7 sanity-testing months at the trailer park!
Carrot1
So yeah – I grew more than accustomed to confined interior living spaces. Those years of living in high rises also inured me to life without access to immediate outdoor space. Yes, there were public parks around where I lived at various points, and a couple places had a small patio (one of which accompanied a 26th-floor suite and was so high off the ground it caused vertigo if you dared look over the edge). But living above ground level as I did meant that having access to an actual yard just wasn’t on the menu. I didn’t mind too much at that point – convenient access to a million coffee shops, restaurants and places to shop was more of a priority. In my mind, yards were the mein of suburbanites – and goodness knows I wasn’t one of those!
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It was only when we moved into the house – in the suburbs, the horror! – that I realized how out of touch I was with the notion of having a yard – an actual plot of grass that only we (and assorted neighbourhood wildlife and possibly the odd eccentric searching for cans) have access to. The first couple of weeks we were here I only went into the backyard for practical reasons – i.e. to pick up dog poop. Partially it was the rain, but the real issue was that I didn’t know what to do with all that space! I’m not making this up – it had been such a long time since I’d been privy to a backyard that at first all I could do was shuffle around uncertainly back there, ineffectually contemplating the dilapidated shed.
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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve impressed myself. Determined to overcome my silly yard trepidation, I suited up in a pair of garden gloves and rubber boots, and armed with a spade and rake undertook the process of weeding the garden beds. Fifteen minute backyard sessions have gradually lengthened into one and two hour weed-pulling fests. Despite various squirrels giving me the stink eye, at moments I’ve even felt quite peaceful and meditative back there, ankle deep in dirt!
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Earlier in the week as I gazed into the produce drawer in the fridge, I got to thinking, ‘I should grow some of these vegetable things myself’. For a time I was really into playing Farmville – it can’t be that much different, right? Who knows, maybe this time next year this blog will have done a 180 and feature dishes that use produce grown in my own backyard – more improbable things have happened (did I mention I have a baby and live in the suburbs?)! In the meantime, why not try this easy, vegan and super flavourful soup on for size? Yes, it’s STILL  soup weather here on the West Coast, where Spring showers continue unabated. This recipe features caramelized roasted carrots, spices, fresh ginger and smooth coconut milk was the ideal reward after all my labours out back, tilling the soil 🙂
Recipe: Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Coconut Milk Soup
Makes 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 green onions, chopped (optional for garnish)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Place carrots in an oven-proof dish and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in oven for 20-30 minutes – turning carrots over half way through – or until carrots are tender and caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

2. In a large saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shallots and saute until soft and translucent.

3. Add garlic and ginger and saute just until golden brown.

4. Add red pepper flakes, cinnamon, paprika and coriander and stir until spices coat other ingredients.

5. Add vegetable stock and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce to a simmer.

6. Once carrots are cool enough to handle, chop into smallish pieces, discarding of ends. Add to saucepan.

7. Let soup simmer partially covered for 15-20 minutes.

8. Using an immersion blender, puree until soup is smooth. Alternately you can transfer soup to a conventional blender to puree, then return soup to saucepan.

9. Add coconut milk and stir to warm through. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

10. Serve, topping each portion with chopped green onions. Eat!

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Pina Colada Smoothie

Hey everyone! Guess what? The Gypsy Roller – our 30 ft. house on wheels – is on the move! When we packed up and moved to the Okanagan at the end of July our intention was to stay there permanently – and until we could find an actual house to live in we were shacking up in the RV, as regular readers of this blog already know. However, due to a convoluted series of unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances beyond our control, Mike (my significant other) has had to take a position with his company back in the Vancouver area, and as such we’ve been forced to return from whence we came!

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Fortunately we still own a house in Langley (a suburb of Vancouver), but until we can move into it (Mike’s sister and her family are currently there) we’ll continue to live in the RV – OH JOY! For the time being we’re staying at a trailer park in shitsville nowhere about an hour outside of Vancouver. It’s a decent park as far as these places go – but I’ll miss the fancy topiaries and senior citizens in their golf carts at the park in the Okanagan.

Anyhow, until I get the mini fridge in the RV restocked and start cooking in ernest again, I present this lowly (yet tasty) smoothie recipe. I happen to be one of those weirdos who doesn’t particularly enjoy hot climates (it must be my sunburn-prone Irish/Scottish skin and/or something residual from my joy-shunning punk rock years), but I certainly enjoy the flavours of the tropics, especially coconut and pineapple. Both abound in this recipe, which might just telekinetically transport you from whichever wintery climate to currently find yourself to a sun-soaked beach somewhere South of the equator. I’ll be there too – sitting in the shade with my nose in a book 🙂

Recipe: Pina Colada Smoothie

Makes 1 large (approximately 16 oz) smoothie or 2 smaller ones

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 cup pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (or soy yogurt)
  • 1 ripe banana
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2-3 large ice cubes

Method:

Place ingredients in blender and pulse until smooth. Pour into a tall glass. Drink!

