January, 2009

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Five-Spice Beet Soup
Jan 11th, 2009



To complete the transformation of this blog into a Soup-of-the-Month forum, I'll follow up last month's Roasted Eggplant Soup with - yes - another pureed vegetable soup. Now that I think about it actually, the two soups would make a stunning duo - contrasting the smokey orange of the eggplant soup with the velvety violet of the beet.

The impetus behind wanting to make both of these recipes was same as well. There are some vegetables that have admirable nutritional profiles, yet always end up languishing in my vegetable drawer. Beets and eggplant both belong to this category of vegetable - those that, to be honest, I just don't love and have to struggle to come up with ways to eat them that sound good. But it's becoming clear to me that just about any vegetable will be delicious when cooked up with some broth and served as a soup. What an easy way to eat your vegetables!

This beet soup recipe caught my eye because the combination of ginger and Chinese five-spice sounded like just the thing to liven up a puree of sweet steamed beets. Plus I had everything I needed to make it hanging out in my fridge (always a plus). The one thing I was out of was vegetable broth, so I tested Mark Bittman's assertion that throwing some carrots and onions in a pan with some water and simmering for ten minutes will give you a better vegetable stock than anything you could pick up in the grocery store. Since canned vegetable stocks tend to be pretty gross, this isn't really a high bar - but I'd have to agree with Mr. Bittman. I didn't have much onion, so I added some leek trimmings from my freezer to some rubbery old carrots and the skin from the onion I was using for this recipe, and indeed in about ten or fifteen minutes of simmering I had a sweet, aromatic stock.

After pureeing the soup and adjusting the seasonings, I felt it needed just a little more tang, so I put in a squeeze or two of lemon juice. This was my only change from the original recipe. The combination of the tang from the lemon juice and the yogurt I stirred in on serving proved to be a great counterpoint to the spicy ginger and sweet vegetables, and the five-spice powder adds an unexpected complexity of taste. Pretty good for such a quick to prepare recipe - plus all the purple stuff covering your blender is sure to freak out the kids if you have any.


Five-Spice Beet Soup

4 2- to 2 1/2-inch-diameter beets, scrubbed, trimmed, unpeeled, each cut into 6 wedges (about 3 1/2 cups)
3 cups vegetable broth, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium-size red onion, thinly sliced (2 cups)
1 celery stalk with leaves, stalk chopped, leaves sliced
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 tsp (or more) Chinese five-spice powder
Fresh-squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
Sour cream or plain yogurt


Place beet wedges in 4-cup glass measuring cup. Add 2 cups broth; cover with paper plate and microwave on high until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and chopped celery stalk; cover and cook until almost tender and translucent, stirring often, about 12 minutes.

Add beet mixture and 1 cup broth to onion mixture; cover and simmer 4 minutes. Mix in ginger and 1/4 tsp five-spice powder. Transfer to lender; cover and puree. Season soup to taste with salt, pepper, lemon juice and additional five-spice powder, if desired; rewarm if necessary.

Serve and top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and sliced celery leaves.

-Bon Appetit February 2009
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