So light and lovely, Instant Pot Carrot Lemongrass Soup is the perfect “reset” after a season of heavy foods and indulgences. A one-pot preparation done in the pressure cooker, this soup is an easy weeknight meal. Enjoy the smooth, balanced flavors of complementary sweet carrots and astringent, citrusy lemongrass, featuring leeks, garlic, and coconut milk. Vegan, refined-sugar-free, and gluten-free.
I love this soup. I just have to get that right out there. It might just be me, but it seems like carrot soup is the underdog of the soup world, overlooked and dismissed, so I feel like I have to give it extra love to make sure the world understands its charms.
Mild, yet toothsome, and gorgeous in the bowl, it’s particularly well-suited for January, when we’re all trying to recover from various levels of naughty eating the previous month (who, me? never! lol), and things are feeling a bit grey and dreary, weather-wise, as we plunge into the heart of winter.
It tastes indulgy, but it’s not. Carrot Lemongrass Soup is vegetarian and vegan, dairy-free, egg-free, and naturally gluten-free, oil-free, and refined-sugar-free. It is, in fact, quite easy on the stomach, and I sipped the leftovers from the photography session for this post on a chilly afternoon between lunch and dinner. Absolutely delightful.
Did you know that carrots are amazing winter vegetables to grow in the garden? Carrots — leeks, too — stay well-preserved underground for a long time, and grow even tastier after the first frost of the season.
I almost always grow carrots and leeks in my garden, and leave a good portion of the crop in the ground, just for winter soups. Deer and bunnies will nibble off the beautiful green tops before autumn ends, but nevermind: as long as I have a shovel and biceps strong enough to break through the crusty frozen ground, I’ll have fresh carrots and leeks all winter long.
Lemongrass is one of my very favorite aromatics for soups. I love the sweet, lemony zing it adds, and how it blends so well with other flavors, both savory (like leeks) and pungent (hello, fresh ginger!). It’s the perfect flavoring for this mild carrot soup — complementary without overwhelming the delicate notes of the carrots.
How to use fresh lemongrass
If you’ve never used fresh lemongrass before, those stalks might seem weird and a little intimidating. Especially if you took a knife to it, expecting it to slice easily, like celery.
Lemongrass is sturdy and fibrous, and needs a little working over before it’s ready to use. No worries, though. I’ve the got the skinny for you, right here.
But, if you have trouble finding fresh lemongrass, or if it’s just one of those nights and you need a shortcut, you can use lemongrass paste instead. If you’re doing a clean-eating thing, make sure you read the ingredient label on the tube: it often has a surprisingly long list of head-scratching additives.
- What does lemongrass look like? The lemongrass plant is actually quite beautiful (I’ve grown it several years). It’s quite large with long, slender dark green leaves and grows in the shape of a house fern, like fireworks. The edible portion is the stalk, from which the leaves grow out the top. The stalk is usually 12″ or so long, and, at the store, the leaves will have been trimmed away. The stalk has a similar structure to an ear of corn: it has layers of tough outer husks that sprout leaves, surrounding an edible core (the core, however, is smooth, not corn-kernely, lol).
- How to buy lemongrass: lemongrass stalks are often sold bundled at the grocery store in the produce department. Look for pale green coloring of the stalk — straw coloring indicates the stalk is quite dried — with a creamy white or pinkish base. The stalk should be firm, not flimsy. Don’t worry if the leaf tips are dried out – that happens quickly after trimming.
- The edible portion of the lemongrass stalk is actually just the slender core (see photos above), which we’ll chop finely. The outer husks surrounding the core are wonderfully scented, but are far too tough and fibrous to eat. Instead, we’ll use them like a bay leaf to scent the soup, and then remove before serving.
- First, divide the stalk into three sections: (1) slice about an inch off the base and discard. (2) the part of the stalk we want is the next 4 or 5″ above the base. Make another slice above that point (the top of the stalk containing the leaves), and chop off the leaves (discard).
- Next, peel off the outermost husks of both the top section, and the main stalk section (one or two layers). Discard.
- Then, continue peeling all of the layers off the main stalk until you get to the core. Reserve those husks.
- Use a thin, sharp-bladed knife to thinly slice the core. The core will be cooked along with the other aromatics.
