Beets of all varieties (red, gold, striped Chioggia) are the sweetest member of the vegetable kingdom.
Their natural sugars work almost like an antifreeze, lowering the freezing point of water in the root to help prevent the formation of destructive ice crystals that might rupture the cell walls. Along with their honeyed flavors, beets' brilliant magenta and gold hues brighten a range of dishes, like salads, roasts and pilafs. And, they make an especially warming and comforting bowl of soup.
This time of year, the local beets, harvested in the fall, come from cold storage, so their flavors are more subdued and earthy. Sharper seasonings — vinegar, citrus, horseradish, mustard — perk them up. Roasting or baking, rather than steaming, tends to intensify and condense the beets' character by drawing forth the moisture. Plus, once they're fully roasted, they're easy to peel.
Golden beets are slightly sweeter than their ruby counterparts and they make a bright, lush soup that brightens a dreary day. This recipe is quick and simple, layering in enough acidity from the lemon juice and heat from the horseradish to give it snap. If you simmer a potato into the stock, the soup becomes creamy without the addition of cream. A dollop or two of whole milk yogurt gives it a silky texture.
The beauty of this soup, other than its cheerful and bone-warming quality, is that you really don't need a recipe. And you don't have to rely solely on beets — all root vegetables work well. A mix of beets and carrots or sweet potatoes makes a fabulous soup. Change up the seasonings to suit your tastes. You might try orange juice and mustard, or vinegar and dill, or give soup an Asian orientation with a spoon of miso and a shot of soy and rice vinegar, then garnish with cilantro. One simple recipe makes many beautiful soups.
Golden Beet Soup
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: You can vary the vegetables in this creamy cream-free soup and play with the seasonings, too. A dollop of whole-milk yogurt can give it a silky body, if desired. The soup reheats beautifully; leftovers will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3 days. This soup is especially pretty when garnished with a roasted, cubed red beet. From Beth Dooley.
• 4 to 5 medium-sized golden beets, about 1 1/2 lb.
• 1 medium red beet, optional, for garnish
• 2 to 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1 large onion, chopped
• Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 to 4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
• 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into chunks
• 1 tbsp. lemon juice, to taste
• 1 to 2 tbsp. prepared horseradish, to taste
• 1/4 to 1/2 c. whole-milk yogurt, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If the beets still have their leafy greens, remove them and reserve for another use. Scrub the beets, and loosely wrap them individually in aluminum foil. Place the beets on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until a sharp knife slides easily into the center of the beet, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove the beets and allow to cool, then remove the skin. Dice the beets, making sure to keep the red beet separate from the gold beets, and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large, deep soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add 3 cups of the chicken stock and the potato and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the potato is tender.
Add the gold beets to the pot and simmer for a minute or two. Using an immersion blender (or, working in batches, pour the soup into a blender), purée the gold beets and potato and return to the pot. Add more stock if you need to adjust the consistency. Season to taste with the lemon juice and horseradish.
If desired, swirl in the yogurt for tang and a creamier texture. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the diced red beet.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.