Beets: I cannot help but be seduced by their brilliant color and their nutritional riches, yet their flavor has proven a more trying relationship. Perhaps I have been marred by unfortunate events in my past involving pickled versions in bottles that were redolent of, well, dirt. This aversion has kept me at arm’s length from the enjoyment of these visually evocative root vegetables, and, ultimately, has been my loss. So, recently I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn how to love beets.
I began by roasting them. The roasting process seems to tame the beet’s unique earthiness, especially when combined with salt, olive oil and a little garlic. I then moved on to salads and found that beets work well when they are one component of many and combined with other distinctive flavors and textures: walnuts, ricotta salata, arugula and mint, for example. After some experimenting with composing salads with beets, I was emboldened. My next step was to make a soup. Looking to the salad for inspiration, I blended beets with several strong-flavored ingredients, paying attention to the balance of sweet, sour, and spice. I chose bold tastes I love, and that is how I arrived at this soup. The beets were present in flavor, but not overpowering. Their earthiness was tamped down by the brightness of citrus and the spiciness of ginger. Chile pepper added a kick and honey sweetened and smoothed out the soup. Topped with a cooling dollop of orange infused crème fraîche, the soup was exciting and fresh, giving the sense of multi-textures, even though it was puréed. The only overpowering presentation of the beets was in the soup’s intense magenta color – which is one thing I have always loved about beets.
Roasted Red Beet, Blood Orange and Ginger Soup with Orange Crème Fraîche
Orange juice may be substituted for the blood orange juice. The soup is best served warm (not hot) or at room temperature with a dollop of cool crème fraîche. Serves 3-4.
4 large red beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 small serrano chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, chopped, about 2 tablespoons
1 cup water
1 cup blood orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus additional whole leaves for garnish
Orange Crème Fraîche (recipe below)
2 blood orange slices, cut in half
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Trim the tops and ends of the beets. Place in a baking dish and fill water up to 1 inch in the bottom of the dish. Roast the beets in oven until tender, about 1 hour. Remove and cool. Peel off skin and cut beets in chunks.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until nearly translucent without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and serrano chile; sauté 30 seconds. Add the beets and 1 cup water. Cover and simmer 10 minutes; the vegetables should be very soft. Cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the orange juice and purée until smooth. Return to the saucepan. (If soup is too thick, thin to desired consistency with additional orange juice. It should not be too thin.) Stir in the lime juice and honey. Add the salt and pepper and taste to adjust seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature. Before serving stir in 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves. Ladle into bowls. Top with a spoonful of Orange Crème Fraîche. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves and a slice of blood orange.
Orange Crème Fraîche:
1/2 cup crème fraîche (or Greek-style whole milk yogurt)
2 tablespoons orange juice
Combine crème fraîche and orange juice in small bowl. Serve with soup.