When I was back home in South Africa recently, as usual, I stayed at my brother’s house. It’s about as different from my own house in London as you can get – and I don’t just mean because it’s a gazillion times bigger and has a swimming pool! No, the real differences are on the inside. While my London house has the air of a child-free, pet-free zone (read: cream sofas, cream woollen carpets!), my brother’s house is a sea of easy-to-clean wooden floors. While my house tends to be a quiet and serene space (other than the occasional burst of The Killers or My Chemical Romance turned up loud as I cook!), his rings out with the sounds of dogs, cats and two very busy boys acting out scenes from Star Wars, building Lego spaceships, or playing hide and seek. I love staying there because it is a world so alien to the one I inhabit in London, and because it has meant that my nephews view me companionably as part of the furniture, despite the fact that I live on another continent.
One morning last month I was busy at the house, moving some books around and lost in thought, whistling along to the radio as I worked. Suddenly I got the feeling I was being watched. I looked down to see Spotty (my nephew Sam’s much-loved “Heinz 57 varieties” dog standing transfixed, staring at me with that peculiar cock of the head that indicates a dog’s curiosity and total fascination with something. At first I thought she was looking at something behind me and turned around to look – but no, nothing there. And by the time I turned back again she had lost interest and turned to wander out of the room. So I carried on working and re-commenced whistling, upon which Spotty instantly returned with the same look. Slowly it dawned on me that she was not looking at me – she was listening to me. Although I regard whistling as something totally mundane that I learnt to do from my dad and do almost every day, almost unconsciously, it’s a rarity in my brother’s house. Because although my brother can throw a ball better than me, is one of the few people who can beat me at Trivial Pursuit (occasionally!) and can turn the tip of his toungue upside down without using his fingers (!)… he can’t whistle. So whistling is simply something Spotty has not come across in her databank of household noises. Ain’t genetics a bitch?
In Hungary, mothers at their wits’ end with vegetable-phobic kids have devised a legend to try and persuade their children to eat carrots. According to the legend, Hungarian moms would tell their offspring to eat up all their carrots because carrots make you good at whistling. The “theory” (I use the term loosely!) is that because carrots are pretty firm, chewing them gives your facial muscles a workout and strengthens them, thus making you a better whistler. And because all kids think whistling is cool, they would chow down on those carrots. Eventually, though, kids realised that carrots do nothing of the sort – but by then it was too late and the carrots were eaten. Strangely enough, carrots were the one vegetable that I never needed any persuasion to eat as a child – so maybe there is something to this whistling thing after all?
This soup will give your jaws very little exercise, will do even less for your whistling prowess, but will delight your tastebuds (if you are a fan of coriander/cilantro!). Carrots and coriander are a classic flavour combination, and roasting them together first brings a depth of flavour to the soup that’s hard to achieve by simply boiling or steaming the carrots. I love the mellow flavour of the carrots brightened up by the cilantro, I love the sunny colour, and I love how super-easy it is. And if that does not make you whistle with joy, nothing will!
ROASTED CARROT AND CORIANDER SOUP (serves 4)
5 medium carrots
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
750ml vegetable stock (I used Kallo organic)
1 large handful coriander/cilantro leaves, rinsed and dried
salt and black pepper to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with aluminium foil.
Peel the carrots, cut each in half along its length and chop into 2.5cm lengths. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Toss the carrots, onion and unpeeled garlic cloves together with enough olive oil to coat them, then spread out evenly on the baking tray. Crush the coriander seeds using a pestle and mortar, sprinkle over the vegetables and bake for about 45 minutes or until carrots are soft and beginning to caramelise.
When the carrots are soft enough to mash roughly with a fork, remove the vegetables from the oven, set aside the garlic cloves and tip the rest into a large heavy-bottomed pot. Squeeze the garlic flesh out of the skins and add to the pot, then mash the vegetables roughly using a potato masher. Add the coriander/cilantro leaves, stock and milk and then mix with an immersion blender until the soup is as smooth or as chunky as you like.
Simmer over medium heat until heated through. Add more water if the soup is too thick, check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Garnish with thin carrot ribbons (use your vegetable peeler to make them) and fresh coriander/cilantro leaves, and serve immediately.