Monday, September 12, 2011

The Soup Project: Borscht

Catch the cool Northwest breeze or watch the leaves float down from trees and you know it's fall. It feels like eons ago since I made Red Velvet Soup with the baby beets of spring, but lately every time the cool breeze blows I'm feeling like beets would be perfect.

Fresh beets will be all over the market in a few weeks, but they seemed scarce this last weekend.

That's the way it is, go looking for something in particular at the market, and unless it's peak season, that particular produce item suddenly becomes hard to find. You'd think beets would be plentiful all year. I finally spotted these beets at Rent's Due Ranch, in the lowly last position, practically squeezed out by the kohlrabi.

If vegetables could talk maybe the kohlrabi is saying, "Excuse me, it's not your turn yet."

"Do you have more beets?" I'd asked JoanE.

"Oh yes," JoanE said, "But not many people are buying beets right now. People get beets all winter, most don't want them yet."

It's funny how even market shoppers get accustomed to certain months for vegetables. This feeling that we "know" seasons and only buy certain vegetables at certain times means for example that stores don't accept local corn after Labor Day or plant starts after Mother's Day. And melons for Thanksgiving? If a farmer grows it, that should determine the season.

And what about celery? It's one of the vegetables that people don't even think about seasons. But fall is the best time for local celery, so check it out now.

This celery is from Willie Green's and looks and tastes like it was covered while growing. Some farmers don't cover it. Look close before you buy, if the celery is more green and tough looking, it's likely the farmer didn't cover it and it will have more bitter tones. If you like celery less bitter, ask if the farmer covers the stalks when it grows. I could eat fresh celery every day. Celery is underrated and more than just a low calorie vegetable.

It's also a vegetable that won't last long in the refrigerator at home. Use it within a few days or it will get rubbery.

The original recipe for this soup came from a recipe column I wrote in the early 1990s for a newsletter called Vegan Network. I added the recipe to the line up in this article called "Beet It," for Vegetarian Journal. My first book Local Vegetarian Cooking also included the recipe and it can also be found in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. That must mean the recipe is timeless--for me anyway.

Onions and carrots are also part of the mix. If you're sensitive to onions, try shallots.

Many dogs love carrots, but when it comes to beets, like many people, dogs don't get the allure. Or maybe it's just that I walked away with "his" carrots, he needed to give me the stink eye.

Some people like beet greens better than beet roots. A spinach and chard relative, beet greens can be added to stir-fries, casseroles or pureed into dips. Lately, my favorite way to use the beet greens is in hot sandwiches with grilled onions, peppers, eggplant or mushrooms.

You can chop and add the greens to this soup when the soup is cooked. Heat until the greens wilt. One bunch of beets cut into chunks is about 2 cups of bite-size pieces.

I had just two carrots left because the dogs hit me up as soon as I walk in the door every Saturday. They don't leave my side until I pony up a carrot or two. I often get one bunch of carrots just for the dogs, but I was in a hurry to get to the Tumwater Library to give a talk about local farms, farmers and food.

Hope you enjoy this the soup of the week.

(Serves 4)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, mince
2 to 5 stalks of celery, sliced
1 pr 2 carrpts, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups water or vegetable stock (or half of each)
3 cups roughly chopped beets
1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) fresh dill, chopped
1 medium baked potato, skin removed
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon, finely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Sour cream, plain yogurt or lemon cashew cream (recipe follows)
Bagel chips and lemon wedges

1. Place a heavy soup or pressure cooker pot over medium heat. Add the oil and onion, cover and sweat the onions until soft. Add garlic, celery, and carrots, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Cook for a few more minutes.

2. Add the water or stock, beets, and dill. If using a pressure cooker, lock lid in place and bring to pressure. Cook for 3 minutes, then let pressure come down naturally for 7 minutes. For a traditional soup pot, bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. Puree one cup of soup stock with the potato, lemon juice and zest. Stir back into the soup pot along with the sugar or honey to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste; adjust seasonings.

4. Top with a dollop of sour cream, plain yogurt or drizzle some lemon cashew cream. (See recipe below.)

4. Serve with bagel chips. Use lemon wedges to adjust the flavors.

Lemon-Cashew Cream
(Makes about 1 cup)
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1. Soak cashews in apple cider for about an hour.

2. Puree with lemon zest and juice until creamy. Add to soup instead of sour cream, cream or yogurt.

My Cooking Assistant is always intrigued by bread and garnishes. He gives four paws up to this seasonal treasure.


Joan said...

I LOVE beets and their greens, often having beets for dinner one night and the greens sauteed with onions another night. I especially love golden and chiogga beets because they don't stain everything in sight! But I can't grow them worth a darn. Bummer.

It's been years since I made Borscht, thanks for the reminder to get a couple of bunches tomorrow at my farmers mkt!

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

So true about the staining aspect, but sometimes I just have to have the bright red beets. It is fun that you get two vegetables in one with beets. I wish you could grow them, too.

Nancy Ging said...

Tell the kohlrabi to scoot over! Beets are beautiful and good for what ails you. I love to pickle them--as I eat them I put peeled hard-boiled eggs in the jar for a few hours to soak up that beautiful purple color. When you slice the eggs, you get a purple layer, a layer of white, and then the bright yellow yolk (if you're using locally produced eggs). My favorite salad is pickled beet slices with sauteed beet greens and pickled beet eggs with a little apple cider vinegar--the best!

P.S. Nice to meet you yesterday!

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

Wow, what a cool idea Nancy. Thanks for sharing. I love all your great ideas and it was so good to meet yesterday. I'm sure we'll see each other at a future event--have to if we have the same love of local food!