Spiced Carrot and Pepper Soup with a Couscous Swirl
This is that rare, magical soup that looks pretty and has enough going on to keep an adult with, ahem, relatively developed tastes engaged but is also loved by kids, or at least the two I was assigned. What I mean is, if I were being smart, I’d just quit now—these things don’t happen twice. It probably didn’t hurt that I was inspired by two different soups I’ve loved—one, a simple summery red-pepper soup; another, a carrot soup with spices—and also by couscous, which was pretty much a staple for us when I was growing up but has fallen out of rotation around here thanks to the tempting whole grains available these days. I’ve missed it. It’s really quick to make, and it also has a lightness and delicacy that go well with vegetable dishes. Plus, I have a theory that just about every seemingly lightweight blended vegetable soup is exactly 2 tablespoons of cooked grains dolloped into the center away from being passed off as a meal to the soup-suspicious, even without the usual assists of dumplings, meat, or glugs of cream. Swirling the couscous in right before we eat it keeps it fluffy.
|For the soup:|
|2 tbsp (30ml)||olive oil|
|1||large yellow onion, roughly chopped or sliced|
|6||large red bell peppers, cut into 1 inch pieces|
|455g||carrots, thinly sliced|
|1 tsp||ground cumin|
|1 tsp||sweet paprika|
|1/8 tsp||ground cinnamon|
|¼ tsp||ground ginger|
|a few saffron threads, crumbled (optional)|
|710ml||vegetable or chicken broth|
|1 tsp||sea salt, plus more to taste|
|1 tbsp||prepared harissa, plus more to taste|
|120ml||broth or water|
|a pinch or two of salt (if using water)|
|85g||uncooked dried fine couscous|
|a handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or coriander|
You will need: a hand blender or an upright blender.
Make the soup base: Heat a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and once it is very hot, add the garlic and onion. Cook until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes, then add the peppers. Cook until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes, then add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes together. Add the cumin, paprika, and other spices, and cook for 1 minute more. Pour in the broth and salt, and bring to a simmer. Cover, and simmer over gentle heat until the carrots and peppers are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Use a hand blender (or transfer to an upright blender) to purée the mixture until smooth. Add the harissa a dollop at a time, to taste.
Meanwhile, make the couscous: Bring the broth or water and salt to a simmer. Stir in the couscous. Cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Right before serving, stir to fluff the couscous.
To serve: Ladle the soup into bowls, and spoon a couple tablespoons of cooked couscous into the center of each, swirling it in slightly. Scatter the herbs over, and serve with lemon wedges.