Borscht may not strike you as being "soul food" but believe me, this is without a doubt a seriously soulful dish from Eastern Europe. I admit to initially having zero love for this beetroot-centric soup, my first taste being an 'accidental' swig of the drinkable variety (in a fancy glass) when I was about thirteen at a friend's house. That experience effectively turned me off to beets until 2000 when I travelled to Ukraine for the first time. Beets featured prominently at the local market and in the grocery store, but I avoided buying them. Then my friend Tanya invited me to dinner at her parents' home and the main course was - borscht. I have never turned my nose up to a meal and the aroma that wafted through the air was gorgeous, so I eagerly tucked into my bowl. This was my first taste of real Ukrainian borscht and it knocked my socks off. There were so many layers of flavor for seemingly simple dish: the beets were sweet and earthy, the cabbage had an almost bacon-like flavor, and the broth was rich and tangy. The addition of a dollop of homemade sour cream on top and a sprinkle of fresh dill was bonus.
Did I mention how good beets are for you too?
Since then I have enjoyed trying different rifts on traditional borscht, and this is hands down my favorite. I paired golden beets with sweet potatoes and some warming spices, then puree for a smooth, silky texture. This is a great soup to take hiking, or on a picnic, but also makes a wonderful first course or light lunch. I like to top it with whipped Greek yogurt and Cilantro-infused oil.
1 cup chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small or 1 large leeks, white parts, washed, dried, and julienned
1 bunch of three golden beets, greens removed*, washed, peeled, and quartered
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
1 teaspoon freshly grated tumeric root
2 small yellow or orange carrots, washed, peeled, and chopped
4 cups water
scant 1 tablespoon fine kosher salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1. Add the chicken or vegetable stock to a small saucepan with the saffron, cinnamon stick, and coriander seeds. Bring to a low boil, then turn off the heat and set aside.
2. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium high heat. As soon as it is melted and starts to foam, add the leeks and stir until they are softened.
3. Add the beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots to the pot with the leeks and immediately pour in the 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, partially covered, for 12 minutes.
4. Strain the spices from the stock and discard. Add the stock to the simmering soup pot. Add the ginger root, turmeric, salt and pepper, and simmer, uncovered, for another 5-10 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are fork-tender.
5. Ladle the entire content of your soup pot into a high speed blender and puree until smooth. (You may also use a hand blender directly in the soup pot to puree your soup, if you have one.) Pour back into the soup pot and simmer gently for 3-5 minutes.
6. Serve hot with whipped Greek yogurt, Cilantro oil, and fresh dill.
* Use the beet greens in salad or saute with olive oil, roasted garlic, and balsamic vinegar for a real treat.
2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems
2 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and stems
1 cup canola, grapeseed, or sunflower oil
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Drop in the cilantro and parsley, then immediately remove from the heat and strain in a colander.
2. Dry the cilantro and parsley on paper towels, then add to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until you have a nice paste. Pulse in the oil and then process until smooth and green.
3. Place a large piece of cheesecloth over a small bowl and pour over the cilantro oil. Gather up the sides and let the clarified oil drip into the bowl. (You can also place a piece of cheesecloth over a jar and use a rubber band to create a pocket, pouring the oil in and letting it drain.)
4. Drizzle the clarified oil into the hot soup. You can store the oil in the refrigerator for about a week.