This recipe is all about ying and yang. Opposite flavors, textures and colors combine to deliver a supremely addictive and delicious. The soup itself is velvety and delicate with a subtle lemon-ginger undertone, while the pistou (the French synonym for pesto) is course and assertive. Swirl them together in a bowl, take a spoonful, close your eyes and let your taste buds revel in delight.
I’m a huge cilantro fan; just the smell of it alone makes me hungry. But if cilantro is not your herb de choix, then substitute with parsley. The walnuts are a small nod to Passover, which I’ll be celebrating with my family later this month, and I’ll have lots of walnuts on-hand to make my grandmother’s haroset. This soup would be equally appealing as a first course for an Easter table, or frankly on any cool spring day. Serve leftover pistou along side a simply baked white fish fillet or a plain piece of chicken to liven things up.
2 lemongrass stalks
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into coins
3 TB unsalted butter, or olive oil
¾ cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts (1-2 leeks depending on the size)
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices
6 cups vegetable stock (if using store bought, do 3 cups stock and 3 cups water)
Kosher salt, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste
2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro springs, chopped (stems and leaves)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 TB lemon juice
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ tsp Kosher salt
1-2 TB water, plus more as needed
Remove the dry tops and bottoms of the lemongrass stalks and cut in pieces, about 3 inches in length. You should have around 6 pieces in total. With a meat pounder or rolling pin, smash the stalks firmly to break the fibers and release the flavor.
Melt the butter (or olive oil) in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots, broth, ginger and the lemongrass and bring to a boil. Partially cover and reduce to simmer, and cook until carrots are soft, about 25 minutes.\
Meanwhile, make the pistou. In a mini food processor or blender, combine the cilantro, olive oil, walnuts, lemon juice, garlic, ¼ tsp salt and 1 TB of water. Process until mostly smooth, scraping down the bowl a few times to make sure all of the ingredients incorporate. Taste, and add more salt or a squeeze of lemon as desired, or another tablespoon of water to reach desired consistency. The sauce should have an assertive taste- lemony, herby and salty, so make sure to use enough salt. Scrape into a bowl, and set aside.
When the carrots are cooked, remove the lemongrass and ginger with tongs and let the soup cool slightly. Set aside 1 cup of the broth, and puree the remaining carrot and broth mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth, in batches if necessary. Add some of the extra broth to reach desired consistency, if needed. Taste, and add salt (especially if your broth is unsalted) and a squeeze of lemon juice to bring out the flavors. Blend, taste again, and transfer back to a clean pot to keep warm.
When ready to serve, ladle the soup into bowls, and top each with 2-3 tsp of pistou. Serve extra pistou along side if desired.
To toast nuts: Preheat oven to 325°. Spread nuts on a baking tray, and bake in the oven for about 7 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from oven and let cool. (Can be done in advance and stored in an airtight container)