Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Recipe Testing with Roasted Golden Beet Soup

Ever since I was a little girl, my food hero has always been my Oma, my mothers German mother. My foodie admiration over my Oma had to have started with her sneaking me naughty treats that I wasn't supposed to have, behind my mothers back when I was just a wee little gingy. My foodie admiration for my hilarious Oma grew as I started helping her out in the kitchen, rolling and cutting cookie dough, beating eggs, dusting icing sugar on treats, and so much more. I adored my Oma's cooking as a child, but I didn't see her as the cooking and baking wizard that she truly is until I started really playing around in my own kitchen all by myself. It was only then that I realized how special her natural knack for creating the most satisfying of comfort foods really was. She had a way about making flavours explode in your mouth, seasoning and adding her secret little touches until the dish was just so. It was this natural knack for seasoning and flavouring that I always admired and aspired to have myself, and one that comes to mind almost each and every time I find myself in the kitchen.

It was last week after I unexpectedly had a free weekday to myself to play in the kitchen, that I was faced with three golden beets the size of my head, that I purchased from Pete's Fresh Organics at the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market, that my Oma's cooking once again popped into my head. One of my Oma's most beloved signature dishes is her out-of-this-world beet borscht. Made with beef shank and lots of love, her beet borscht is one of the most delicious and satisfying comfort foods to ever touch my tongue. So naturally, at the sight of those giant, golden beets, I could think of nothing else but trying to create a golden beet soup that maybe, just maybe, might compare to my Oma's infamous borscht. 

Having cooked mainly with red beets in the past, and after seeing lots and lots of golden beet salads and not a whole lot else in my research, I was a little weary at whether golden beets would work just well as red beets when made into soup. Some sources stated that golden beets are sweeter and more flavourful than red beets, while other sources stated the exact opposite! I had no idea if the golden beets would work at all, but the only way to find out was to try! 

With a cool chill in the air, I didn't feel like venturing out to get groceries, so I decided to make the soup using only what I had on hand. To mimic the meaty flavour of the beef shank in my Oma's soup, I sautéed some chopped bacon, cooked the onion in the bacon fat, and re-added the bacon back into my soup while it simmered, as well as adding a rich beef stock. I also chose to grate the beets after being roasted to create the same texture that my Oma's red beets had in her borscht. I added basic flavour enhancers like salt, white pepper, a bay leaf, and garlic before and while the soup was simmering, thinking that that would be everything I needed to achieve a flavourful soup. I was wrong. After simmering for a half hour, as I kept tasting and lightly adding salt and pepper, my soup still tasted very bland and lack-luster. It was here that I lost all chance at posting an exact recipe for the blog right away as well as replicating my Oma's borscht, as I began to transfer cups of the soup to various different pots, and play with different arrangements of seasonings and spices in each one, finding the perfect combination that could make soup worthy of serving to anyone but myself. 
A little lemon juice, grated ginger, cayenne pepper, cumin, a whirr of the immersion blender, and a quick strain through a sieve got my soup to a place that I can say was absolutely incredible! It was when I decided to follow my intuition and trust my taste buds, as opposed to trying to copy someone else's dish, that I was able to achieve greatness (yes, the soup was THAT great!) and something that I could be proud to say was uniquely my own. 

This soup was a great lesson in cooking inspiration. It showed me that although something may spark an idea in the kitchen, you have to trust yourself and your taste buds above all else, and be willing to take some chances every now and then in order to get the results you crave. My Oma's tried and true comforting German recipes will always inspire me in the kitchen, but it's her natural kitchen wizardry, and knack for going with the flow and trusting her instincts that has truly shaped me to be the cook I am today. No, my Roasted Golden Beet Soup didn't taste anything like my Oma's beet borsht, but it was just as delicious and may just spark some other passionate foodie to try and replicate in the kitchen!

* Note: Because I have only made this recipe once and there was so much seasoning play involved, the recipe is not exact yet. I am hoping to make it again soon so I can post an exact recipe for you to try, but until then, I welcome those familiar and confident with seasoning to have a try at making this. You're going to have to do a lot of tasting, have a lot of patience, and add your seasonings and spices little by little, but if you trust your intuition, I think you will too will be proud of your final product! 

** Beets may be roasted and grated in advance, and left in the fridge until ready to use.

*** Remember, when seasoning you can always add, but you can never take away! Use a very light hand when seasoning, and always taste before adding more!

3 very large golden beets (or enough beets to equal 3 very large beets), greens cut off
olive oil
2 strips of bacon, diced small
1 tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced or pureed
4 cups beef stock
1 bay leaf
sour cream stirred with a little lemon juice to garnish
Seasoning to play with:*
salt and white pepper to season
approximately 2 tsp lemon juice
approximately 1 pinch cumin
approximately 1/2 - 1 tsp grated ginger
approximately 1 pinch cayenne pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Rub beets in olive oil and place in baking dish. Bake for 1 hour to 1.25 hours or until tender when pierced with a fork. Allow to cool. When cooled, rub with a dry paper towel to remove skins. Grate roasted beets into a bowl and set aside.**
  2. In a large soup pot, add the bacon and turn heat to medium - medium/low. Cooking, stirring occasionally until browned and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. 
  3. Drizzle about 1 tbsp of olive oil and the butter into the soup pot. When heated, add in the onion and sweat, stirring occasionally until soft and translucent. Add in the garlic in the 30-seconds of cooking.
  4. Add in one cup of the beef stock to deglaze the pan, and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits. Add the remaining 3-cups of stock. Add bay leaf and grated beets. When warm, taste, and season with salt and white pepper. Reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 30-minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaf and puree using an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor to puree until smooth. Strain and press the soup mixture through a sieve, and re-heat, if needed, on the stove. Taste and season a little at a time with the lemon juice, cumin, ginger, cayenne pepper, and salt and white pepper. Continue tasting and seasoning until just right!***
  6. Ladle into serving bowls and top with a drizzle of the lemon sour cream. Serve hot. 

Listening To:
Michael Jackson - Beat It (or should I say "Beet It?" hah!)

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