When my husband bought more beets than I knew what to do with, I decided to make borscht too. Then I remembered a recipe I saw “The Kitchen Detective,” by Christopher Kimball. Here’s what Kimball has to say about borscht:
I say beet soup and you say, “no thanks.” Well, maybe that is because you have had a particularly dreadful version of borscht, a recipe that ranges from a cold, lifeless puree to a hearty, workingman’s meat soup.
So he calls it beet soup and spices it up with cumin and ginger. Having grown up on fabulous Eastern European cuisine, I’m a little offended. But my mother modernized things too, by trimming the fat and not overcooking.
Kitchen Detective tends to get fussy, writing that roasting beets brought out a richer flavor than cooking them. Now I had a dilemma. To roast, you need to peel. With roasted vegetables, I sometimes get away with scrubbing only, letting the diner can manage the peel on their own. But for soup the peel has to go. My mother cooked root vegetables whole and slipped off the skin afterward. This preserves both the color and the vitamins, most of which are directly under the skin and lost when peeled raw. I also didn’t want to turn on the oven just for the beets, especially when the pressure cooker works well. Yet I would still have to scrub the beets quite well, and it’s hard to get off all of the dirt.
In the end I decided to make a crustless quiche for dinner. So I peeled and cubed the beets, adding turnip and sweet potatoes to the roasting pan. If the oven is on already, it’s not so much work to add a batch of sourdough apple muffins. I often find myself cooking in one long session for the next several days, adding new items as necessary.
Well, Christopher Kimball doesn’t have children and a large family to worry about. [A commenter below corrects me, saying that Kimball has four children. I should not have made assumptions.] He’s a cookbook author and can focus on one thing at a time. It didn’t go so smoothly for me. See my notes at the end.
Beet Soup with Toasted Cumin and Ginger
From The Kitchen Detective, by Christopher Kimball (2003), p. 32.
- 2 pounds beets, about 10 medium
- 2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 medium onions
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 6 cups chicken stock (I used water for a kosher version, or leave out the cream below)
- 1½ tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons lime juice (no limes here, lemon instead)
- ½ cup heavy cream, optional
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Minced chives for garnish, optional
- Sour cream for garnish, optional
- Heat the oven to 425° (200°). Rinse the beets, trim the tops and bottoms, then peel and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Toss the beets in a roasting pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle them with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to cook about 10 minutes or until the beets are cooked through.
- Place the cumin seeds in a nonstick skillet and toast over medium heat until they darken and are very aromatic, about 3 minutes.
- Heat the remaining 1½ tablespoons oil in a soup pot or large saucepan. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until they have softened but not browned. Add the ginger and toasted cumin seeds and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the stock and the remaining 1/4 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the beets and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Puree the soup in a blender or food processor in batches. Return it to the pot and add the honey, lime juice, and optional heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with chives and sour cream, if desired.
Notes: I used ground ginger. I did not cover the beets with foil, so some edges were slightly crunchy and took longer to cook. The onions were crunchy because I didn’t sauté them enough, so I set the pot back on the stove to cook a while longer. A blending stick would have come in handy, as switching to the food processor was messy.
But even with all that, the soup was quite good. It came out as a course puree and this morning, there was little liquid left. My kids didn’t go for it, but my husband and I enjoyed it garnished with half-and-half (known as light cream). And my husband is one of those “no thanks” people when it comes to beet borscht.
Kimball has a section in his book disparaging home cooks who substitute indiscriminately. His cites an experiment in the test kitchen of “Cook’s Illustrated,” where home cooks chose dry marsala when the recipe called for sweet. He implores readers to give cookbook authors a chance. I’m sure he will be disappointed if he ever reads this. But remember, if it’s good enough for you and your family, that’s all that counts.
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