dipping into soup

There is something so very gratifying about making soup again —  despite the sweltering August heat. The kitchen garden is busting with basil, tomatoes and zucchini. Meanwhile, the fridge is crowded with leftover this and that, daily harvests tucked into bags and fresh produce splurges found on sale.  

I open the crisper and am determined to find a destination for a clutch of golden beet greens that are still fresh and vibrant a whole week after their yellow orbs were removed. Wouldn’t these greens taste fine in a vegan bean soup? I pounce on two cups of leftover bean dip:  the genesis.  Laced with lemon, rosemary and smoked paprika, this luscious dip on the blog last week will be this week’s soup base.  

I yank out a medium pot, heat it on medium-high, waiting a minute or two before drizzling the base with two tablespoons of olive oil. Next up, a chopped yellow onion and two stalks of celery sprinkled over by a confetti of golden beet leaf stalks. 

Down in our basement, where the rat once lived, I survey the contents of my standup freezer door where each of the four shelves is lined with green-lidded yogurt containers.  Most are full of chicken or bean stock.  Others contain soup. Some are pasta sauces. All are meticulously labelled. I grab two white bean stock containers and climb up the rickety wood stairs.

In a flash, a soup base is born. It’s strange to spoon my cold bean dip into the caramelized onions, celery and beet stalks but magic happens when I pour in the broth and a cloudy, creamy liquid swirls beneath.

More veg! I cut a yellow bell pepper into mouthfuls and a dozen grape tomatoes into quarters. A cob of corn is sliced into a pile of niblets that are shoved with my chef’s knife into the mix. I find a small patty pan squash and a zebra-striped zucchini from today’s harvest and chop them up. 

I fiddle with seasoning, starting small with salt — just a  teaspoon — then lashings of ground black pepper, a big pinch of chilli flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika.  On with the cover and a low simmer for 10 minutes or so. 

Another taste of this soup-in-the-making tells me lemon from the dip is too loud.  I blunt it with tomato paste.  I don’t open a can, I find a flattened sheet of tomato paste frozen into a thin, easy-to-break sheet from the flavour drawer in my kitchen freezer. Baggies full of frozen bay laurel and kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chopped herbs, galangal, whole Thai red chili peppers and lime juice cubes are just a reach away from stovetop soups, curries and sauces.

I toss in a square inch of paste along with another 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and a sprig of basil, pinched from the garden just moments ago,

Another taste. This soup is still asking for more…

I give it a wallop, smashing two cloves of hard-neck garlic just harvested by a Cowichan Valley young farmers’ collective. The smash is so sticky, papery thin garlic skins become glued to my fingers. Sticky garlic can only mean one thing: Rich, garlicky bite. I sprinkle the sticky crumble over the bubbling soup’s surface and chuckle and natter on to myself, laughing like a witch.

Last step and we find ourselves at the beginning again. Those beet greens. I slice then slide them off my cutting board, the green mound melting instantly into a sea of beans. I turn off the heat.  It’s done. Soup again. 

Garden Vegetable Bean Dip Soup

Totally unorthodox, this soup’s success rests on humus or bean dip. Clean out the contents of your fridge with this nutritious brew, substituting any of my additions with your own fridge or garden finds. 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cooking onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 bunch golden beet stalks, minced 

2 cups bean dip

6 cups white bean vegetable stock

1 yellow bell pepper, cubed

1 small zucchini, 1/2-inch dice

1 patty pan squash, sliced

4 small boiled potatoes, cubed

6 grape tomatoes, quartered

Niblets from one cob of corn

1-2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Big pinch chili flakes 

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

Beet greens, sliced 

Heat a medium pot on medium-high. Add oil, onion, celery and beet stalks and saute until tender. Add bean dip and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Add bell pepper, zucchini, patty pan squash, potatoes, tomatoes and corn. Season with salt, black pepper, tomato paste, paprika, chilli flakes and simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and beet greens and cook a final minute or two.

And the beet goes on

Every January, fresh vegetables finally get the attention they deserve. My beet buddies, whether they have billowing green leaves, long tapered roots or roly-poly bodies, are finally  back in vogue! All it took was the excess of the holidays to help nudge all those colours and shapes back into the healthy eating spotlight.IMG_9401 copyWhile I don’t like to play favourites, beets make me particularly happy, appealing not just to my palate, but my parsimonious nature. Where else do you get two vegetables for the price of one?

But the redness factor in beets – both in the roots and the greens – can distract. Not everyone can abide by the faint red juice that accompanies a sauté of beet greens and garlic. And even I, vegetable lover that I am, almost fainted when presented with a crimson bowl of borscht at the age of 13 while visiting the home of a classmate. Barely over the shock of my girlfriend’s father wearing an apron and cooking the soup from scratch, I followed her serving suggestion and placed a dollop of sour cream in the middle of what looked like a pool of blood. When I swirled the two together, I had visions of Pepto-Bismol and wondered if anyone would notice if my soup went stealthfully, spoon by spoon, into the African violet on the ledge behind me?

IMG_9546My children, now in their 20s, still won’t go near a beet. Who cares?! I’m tickled to reap more of my share of beet rewards. Besides, these babies take time. To roast, simply wrap unpeeled, individual beets in foil and bake at 350 F  for an hour or until tender. Or boil unpeeled roots in salted water for 45 min (or until a knife slips through the flesh with no resistance). Once cooled in an ice-bath, a beet’s skin slips off effortlessly.

There’s a reason you’ll find vacuum-packed, cooked beets sold in most European markets and in some upscale Toronto ones, too. Once cooked, you can slice them into a zillion different salad combinations.

But if time is of the essence, peel a raw beet and pull out the box-grater. Shredded (or even spiralized) raw beets are a delicious addition to salads or can be sautéed in olive oil with seasonings such as ginger, shallots, garlic or lemon zest.

Citrus is a fine companion for beets both visually and texturally. Think finely sliced grapefruit rounds stacked with cooked, sliced beets bathed in a piquant dressing with chives.IMG_9412

Another winner is goat cheese. Try roasting peeled beet wedges, cippolline onions and whole garlic cloves in olive oil and salt at 400 F for 45 min. Toss warm with goat cheese, arugula and torn basil, dress with olive oil and a small splash of sherry vinegar and serve to your best, beet-loving friends – year round.

© 2016 Madeleine Greey

Beet and Cabbage Borscht

This soup feeds an army.  I like to serve it fresh (ideally the day after, since the flavours intensify) and freeze the rest. A dollop of dairy such as sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, sprinkled with chives or chopped green onions and chili flakes is an irresistible garnish.

  • 2- 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 onion
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 6  red beets, peeled and diced into ½ inch cube
  • ½ small green cabbage, sliced
  • ½ small red cabbage, sliced
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 8 -10 leaves Tuscan kale, stem removed and thinly sliced
  • 1 small can (400 ml/17 oz) of cherry tomatoes and juice
  • 2  garlic cloves, pressed or finely grated with a rasp
  • 1 tsp smoked hot paprika
  • Salt (1-2 tsp)
  • Pepper
  • ¼ cup red vinegar

Heat oil in a large soup pot and sauté leeks, onion and celery with a sprinkling of salt until soft and fragrant.  Add diced beets, sliced cabbage, bay leaves, stock, cherry tomatoes and Tuscan kale.  Bring to a gentle simmer and season with finely grated garlic, paprika, salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for 45 min to 1 hr. Finish with vinegar.     © 2016 Madeleine Greey

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Beet and cabbage borscht