It’s getting colder. Not quite foot-stampingly so, but with rain deluging coastal areas of Eastern Australia, soup weather finally is upon us. 'Bout time. Beetroot is a vegetable too sweet for my liking. I’m not alone here. But it’s a nutritional powerhouse; a blood purifier (as that startling purple-red hue suggests), a powerful detoxifier and a protector of the lungs amongst many other things. So I'm determined to come to grips with it. Juiced with a mixture of carrots, celery and ginger, a small glass will set you right in no time at all. And those iron- and beta carotene-rich tops are sweeter than even the smallest, tenderest of baby spinach leaves. Cook them as you would spinach, washed and wilted in a frying pan until tender and bright green.
Borscht, that most famous of beetroot concoctions, unfortunately is relegated to my list of culinary rejects. I loathe its sickly sweetness. Instead, I offer a much more savoury soup, one that crosses a few continents in a Peter Gordon ‘fusion’ kind of way. Though I normally like to steer clear of such confusion, somehow this soup works. Very well. I have Susan B. from Canberra to thank for her intriguing suggestion of ‘layering’ lime flavours – kaffir lime leaf, Iranian dried limes and fresh lime juice – the combination of which cuts through that sweetness with a good, strong hit of sour.
On another note entirely, I must thank Stephanie for two things. Firstly for recommending a visit to the Tofu Shop in Richmond – cannot believe I have lived in Melbourne for nigh on six years and never known of its existence – and secondly, and much more importantly, for her excellent article on blogging in The Sunday Life magazine over the weekend. Your mention of Nourish Me made my mum extremely proud. Thank you.
Beetroot, lime and coconut soup – for 2-3 This is a shirt-stainer of a soup, so consider yourself warned. Inspired by a recipe in Leith’s Vegetarian Bible it uses dried lime, a packet of which had been hanging around unopened in the cupboard for way too long. They are by no means essential to this recipe. They will however be back soon – so good is their flavour.
6 medium-sized beetroot (about 400g)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 stalk of lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves, spines discarded and thinly sliced
¼ of a dried lime, seeds discarded OPTIONAL, OF COURSE
250ml of vegetable stock or water
1 small tin (about 200ml or less) of coconut milk
Sea salt and pepper
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Tamari to taste
Thick, plain yoghurt
Chives, snipped into short lengths, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F). Lightly scrub the beetroots and trim all but 2 cm (1 inch) of the stalks. Wrap them, unpeeled and whiskery tails in tact, in a decent-sized sheet of baking paper, then wrap this parcel tightly with aluminium foil. Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours, or until tender all the way through. This can be done hours, even days ahead. When cool enough to handle, trim and discard the stalks and tails, then peel – the skins should come away easily when rubbed with your thumb. Cut into large chunks and set aside.
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, lemongrass, lime leaves and crumble in the dried lime. Cook over a low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beetroot chunks and the stock. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Whiz in a blender. Add the coconut milk and puree until smooth. Rinse out the saucepan, return the pureed soup to it and gently reheat. Taste for salt and pepper. Add a little tamari to taste for a deeper flavour and squeeze in the lime juice. Serve with a spoonful of yoghurt and sprinkle the lime zest and chives over the top.