Between blowing winds and transitional weather, geese gathering overhead and leaves crunching underfoot, there is no denying that autumn is in the air. It's a time for collecting our thoughts about the blur of summer and just all we actually did -- and, perhaps what we plan to do next summer. It's a time to think about locating the snow shovel and pulling out those warm winter boots. And, it is a time to finally bring in the last of the garden.
For me, autumn is also a time when I can do a few events outside of the focus of my intense summer-centric business. This week, I found myself in Anchorage at the University of Alaska's culinary arts program at the Lucy Cuddy Center. I was the guest chef for a celebratory dinner featuring Alaska cuisine. Students, alumni of the culinary program, volunteers, and instructors all worked side-by-side to prepare a five-course dinner for 300 people.
When I was asked to design the menu that might reflect an Alaskan cuisine, I knew carrots had to find a prominent spot in the lineup. I've grown carrots in our garden ever since my first attempt at a little three-row plot in the back of our house on Sunrise Drive in Anchorage in the early 1980's.
I decided to make a carrot soup. At the lodge, we prefer a version of carrot soup that includes curry powder, garlic, ginger, onion, carrot and coconut milk. We use chicken stock to cut the flavor of the carrot somewhat, and we always deep-fry a few carrots into chips to serve on top of the soup.
We've been teaching an Indian cooking class at our cooking school this summer, and we prefer to make our own curry powder blend. I love how Indian spices can change flavors so dramatically by toasting, using raw, using ground or whole. The curry powder in our carrot soup recipe is the generic curry powder blend called "Madras" found in local stores. Don't look for it in India, however. It was a British-devised blend of spices popularized in 1889 at the Universal Paris Exhibition in France. We love it all the same, particularly in autumn.
You can certainly use store-bought, but to make your own curry powder, combine equal parts ground up coriander seed, cumin, mustard, clove, fenugreek, turmeric, black pepper, and enough dried ground chilies to make the curry as hot or mild as you like. To learn much more about curry, visit my favorite book on the topic, "660 Curries" by Raghavan Iyer.
You might notice in the photos that we peel ginger with a spoon. Give it a try. A spoon glides over the bumps and knobs of a gingerroot that can hang up a vegetable peeler.
So, here's our recipe for a nice autumn Alaska carrot soup.
Autumn Carrot Curry Soup
Heat the canola oil in a medium stockpot over medium heat.
Add in the curry powder and "cook" the powder for about 30 seconds. Add in the garlic and stir. Cook for a minute or two. Add in the ginger, onion, carrots, bay leaf and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until it is smooth. Pour the soup into a clean pot, and return it to the stove over medium heat. Stir in the coconut milk. Serve with a swirl of coconut milk and a small nest of carrot or root chips.
Makes 4 servings.
Kirsten Dixon is an award-winning chef who has cooked and lived the past 30 years in the backcountry of Alaska. To learn more about her, visit www.kirstendixon.com.