Although borscht is a part of my Eastern European, Jewish heritage, I’ve never made it, and to my memory, never even tasted it. It never sounded appealing. It seemed like sort of the garbage disposal of the soup world: whatever you have laying around, just throw it in. It pulled together all the cheap and leftover vegetables and blended them into a garishly-colored and questionably-textured mélange. Just because the main ingredient in this soup recipe is beets, I won’t call it a borscht. I’ll give it a modern, pretentious, and tasty sounding name. When I plated it up last night, my husband was initially dismayed by the rich color of the soup. As his favorite dessert item is “red stuff” (meaning a mix of berries that creates any red-tinted confection), he thought I was serving him an entire bowl of fruit condiment for dinner. I think the soup is more of a deep fuchsia, and I’d advise wearing an apron and no whites just in case.
Roasted Beetroot and Fennel Bulb Soup with an Orange Kick
Yield: 4 bowls
2 pounds red beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 fennel bulb, chopped into 1-inch pieces (keep top fronds for garnishing)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
fine sea salt
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium red onion, sliced
4 cups chicken stock
juice and zest from 1 orange
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C). Toss the beet cubes, fennel chunks, and whole garlic cloves with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, thyme, about half a teaspoon of sea salt, and a couple shakes of black pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and roast for about 45 minutes total, stirring at least once halfway through. You may (or may not) need to remove the garlic cloves from the oven before the rest of the veggies. When you reach in to stir the roast, check the doneness of the cloves with a fork, and if they are tender already then remove them and set them aside to cool. You don’t want them to burn or shrivel. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, chop it up.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the red onion slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped roasted garlic and cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes. Add the beets, fennel, and chicken stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.
In about 2 batches, purée the mixture in a blender. Blend it for longer than you think it needs for a truly spectacular consistency (at least 4 minutes per batch). Once silky, pour the soup back into the pot and bring it back to a simmer. Stir in the orange juice and vinegar, and season to taste. Serve warm and garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt, orange zest, and chopped fennel fronds.
That’s it! It’s super easy, and really delicious. Here’s a couple notes on my experience with it/thoughts in general:
1. You can roast the beets, fennel, and garlic earlier in the day, or even the night before. If you are pressed for time the day of, or don’t want to babysit the oven, just follow the first paragraph through and once everything’s cooled down, throw it in some Tupperware and use it when you’re ready.
2. This soup can be made vegan (not just vegetarian, but goddamn vegan, my friends!) with literally one single tweak: swap vegetable stock in for chicken stock. I generally always use chicken stock, regardless of what a recipe calls for; I don’t eat beef, so therefore I never use beef stock, and I hate store-bought veggie bouillons. If I were to use vegetable broth, it would only be one that I had homemade from scratch. Anyway, eschew the chicken stock here (and the garnish of Greek yogurt, obvs.) and you’re in the clear.
3. My final tip concerns the orange: In this recipe, one must use both the rind and the juice. Your initial instinct might be to start on the outside, by zesting, and then move to the inside and juice. This will work, in a sense, but once the orange loses its structural support, it is immensely difficult to juice without breaking apart in your hands like a wet waffle. Go against your impulse and try it this way instead: cut it in half, squeeze out (and preserve!) the juice, and then work with the flattened halves to procure the zest.