Wednesday, January 23, 2013

{ Fabulous Fermentation Week } Golden Beet Soup with Sauerkraut + Ginger Cream

Growing up in a mostly-Italian family with a kick-ass cook for a mama, many delicious dishes graced our table over the years, and yet (perhaps not surprisingly) despite our unanimous fondness for beets, borscht was never one of them. My first encounter with this dark and delicious concoction was only a few short years ago during culinary school, when I was assigned the job of borscht-maker during one of our soup and stew classes. An hour (and a hot-pink-splotched-and-stained recipe) later, I had fallen in love with this earthy, sweet, pleasantly tangy and comforting dish. Perhaps I was Eastern European in a past life? Anything is possible. But I do know this: beet borscht is one of the most under-appreciated dishes of all time.

When brainstorming recipes to share for Fabulous Fermentation Week, created by two of my favorite healthy bloggers, the lovely Elenore of Earthsprout and Sarah of My New Roots, I landed on the idea of a lighter and brighter take on the classic borscht: a golden beet soup with sauerkraut. And, lucky me, I happened to have a batch of homemade kraut in the fridge, just waiting for such an occasion...

A mason jar of tangy, fermented goodness is always a good thing to have around: this one is chock full of green cabbage, carrot, and ginger. 

This soup is definitely of the let-the-sunshine-in variety. Perfect for these cold, dark January days; its yellow and orange hues make me feel like I am being filled with the gorgeous glow of late afternoon. Root vegetables, warming and grounding for this time of year, plus the potent medicinal triad of onions, garlic, and ginger, make this a pot of ultra-winter-appropriate goodness to nourish the body and spirit. Caraway seeds and dried dill are must-haves in my book - classic borscht seasonings that pair so beautifully with beets - and a pinch of turmeric enhances the broth's golden color to an even richer hue. 

Sauerkraut, stirred into the pot after the soup has cooled for a few minutes to preserve its wealth of beneficial bacteria, provides gentle notes of sourness and salinity to the sweet and earthy roots, along with a dose of homegrown probiotics. And last but not least, a dollop of ginger-spiked Greek yogurt, ready to be swished and swiped with each spoonful, makes for a bright and tangy finishing touch.

golden beet soup with sauerkraut + ginger cream
serves 6

for soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
pinch of ground turmeric (about 1/8 teaspoon)
3 medium-sized golden beets, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shredded in a food processor (about 4 cups)
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shredded (about 2 cups)
1 small fennel bulb, finely diced (about 1-1/2 cups) (reserve green fronds for garnish)
6 cups vegetable stock or water
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon dried dillweed
1/2 cup to 1 cup raw sauerkraut (depending on sourness of the kraut and your personal taste), drained, liquid reserved*
1 tablespoon sauerkraut liquid (or to taste)
sea salt

for ginger cream:
1/2 cup plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, caraway seeds, and turmeric, and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in beets, carrot, and diced fennel. 

Add water, bay leaf, dill, and a generous pinch of salt. Bring soup to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Cook until vegetables are tender and broth is flavorful, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.

To make the ginger cream, whisk together yogurt and ginger in a small bowl. Reserve until ready to serve (can be made up to 24 hours in advance and kept chilled).

Remove soup pot from heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, and stir in sauerkraut. Season to taste with sauerkraut juice and additional sea salt, if needed. Serve in warmed bowls, garnishing with a dollop of ginger cream and a few torn fennel fronds.
*sauerkraut with carrot + ginger
makes about 1 quart
1 small head green cabbage (approx. 1 lb), shredded (about 6 cups)
1 carrot, peeled and grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sea salt
Combine cabbage, carrot, and ginger in a large bowl. Sprinkle sea salt over vegetables. With clean hands, massage the vegetables until they soften and release their liquid, 5 to 10 minutes.
Pack the cabbage mixture into a sterilized quart jar, pressing with a pestle to tighly pack down. Pour remaining liquid (brine) into jar to cover vegetables by at least 1 inch. Weight the top of the cabbage mixture to help the vegetables stay submerged (I use a sterilized spice jar, filled with water and covered with a tight-fitting cap). Cover jar with lid or a clean cloth and twine.
Leave jar at room temperature to ferment, using the weight to press down the vegetables if they begin to rise above the level of the brine. Ferment for anywhere from several days to several weeks, depending on temperature and how sour you like the kraut. Taste along the way, and transfer to the refrigerator when it tastes right to you (the kraut will continue to ferment when chilled, but at a slower rate).
** Fermentation Friends **

Monday, January 7, 2013

braised parsnips with cumin and coriander

As usual for January in New York, I returned from my Greenmarket trip yesterday hauling no less than 10 pounds of root vegetables. Among them, a rutabaga almost the size of my cranium, a bunch of rainbow-hued carrots, little white turnips, big golden beets, and a bag of slender, creamy-hued parsnips. No matter how often I eat these starchy winter roots this time of year, I never tire of them; often I simply roast them in large batches on a couple of sheet pans until their natural sugars are concentrated and their edges caramelized. Then they're ready to eat throughout the week: solo, maybe seasoned with a spritz of lemon and a dash of tamari, and added to soups, stews, and salads. They make a fantastic addition to a winter Buddha bowl, too. 

This week I got into reading a couple of my Ayurvedic cookbooks, which recommend liquid-based cooking rather than dry-roasting for most vegetables, especially starchy ones like roots and winter squash. The logic is that roasting increases the drying energy of these foods, and in winter, a cold, dry, and windy season, this is not exactly what our bodies, already struggling to hold onto moisture, really need. So, with a home-brewed humidifier already steaming on the stovetop (our apartment has been so dry lately, and this has helped a lot -- and smells amazing; I've included a pic of the brew below), it made sense to let the oven rest and give the parsnips a quick braise.

First I toasted cumin seeds and ground coriander in homemade ghee until the spices were fragrant, then added the peeled and chopped parsnips, cooking them until they began to caramelize around the edges. I added a little water, so the parsnips were about half-submerged, covered the pot, and simmered the mixture for about 10 minutes, until the parsnips were fork-tender. Done.

Braising made the parsnips ultra-tender and seemed to bring out their sweetness even more than roasting. The toasty, buttery richness of the ghee and brightness of the cumin and coriander were perfect complements to the sweet, earthy roots. This could be a fast, simple, and flavor-packed side dish alongside braised, grilled, or roasted meats; or add greens, beans, and a grain for a complete plant-based meal.

Choose smaller, thinner parsnips at the market, if possible; they are sweeter and more tender than larger specimens. If you don't have ghee on hand, sweet butter, coconut oil, or olive oil can be substituted, although they will not impart quite the same richness and depth of flavor. Also try using carrots, turnips, rutabaga, sweet potato, or kabocha squash in place of the parsnips.

1-2 tablespoons ghee
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 pound parsnips, peeled and roll cut (or diced into 3/4-inch pieces), about 2 cups
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a 2- to 3- quart saucepan melt ghee over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and coriander and toast the spices, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the parsnips, stirring to coat with ghee and spices, and season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook until the parsnips are golden around the edges, 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

Add water until parsnips are about halfway submerged (about 1/2 cup). Stir, cover, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until parsnips are tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. At this point most of the water should have evaporated. If the parsnips look too wet, cook uncovered for a few minutes to allow the liquid to evaporate.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.