When asked to conjure images of Alaska, you might think of Denali’s snowy peak, brown bears munching on sedge grass, or salmon pushing up a clear stream. You may lean to images of the past depicting homesteaders and gold prospectors or early dog sled journeys across frozen tundra. It isn’t very often that agriculture comes to mind, and why would it? Alaska is full of some of the largest mountains and most stunning vistas. It’s one of the largest outdoor playgrounds in the world.
The fact is that Alaska has a very unique history with agriculture. The average growing season in Alaska is just north of 100 days making it the shortest in the United States. However, anyone who has been to the Alaska State Fair knows just how large Alaskan vegetables can grow. The world record cabbage, weighing in at 138 pounds, was grown in Alaska in 2012. Alaska’s continuous sunlight in the summer months also helps grow gargantuan cantaloupe, broccoli, zucchini, and the star of our dish: the carrot.
The great thing about carrots in Alaska is that they thrive in cooler weather because they are root vegetables. Thus, their season extends past that of other Alaskan farm staples. The agricultural researcher and farmer Eliot Coleman says that carrots grown in cooler climates tend to be sweeter because they need to produce more sugar to prevent ice crystals from forming. The sweetness brings perfect balance to my favorite easy soup: Alaskan Carrot Soup. Don’t worry, if you don’t have access to AK grown carrots, a little honey will add the sweetness that sets this soup apart from the rest.
2 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1½ inch pieces
2 fennel bulbs, with fronds removed and cut into wedges
½ white onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves left whole
1 tbsp honey (if not using Alaska carrots)
½ tsp cayenne
1 tbsp whole fennel seed
Fresh thyme, 5-6 sprigs plus more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
⅔ cup heavy cream
½ lemon, juiced
Directions for Roasted Alaskan Carrot Soup
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the whole fennel seed to a dry Dutch oven or oven-safe pot over medium heat and stir occasionally until seeds are very aromatic but not burnt. Add a few tbsp of olive oil and the carrots, fennel wedges, onion, garlic, and fresh thyme. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne and cook for about four minutes, stirring to ensure even cooking. Add 3-4 cups of water or until the water comes to about ½ inch from the top of the vegetables. Allow water to boil off until only a ½ inch of water remains (about 15 minutes).
Transfer the Dutch oven, uncovered, into the oven and roast vegetables for 30 minutes. Transfer the pan back to the stovetop over medium heat and deglaze with the chicken stock, making sure to get all the good bits off the bottom of the pan.
Using a stick blender or an upright blender, puree the soup until smooth, add cream, lemon juice, and honey. Taste for seasoning. If the soup is too thick you can add a little more stock or cream to thin it out.
This soup is a great light lunch or a first course. I garnished mine with creme fraiche and fresh thyme and served it alongside a grilled cheese sandwich with brie and pears, which worked perfectly with the earthiness of the soup.