Wednesday, July 18, 2007

amuse bouche: chilled carrot peanut lemongrass soup with crab

Soup, when served warm and steamy, is immensely satisfying, replenishing the body and spirit. Comfort in a bowl. In the summer time though, a chilled soup can do all this and more. Quenching the body's thirst and heat, cold soups are so refreshing.

I had my first taste of chilled carrot soup as a kid, served to me by one of my mom's only Caucasian friends, sitting in her formal dining room that was musty with age. She ladled the soup from a china tureen. There must be some mistake, I had thought, she must have forgotten to heat it up! As I soon learned that she had meant to serve it this way, I began to taste the sweet and smoky notes that the carrots added, along with the subtle hints of cinnamon and ginger. This was one of my first childhood food break-through moments. I was jolted from everything I knew about food (which was quite limited) to learning to appreciate the possibilities of what is out there. I was able to get a glimpse of someone else's culture through their food. Since then, carrots have always remained a star ingredient in chilled soups for me.

Ground peanuts in soup is traditional in many African cuisines such Senegal. It acts as a thickener and imparts a rich nutty flavor. I used peanuts as a nice contrast to the sweet carrots and tart lemongrass. I also added the last of my crabmeat (which I hand-picked, and not an easy task!). Oh yes, and lastly, don't forget to garnish with a carrot chip!

Chilled Carrot Peanut Lemongrass Soup with Crab

5 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 piece fresh ginger, minced
1 onion, diced (Vidalia, or any sweet variety)
1 stalk lemongrass, tender core pieces bruised with the back of a knife
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1 quart chicken stock
1/3 cup crabmeat

Coat the carrots with some vegetable oil and roast until tender at 400F.
Saute the onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass in a large stockpot until onion begins to caramelize. Add stock and let come to a boil. Add the peanuts. Cover pot and reduce to medium heat. Cook for 15-20 min, or until peanuts start to soften. Pick out any pieces of lemongrass, as they are too tough and fibrous for the soup. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup to a smooth texture. Stir in crabmeat and cook for 5 more min. Let soup come to room temperature and refrigerate.
To make the carrot chip, slice a longer piece of carrot, about 1/8" thick. Flash fry in 350F vegetable oil, and drain on a paper towel.
Serve soup chilled in a small tumbler or shot glass. Garnish with ground peanuts, carrot chip, and a basil leaf.

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