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Posts Tagged ‘root vegetables’

As much as I love and embrace summer fruits and vegetables, there is something particularly comforting about produce in the autumn and winter times.  Warmer flavors as well as warmer colors that are rich and mellow invite family and friends to gather around.

This is a very flexible soup in terms of additions or subtractions.  I make it every year and each time it changes.  So feel free to use whatever is available to you locally as long as the flavors make good partnerships.  This soup keeps well for several days in the refrigerator.  In the unlikely event that you have leftovers you want to freeze, this soup freezes beautifully.

2 Tbl. Good quality olive oil

1 large onion (yellow or white), medium diced

3 carrots, medium diced (not the colossal ones; medium size is fine)

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 ½ cups of winter squash, peeled and cubed into bite size pieces

(I used butternut squash but other hard winter squashes work fine.)

½ teaspoon allspice

Pinch of ground cloves

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (can add more to suit your taste)

1-2 Tbl. Jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)

Coarse sea salt

1 quart chicken broth (if not using homemade, use no-fat, low or no sodium)

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

Several sprigs of thyme (whole) or several leaves of sage (chopped) (your choice)

2 cups of greens: chopped kale, beet greens, or chard leaves  (I used kale)

1 cup chickpeas (or cannellini beans)

(if not using dried peas, drain and rinse the canned peas)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the carrots and onions and cook them, stirring often, until they begin to get soft.  On my stove this took about 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for only a minute more.  Be careful not to overcook the garlic or it gets bitter.

Add the squash, allspice, cloves and cayenne.  At this point, throw in a generous pinch of coarse sea salt and the jalapenos.  Stir to mix and then add the broth and tomatoes (with their juices) slowly so it doesn’t splash.

Stir the pot well and add the herbs.  Bring it all to a boil then reduce the heat to medium.  Cover the pot and simmer for about 10-12 minutes.

Add your greens and chickpeas (or cannellini beans) and leave the pot uncovered.  Cook this for another 10-15 minutes until all the greens and squash are tooth tender.

Taste and adjust your seasonings.

(If you used thyme sprigs, remove the sprigs before you serve the soup.)

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My grandmother was an avid cook although not necessarily a good one.  She grew up in an oppressed area where she learned to eat things pulled hastily from the ground, sometimes without lighting a fire to mellow them, and then consumed on the run.

As a result, she didn’t bake well in spite of entertaining a delightful romance with sweets.  Did you know that a sugar cube held between your teeth could sweeten the bitterest brew of coffee?  Or that a cookie baked until it’s hard enough to break a tooth can be a soothingly sweet when it’s dipped into hot tea before eating?  My grandmother knew these things well.

She also knew that one of the most frugal and nutritious soups one can make is a good root based borscht.  Using a beetroot, which contributes the signature deep red color and some carrot , another sweet root, my grandmother built the basis of her soup.

She stood in her tiny kitchen with a cutting board and an old, yet sharp, knife and chopped those roots into tiny pieces.  The carrots were the size of something between a dice and a mince while the beetroot was a slightly larger cube– and occasionally julienned depending upon her mood.

She then made a chiffonade of cabbage and onions.  She did not use the flanken like the other grandmothers I knew but she did include her own homemade beef stock from her stewed beef dishes to the soup.

The result was a delectable combination of roots, broth and vinegar that was stewed on the stove for a couple of hours and then served in small bowls with big spoons and a dollop of sour cream whether you wanted it or not.

Here, decades later, is my rendition of my Grandmothers beet borscht with beets and carrots from our yard.  Everything else was homegrown, homemade or locally purchased.

Recipe, roughly translated:

2 large beets (equivalent of 2 cups)

1 medium carrot, diced into small, very small pieces (about ¾ cup after chopping)

1 large onion, chiffonade slices (at least 1 cup)

1 wedge of cabbage, chiffonade, (equivalent of just over a cup measured)

Approximately 2 cups of beef broth

(you can use chicken but it isn’t as rich or vegetable for a vegetarian meal)

Approximately 1-2 tablespoons of sherry or sherry vinegar

(Red wine vinegar works in a pinch)

Freshly ground pepper and salt (heavy on the pepper)

Sauté one tablespoon of fat (olive oil, butter, beef fat or rendered chicken fat) over a medium flame.  Add the roots and onions.  After they soften, about 10 minutes depending on your stove, add the broth, cabbage, and vinegar.  Bring this mixture to a boil then turn it down to simmer for 30-45 minutes.  The time variation is proportional to the size of your root pieces.  Smaller pieces require less time, larger pieces require more time.

When finished, season the whole pot with freshly ground pepper and salt.  Serve with a sturdy, high quality sour cream and big spoons.  She always threw a pinch of salt over her shoulder before eating and said a silent prayer.  We never knew what she said but the meal always seemed blessed with love.

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