I invented Red Velvet Soup on the way home from the farmers' market last Saturday. While I usually have a recipe selected before I arrive at the market, I dreamed this one up after I bought the main ingredients. Beets were on my "list," but I had simply written "beets for soup" and never actually checked out recipes for other ingredients.
When my friend Ed asked what I was going to do with beets at the market, I didn't have any idea. "Beet soup," was all I'd answered.
"Beet soup, huh?" he echoed as if searching for something profound to say. "That sounds interesting."
If I had to pair one word with soup, it would not be interesting. That's what people say when they aren't terribly impressed. But I realized plenty of people don't like beets; I counted myself among the beet haters when I was young.
Seriously, who couldn't love these candy-stripped chioggia beets?
My first encounter with beets was during school lunches when I was young. When we lived a small town in Utah, I recalled school lunches with steamed canned beets cut in perfect little squares usually propped next to a lumpy thing that passed as meatloaf. All I'd really wanted then was the peanut butter cookie for dessert. I'd force down a beet or two, then like most of the other students, I scraped the remainder into big garbage pails, destined to feed the pigs just outside of town. "Pig slop" we called school lunches at Central Elementary School.
Later, when I was a teenager in California, Mom added canned pickled beets to salads. And though I liked them, I never ventured beyond canned beets until I moved to the Northwest.
I used cylinder beets like these for the soup. When I thought up the recipe, I wished that Tom shared my enthusiasm for these earthy tasting treasures. But he doesn't, so I also made budget-friendly Quinoa Fritters and wine-braised hop tips, a green that Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards had brought to the market.
I held out hope that Tom might at least taste my soup creation; after all, it had two things he eats on salads--beets and balsamic vinegar. But when I mentioned it, he flashed me this blank look and said, "It still tastes like beets, doesn't it?"
He doesn't get that pairing these crimson wonders with a good quality balsamic vinegar and coconut milk and transforms it into a rich-tasting soup was a stroke of brilliance. The soup has star quality all over it, and though I coined the name, I was sure someone else had probably dreamed up my clever soup title, way before my tiny burst of inspiration.
Nothing is ever original in the cooking world. When I googled the recipe title, this one from a Sierra Club blog appeared, and another version of "creamy" beet soup from Epicurious featured real cream, but neither sounded half as good as my version with coconut milk. Maybe my recipe is an original after all.
The one thing you do need for this soup is a good quality balsamic vinegar. Cheat on quality, and it won't taste as good. I got a bottle of FINI balsamic vinegar, as a gift recently, I'd seen it in Williams Sonoma for about $12 a bottle and Tom bought it for my birthday. I feel lucky when my family and friends give me foods that I love but can't fit easily into my budget plan.
I used this coconut milk in the Creamy Curried Nettle Soup last week and I needed to figure out how to use the rest of the carton, so Red Velvet Soup seemed the perfect opportunity.
This is Finn and in spite of his relaxed appearance, he was very excited when I finally set the bowl in front of him. (You might be a local food snob if you don't point to brand name products.)
And now, for beet lovers everywhere--a recipe you'll really love:
Red Velvet Soup
I added yogurt to this soup after I had a second helping this morning and thought how perfect it would look with a swirl of yogurt across the surface.
1 large beet, chopped
1 large, potato, chopped
2 tablespoons rolled oats
2 cups water or stock
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt and pepper to taste
Squeeze of lemon
Snipped chives for garnish (optional)
Yogurt for garnish (optional)
1. Simmer beet, potato and oats in water for about ten minutes or until vegetables are fork tender. Let cool slightly before pureeing in a food processor or blender with coconut milk.
2. Return to pot and add balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon. Add more coconut milk if needed. This soup thickens as it cools.
3. Add yogurt and snipped chives for garnish. Serve with crusty artisan bread.