Aromatic Green Curry Coconut Sauce with Vegetables and Tempeh

As I discussed in my last post, the trailer park we’re living at is about as far removed as possible from the images of trailer park life commonly depicted in popular culture. Here, rather than raging, booze-sodden parties lasting until the early morning hours, residents gather to play Bridge, sew and participate in Dance-fit classes. K Cars doing burnouts on gravel lawns are replaced with Toyota Camries diligently abiding by the park’s strictly-enforced 10km per hour speed limit. And rather than strains of early Metallica saturating the sonic landscape, there is quiet all day long – a quiet which descends into dead silence after 6pm, even on weekends. The park has a few other idiosyncrasies worth describing as well.

Figure 1

Those who live at the park year round typically own the concrete pad their RV or mobile home sits on. As such, many have taken to personalizing their little piece of property in various ways. Many fifth-wheels and park-model trailers are suped-up with decks and covered seating areas. One even has an outdoor bar set up, although sadly I’ve never seen anyone putting it to its intended purpose. Whimsical lawn ornaments and signs bearing droll phrases (see Figure 1 above) are another common feature. For whatever reason, the majority of these ornaments are in the form – not of pink flamingos as one might guess – but ceramic children holding hands and gazing bashfully at one another. Miniature wooden wishing wells bearing the address of their respective RV pad are also popular. One eccentric resident even has a life-size statue of Michael Jordan (yes, the basketball player) emblazoning his property. But that’s a bit of an anomaly.

Figure 2

Precision-sheared hedges and quirky topiaries also figure prominently at the park. Whoever is in charge of maintaining the greenery personifies the term ‘detail oriented’ because never have I seen hedges pruned to such perfection. They literally look like they’re cloaked in green velvet, so flawlessly are they sheared. Amazing! The crab topiary pictured in Figure 2 (above), while impressive, really has nothing on the other pieces of bush art situated on this particular piece of property – the centrepiece being a massive topiary of a five-fingered hand! Inexplicably scattered amidst these pieces are Chinese-themed lawn ornaments – ceramic pagodas, dragons, and the like. It’s all too conceptual for me to wrap my head around.

Figure 3

Perhaps the most endearing aspect of the trailer park are the ubiquitous golf carts zipping to and fro. Sure, most residents drive cars when they leave the park, but in terms of getting around the park itself, golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation. The vintage gem pictured in Figure 3 (above) is my personal favourite (note the kitschy white fringe along the edge of the canopy). Another standout cart is the more contemporary, burgundy-coloured model that matches both the burgundy sedan and burgundy-sided mobile home it’s often parked alongside. I couldn’t help but stand and stare for a few moments when I spotted this monochromatic masterpiece.

While all this talk of trailer parks might have left you smacking your lips for Kraft Dinner and SPAM, I’m not going to attempt a healthied-up revision of these products. While that might be an interesting exercise – especially where SPAM is concerned – some things are best left on the shelf! Besides, my Mexican Quinoa Casserole, which I thought of as a vegetarian take on another trailer park favourite – Hamburger Helper – was enough to suffice in that vein. Today I’m back to my regularly scheduled programming with this yummy coconut curry recipe.

I’m really loving using coconut milk in my recipes lately. Its mild flavour makes it a very versatile ingredient. It works well in soups, stews and curries, and its velvety texture lends itself nicely to beverages as well, such as hot chocolate and smoothies. I’ve even used it in lieu of almond milk in my coffee, which tastes great, especially when poured over ice. I plan on experimenting with it in dessert recipes as well and see what I can come up with! If you have a favourite recipe that uses coconut milk, please send it my way!

I love the exotic, aromatic flavours of Thai cuisine. But as a vegetarian it frustrates me that many Thai dishes contain fish sauce. So I’m pleased that I was able to come up with a curry recipe that approximates the real thing! I used a touch of Hoisin paste to emulate the tanginess and depth of flavour that fish sauce provides. Sweet basil, cilantro and lime juice, added right before serving, really brighten up the taste of the sauce with their fresh flavours. And the combination of curried coconut sauce, crunch vegetables and fragrant Jasmine rice… well, don’t even get me started. It’s another cloudy day here in Lake Country and this warm, saucy dish was the perfect comfort lunch!

