Andy Williams said it best, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Still, this season is not without its stressors and heartaches. It’s not just the stress of finding the right gift for everyone from the mailman to your mother-in-law, or the pressure to bake the perfect holiday cookie. It’s that over time, the holidays also become a unit of measurement, tallying the years that a loved one has been gone.
In whatever way your heart and mind may be taxed this season, food is a great salve. And I don’t mean in the eat-your-feelings kind of way, though the holidays do lend themselves to that nicely. No, the healing power of food shines this time of year because it can pull double duty: the perfect gift that keeps the spirit of a loved one alive.
For me, I feel closest to one of my late grandfathers when I make his legendary cheesecake. Closeness with the other grandfather comes when I pour a bowl of Cheerios. Clearly, they were distinctly different men. But cheesecake in large quantities is not a realistic holiday gift, and gifting a box of Cheerios … well, even I have a hard time gussying that one up.
But Uncle John’s Carrot Ginger Soup is perfect. Every Christmas Day, Uncle John — who was not actually an uncle but so profoundly shaped my father’s life that he was well deserving of the honorific — would visit us, a jar of his homemade soup in hand. As a child I never really understood my mom’s excitement over Uncle John’s giant, orange-filled Mason jar. Soup was soup in my childhood mind. But as the years passed I started to understand. With its earthy, carrot-sweetness and zip of ginger, this soup poured like velvet, if velvet could be poured. It was worth every ounce of yuletide anticipation.
This will be our second Christmas without Uncle John, but I’ve decided it doesn’t have to be the second without his soup. This is what I’ll be gifting my family this year (spoiler alert for the 60 percent of Redwood City I’m related to), and now I’m sharing it with you, too. Whether for gifting or just a chilly winter night, this soup is something I hope you’lI enjoy. Perhaps you have your own family member or friend to honor — if you do, I hope you’ll embrace this opportunity. After all, what better time to celebrate our loved ones than the most wonderful time of the year.
Carrot Ginger Soup
Like most good things, I took for granted the annual consistency of Uncle John’s soup and never asked for the recipe. This one is from Epicurious, and is most like what my family remembers from the original. The natural carrot sweetness pairs perfectly with the zippy warmth of the fresh ginger. The lemon juice and zest give this soup a brightness that can be enjoyed all year long.
- Makes: 4 servings, I highly recommend doubling it.
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 1/4 pounds medium carrots, peeled, chopped (about 3 cups)
- 2 tomatoes, seeded, chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- 3 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt broth.
- Vegetable broth would also work well.
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons sour cream (I used plain yogurt)
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until the soft, translucent, and just starting to get a little golden brown. Stick your face over the pot and inhale. If a sense of rich, buttery euphoria doesn’t fill your soul, give it a few more minutes.
- Post-butter-onion euphoria, add ginger and garlic; sauté for a few minutes. Add the chopped carrots, tomatoes and lemon peel; sauté for one minute. Add 3 cups of stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and let simmer until the carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes (longer if you’re doubling the recipe). Cool slightly.
- Puree in batches in a blender. Return soup to pot. Mix in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.)
- When it’s time to serve, bring soup to simmer. Epicurious says you can now thin the soup with more stock if you want. I’m not a fan of thin soups, so I didn’t think it necessary. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.