- To most efficiently release the essence of the lemongrass top, crush it with something heavy, like a meat tenderizer or the pestle from a mortar and pestle, to expose the interior of the stalk.
- Use kitchen string to tightly bundle the reserved husks and the crushed stalk tops. Use a surgeon’s knot to secure the bundle: a regular knot contains two turns or twists, where you make the first turn (looping the string end around once), tighten, and then make the second turn, and secure. In a surgeon’s knot, you make two loops in the first turn, then tighten, and then make the singular second turn to complete the knot. This creates an incredibly secure knot that won’t loosen. I normally bundle the lemongrass by making the first half of the surgeon’s knot, tightening, and then flipping the bundle over, and repeating the full surgeon’s knot on the other side. This knot comes in very handy for a variety of things!
- The bundled husks and crushed stalk sit in the broth while the soup cooks, and will release a lovely lemongrass flavoring.
I spent a little time above extolling the flavor virtues of this soup, but it bears pointing out, too, that this Carrot Lemongrass Soup is really the poster child for easy Instant Pot soups.
Vegetables such as carrots (and potatoes and sweet potatoes) do particularly well in the pressure cooker, and you’ll enjoy the abbreviated, hands-off cooking time.
Sauteing the carrots and leeks first in the pot in a generous knob of ghee unleashes their aromas ahead of the steamy pressure cooker bath, and it’s ever so tempting just to pluck things right out of the pot for nibbling. But do resist. The wait is worth it.
This recipe was inspired by a random channel-flipping session, where I landed on a PBS show featuring Rory O’Connell, who cooked up a version of this Laos-based soup, albeit in the chefy way that chefs like to complexify things, lol.
I’m a proud home cook and home cooking advocate, so while I was immediately intrigued by the recipe, my mind spent the episode breaking it down into its essential parts and retrofitting it for the Instant Pot.
The one thing we did agree on was the brand of coconut milk we prefer: Chaokoh. It’s free from weird additives, and allows the coconut water and coconut cream to separate in the can, which I appreciate: you can always shake the can to combine them, but I love to dig out some of that thick cream to create a little SoupArt on my soups. 😉
More Carrot Soups:
Carrot Lemongrass Soup
- 2 stalks lemongrass (or 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste)
- 2 tablespoons butter, ghee, or vegan butter (Miyokos is awesome)
- 2 pounds carrots, scrubbed and chopped into 1″ pieces
- 1 leek, chopped, white and light green parts only
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups vegetable or no-chicken broth
- 15 ounce can coconut milk
- kosher salt
- cilantro, minced, for garnish
prepare the lemongrass stalks:
- Lemongrass is very fibrous and sturdy – you’ll need a good knife.
- Slice off the bulbous ends, about 1″ up (discard). At the other end, leafy (or formerly leafy) end, slice off the top, leaving about 4″ of stalk from the middle.
- Peel off the outermost layers, from both the tops and the 4″ stalk (discard).
- Peel off all of the remaining layers from the 4″ stalk until you reach the flexible core (reserve).
- Crush the tops to expose the insides, using something heavy like a meat tenderizer or the pestle of a mortar and pestle.
- Securely tie the peeled, reserved layers and crushed tops in a bundle with kitchen string.
- Thinly slice the flexible cores with a sharp knife.
cook the veggies in the pressure cooker:
- Set an 6 or 8 qt Instant Pot to Saute (medium heat, if adjustable). Add the butter/ghee and let melt.
- Add the carrots, lemongrass slices, leeks, and a big pinch of salt, and stir well to coat. Let the veggies cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. The carrots should be glossy with butter, and the leeks soft.
- Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.
- Pour in the broth. Level the carrots so they’re below the surface of the broth (if needed, add more broth or water to cover the carrots).
- Nestle the lemongrass bundle into the broth.
- Afix the lid, and set the valve control to “Sealing”.
- Choose Manual Pressure for 3 minutes, and let pressurize and cook. When complete, let natural release for 5 minutes, then quick release the remaining pressure.
- Remove the lid, taking care to watch the drips and steam.
- Remove and discard the lemongrass bundle.
- Use an immersion blender to completely smooth out the soup. Taste, and add more salt as needed.
- Stir in one-and-a-half cups of well-shaken coconut milk and mix until completely combined.*