Recipe: Aromatic Green Curry Coconut Sauce with Vegetables and Tempeh

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup jasmine rice, uncooked
  • 1 1/2 cups water (to cook rice)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • About 100g tempeh, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 cup oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium red pepper, diced
  • 1 small carrot, cut into 1″ match sticks
  • 20 or so snow peas, ends removed and halved
  • 6 sweet basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (plus more for garnish)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Green Curry Coconut Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup green curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin paste
  • 2 cups lite coconut milk
  • 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth or water
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1″ piece fresh lemongrass (scored or crushed slightly using the flat side of a large knife; this will help release flavour)

Method:

Prepare Jasmine rice: In a medium saucepan, combine rice and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Set aside. While rice is cooking, prepare tempeh and green curry coconut sauce:

Prepare tempeh: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add tempeh and saute until golden brown and crispy on each side. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare Green Curry Coconut Sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add green curry paste and hoisin paste and stir until combined. Gradually stir in coconut milk and vegetable broth or water. Add brown sugar and lemongrass and stir. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add carrots, red pepper, mushrooms and snow peas to sauce and cook for a few minutes, just until vegetables are al dente. Stir in tempeh, basil leaves, cilantro and fresh lemon juice. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Remove lemongrass and disgard. Spoon Jasmine rice into serving bowls and top with curry and chopped cilantro. Eat!

Thai Curried Red Lentil and Coconut Milk Soup

Living in an area with such a diversity of good quality, locally-sourced food has switched me into culinary good-times-mode the last few weeks as I’ve experimented with the first Fall vegetables of the season: chanterelle mushrooms, yams, and the odd parsnip and squash to boot. Of course the Summer was great for fresh food, too, but it’s exciting when the season changes and there’s a bevy of new ingredients to work with.

The frenzy of cooking I’ve engaged in of late has turned the Gypsy Roller’s puny kitchenette into a bona fied hot mess as I’ve attempted to prep ingredients, tend to multiple burners on the stove and clean up the aftermath – all with Hunter suctioned leech-like to one leg or attempting to empty out the bottom shelf of the fridge (his latest fixation in addition to chewing on rocks). And then there’s the issue of what to do with all the food I’ve made. With my bf on a cereal-for-dinner kick (sigh…), there was only one thing to do: fill my boots (or should I say ‘pie hole’) with the output of my endeavours in the kitchenette. Sometimes it’s fun not sharing!

Then Canadian Thanksgiving happened last weekend, and while I wasn’t in charge of the cooking, managed to spend three days straight consuming even more of the best of what the season has to offer – minus the turkey, of course, but making up for it calorically with multiple servings of my mother’s whipped cream-topped pumpkin pie. Talk about a food bender.

After such a prolonged bout of festive eating I thought I’d lighten things up a bit this week with a vegan, Thai-inspired soup. I’m a big fan of red curry paste and typically use it in refried rice dishes (this one being one of my favourites). The red curry paste I use is both delicious AND animal ingredient-free, a rarity amongst Asian sauces, which often contain pesky fish ingredients. Its mild, fragrant flavour really works great with the red lentils in this soup. A dash of Sambal Olek adds a kick of spice and a little bit of coconut milk (I used the reduced fat stuff) provides an extra bit of creaminess.

While it feels good to lighten up my diet a bit this week, I’ve already found myself eying up recipes for pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. This definitely isn’t the time of year to go on a diet! I intend on rolling around the trailer in one of these for the remainder of the Winter so I figure if I gain a few pounds it really won’t matter!

Tip: If you use a standard 400ml can of coconut milk to make this recipe, you’ll likely have a cup or so left over. Rather than letting it go to waste, try using it in a smoothie or shake for a little added richness.

Recipe: Thai Curried Red Lentil and Coconut Milk Soup

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon Sambal Olek
  • 3/4 cup uncooked red lentils, rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts (for garnish)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut (for garnish)

Method:

In a large stock pot over medium heat, saute diced onion, celery and carrot in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, until tender. Add garlic to pot and continue to saute until garlic begins to brown. Add red curry paste and Sambal Olek, and stir until coating other ingredients. Add red lentils and stir again, until everything is combined. Add vegetable broth and bring pot to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and beginning to fall apart. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. (Alternately, you can transfer soup to a conventional blender to puree, and then pour back into pot). Add coconut milk and stir until soup has warmed through. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast crushed peanuts and coconut until golden brown. Sprinkle over each serving of soup. Eat!