Friday, May 29, 2009

Five-spice beet soup

I made this beet soup as part of Jon's birthday feast. I got the recipe from the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit. I have not made any other beet soups, but I can't imagine a better one. It's warm and comforting but spicy and interesting. It calls for five-spice powder, a common Chinese seasoning. I didn't have any the first few times I made it, so I made my own version on the fly, just adding a bit of ground fennel seed, ground pepper, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and a piece of star anise, which I then retrieved from the soup before pureeing. Now I have "real" five-spice powder, and the effect is about the same. The recipe as written is very gingery, which is nice. If you don't like ginger that much, you could cut back the amount but not eliminate it entirely. The beet-ginger combination is excellent, and it might grow on you. If you don't have fresh ginger, you can substitute about 1/2 tsp of ground. It's not the same, but it works.

I don't know what you do for broth. I am a big fan of Better than Bouillion brand concentrated vegetable soup base, but if you make it as strong as it says on the package, it's usually way too salty, at least for my taste. For this recipe, Iused about 1 tsp of the base in 3 cups warm water, and I could have gone with less. That's 1/3 strength. If you use canned broth, you might want to dilute it with water. If you use homemade broth, you probably don't need my suggestions on whether/how to dilute it.

One last thing: Wear an apron! Or clothes you think are not pink enough.

Five-spice beet soup (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Beets: about 3 1/2 cups' worth, trimmed, scrubbed but not peeled, and quartered or eighth'd. If you get big ones, it's about four beets. Smaller ones, a lot more.
3 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp neutral oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 2 cups)
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 tsp peeled fresh ginger, minced or grated
1/4 tsp five-spice powder
Yogurt or sour cream for garnish

Bring the beets to a boil in the broth. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until they are soft all the way through and easily pierced with a sharp knife. If you use smaller beets, they will be done sooner. Marvel at how pink your broth is. In the meantime, saute onion and celery in the oil until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery and onion to the beets when they are done and let them cook together for about four minutes. Add the five-spice powder and ginger and combine. Puree. I use an immersion blender, which is really fun, but you can also transfer it in batches to a blender or food processor. You'll probably want to let it cool a bit before you do that. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream. I'm partial to my homemade yogurt.

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