Friday, November 5 marks this year's Diwali (written as Deepavali in Tamil), the Hindu festival of lights. Deepavali is India's biggest holiday, marked by a whirlwind of parties, sweets, new clothes, firecrackers and other fun. Since it will be our first Deepavali as a married couple (known as the thalai Deepavali in Tamil), we will be doing a big dinner party on Friday chez nous in Paris. You can bet that I'll be writing about that and sharing lots of photos from the evening's festivities, so stay tuned for that!
Considering the daunting list of things that we want to serve at our fête, I decided to get a head start tonight on some of the dishes. As one of the passed appetizers, I'd been thinking about doing soup shots or shooters of a nice, hearty fall soup such as carrot, pumpkin or butternut squash. Upon seeing the bags and bags of carrots that Luis brought home from the market today, a carrot soup seemed like the most logical choice.
In true Mistress of Spices form, I decided to spice up the soup to go with the Indian flavors of our Deepavali meal. Peering into our spice cabinet, the very first thing that I saw was a container of ras el hanout that I had brought home from a work trip to Rabat, Morocco. A popular blend of spices that is used across North Africa, ras el hanout literally means "top of the shop" in Arabic, implying that each merchant or shop will use a combination of his or her best spices to make his or her version. Common spices used to make a ras el hanout include cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ground chili peppers, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, peppercorns and turmeric. The mixture is used in common North African dishes such as tajines and the sauce served with couscous as well as an ingredient in rice dishes and as a spice rub.
During my time in Rabat, I visited the souk (market) and picked up some ras el hanout as well as other Moroccan spices, dried fruits, a rug and a lamp. Though Luis has used the ras el hanout with some of the wonderful tajines that he makes, I hadn't touched it in any of my cooking up until tonight. But smelling its fragrant aroma and looking again at the carrots, I thought why not do a "Moroccan" carrot soup with just a touch of this wonderful spice blend as well as some other common Moroccan flavors such as cumin, coriander and cinnamon? Though I haven't had such a soup either in Morocco or at any of the great Moroccan restaurants in Paris, it seemed to make sense as an idea, considering that these same ingredients often turn up together in Moroccan carrot salads.
This recipe made a huge batch, since we will be serving the soup as shots/shooters to a house full of guests on Friday night. But it can easily be halved or quartered for everyday purposes. Or...go ahead and make the big batch and freeze it for the upcoming winter nights. Slightly sweet, spicy, warm memories of Morocco in your mouth...nothing could be better!
MOROCCAN CARROT SOUPServes 10 in large bowls, 30 as shots/shooters
4 medium potatoes
3 pounds (approximately 1 1/2 kilograms) carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 large white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger paste
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout
10 cups water
2-3 vegetable bouillon cubes
1/4 cup honey
Fresh chopped coriander or chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt or crème fraîche, for garnish
1. Wash, peel and quarter the potatoes. Cook on high in microwave for 5 minutes to soften.
2. Wash, peel and chop the carrots into coins.
3. Heat olive oil in large casserole over medium heat. When oil is warm, add cumin seeds. When seeds start to pop, add onion. Cook until transculent, then add ginger paste and cook 2 minutes more.
4. Add all spices and stir well. Cook for 2 minutes to blend.
5. Add 8 cups of water, vegetable bouillon cubes and carrots. Stir well. Bring to boil, then lower heat to medium, cover and cook until carrots are almost tender. Just before the carrots are totally cooked, add the potatoes. Continue to cook a few minutes more.
6. Remove from heat and puree in batches in blender until you have a creamy, velvety texture.
7. Return the soup to the casserole, put on low heat on stove and add 2 more cups of water. Bring to a simmer and stir in honey.
8. Serve garnished with fresh coriander or chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche, as desired.