Winter and soup go together like cold feet and comfy, goose down slippers.
Once the weather turns cooler, I begin my seasonal longing for soup's warmth and comfort. And when I find enough time to make a huge pot of soup for sharing with friends and family -- with enough left over for another meal -- I cheer.
After all, soup is one of those magical dishes where flavors commingle in ever more delectable ways the second time around... and the third. And maybe even the fourth, if you're so blessed.
One of my absolute favorite wintertime soups to make is hot borscht.
Fast food memory
Years ago when I lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota, I enjoyed my first borscht ever after discovering this tiny Russian restaurant on University Avenue called Russian Piroshki and Tea House, which excelled in tasty simplicity and served just three things: piroshki ("Russian-style hamburgers"), cabbage rolls, and borscht.
This fast food takeout place's specialties were as good as homemade and, I suspect for some, tasted better than homemade, and were served -- well, yes -- quickly. I would run in to place my order and soon after be carrying a very hot piroshki back to my car, to eat there before heading back to work. (Of course, this was at least ten years before I began the dangerous habit of eating in the car -- while driving; this uniquely American mode of eating began during the heady dot-com era in the late '90s for me, when I somehow believed it worth commuting a horrendous, 30-mile trek to and from work each day over the long -- and very backed up -- San Mateo Bridge.)
One day while ordering at the tea house, I took a leap of faith and ordered the borscht; I was hooked.
Borscht is true comfort food, chocked full of all sorts of winter vegetables, which amazingly include edible parts of various plants:
Now that's a hardy soup! And a very red soup at that.
Time to chop
Winter is an especially good time to slow down. On a recent winter's afternoon, I spent over an hour peeling and chopping, dicing and slicing vegetables -- all by hand. When Peachela offered to get the Cuisinart food processor out for me, I balked. Friends were coming over that evening for a game night, and I wanted to take my time -- the time necessary to do it right -- to enjoy each and every step.
Now, I admit, I would probably cook more often if I did get that Cuisinart down from the top shelf. I often choose not to cook -- leaving that for Peach, who loves to cook and handles stress much better than I, or for the local restaurant -- because sometimes it's a chore I don't want to face at the end of a long workday.
But the biggest obstacle is that I prefer to cook slowly -- very, very slowly and deliberately, with my own two hands and with a very sharp knife -- and this requires time and patience. I relish having an hour or more to enjoy the act of preparation, to gather the trimmings and peels as I go, for dropping into the compost bin outside after I'm done.
Sometimes I light a candle before I begin and put on some music. In a way, the cooking process is a form of "kitchen meditation" for me. Not unlike washing the dishes (which I also resist doing) but once I get started, by golly, I enjoy it and discover anew how relaxed and happy I become... when taking the time it takes.
Beets are a bit challenging to prepare:
1) Cut off their leaves -- often referred to as beet greens. Beet greens are edible and should be cooked right way; sauté them like you do Swiss chard or try a new recipe. Unfortunately, I dawdled too long this time, and alas, they ended up in my composter, which I'm sure made the worms happy in any case.
2) Peel the beetroots and cut each one ever so carefully -- it's kinda like cutting through a somewhat tender, wooden orb.
3) Oh, and do they bleed! My hands were covered in red rivulets of beet juice by the time I finished cutting them into bite-sized cubes. Rub coarse salt on your hands to remove stains. Wear an old apron or shirt that can be stained with no regrets.
Ukrainian Beet and Bean Stew
From Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites
by The Moosewood Collective (1996)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 cup sliced onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 cups water
3 cups sliced cabbage
1 cup sliced carrots
3 cups chopped potatoes
4 cups peeled cubed raw beets (5 or 6 medium beets)
3 cups undrained whole tomatoes, chopped (28-ounce can [or fresh!])
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked kidney beans (15-ounce can, drained)
1 tablespoon dried dill (1/4 cup fresh)
ground black pepper to taste
low-fat or nonfat yogurt [or good old sour cream]
In a pot, heat the oil briefly, add the onions and celery, and sauté on medium heat, stirring continuously for 4 or 5 minutes, until browned. Add 1 cup of the water, cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and carrots, stir well, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups of water, the potatoes, beets, tomatoes, caraway seeds, vinegar, and salt; bring to boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 35 minutes, until the beets are tender. Add the beans and dill. When the stew is hot, add pepper to taste.
Serve topped with chopped scallions and a dollop of low-fat or nonfat yogurt [or sour cream, if you dare].
Serves 6 to 8
50 minutes +
Note: The sweetness of beets and carrots varies, so taste the stew for sweetness and tartness and add a little more vinegar and/or a pinch of sugar, if needed.
P.S. I apologize for the blurry soup photo at the top of my post. It's the best one I have. I really wish I could blame it on the fact that I accidentally dropped my camera late last year and that the possible damage prevented the camera from focusing...
But, darn, if those clementines aren't sharp. Huh.