The recent mild weather fooled us into thinking spring was here but winter is still holding on with determination. Soups naturally come into their own during the winter months and they deliver a big warming hug in a bowl: nutritious, belly-filling and soothing all in one. They lift and nourish the soul; comforting but good for you too.
You could reach for one of the usual roots – carrot, onion, parsnip – to make a fine soup, but beetroot, with its shocking crimson and honeyed earthiness, makes a more interesting choice. Be warned though, cooking with beetroot can sometimes be a messy affair. Our first attempt at making Thai beetroot soup at Food at 52, where I teach, ended up like a bloody scene from a Quentin Tarantino film. That aside, cooking with beetroot is definitely worth a bit of drama in the kitchen.
In this Moroccan inspired recipe, the beetroot is roasted to intensify the natural sweetness and gives a lovely rounded nuttiness. I find a generous glass of water inside the foil-wrapped tray helps the cooking process and to also keep things moist. Always peel the beetroot when it’s still warm (disposable gloves highly recommended unless you want pink hands for a few days) and if the skin is proving stubborn to remove it means it’s not quite cooked. But because it’s going to cook further in the soup, use a peeler if you need to.
A whole bulb of garlic is roasted alongside the beetroot until deliciously caramelised and golden. I like to roast an extra bulb so I can make some ultimate garlic butter – smeared on freshly baked bread it’s heavenly. Then, onions and celery are sweated gently in a large pot with the garlic and fragrant spices – the heady aroma fills the entire kitchen. The warm aromatic spices work so well with the beetroot and a hint of orange, using strips of the zest and juice, bring a touch of freshness.
This isn’t super-quick to make but your efforts will be rewarded with a special soup – its eye-popping colour looks stunning and the beetroot with the subtle spicing is utterly delicious. It is, indeed, happiness in a bowl. Make a bit more as it freezes really well, too.
If you love beetroot but have never tried it with chocolate before, then why not give my delicious beetroot and brownies recipe a go – the beetroot providing a subtle background to the rich dark chocolate.
750g beetroot, scrubbed, leaves removed and pat dry
Large whole garlic bulb
1 onion, small dice
1 stalk of celery, small dice
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
0.5 tsp ground ginger
1/4 freshly ground nutmeg
1 litre vegetable stock
Dill and toasted flaked almonds to serve
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Line a high rimmed oven tray with foil then put the beetroot inside with a good pinch of salt and a generous drizzle with olive oil. Use your hands to coat evenly, add a large wine glass of water and cover tightly with some more foil. Put on middle tray in the oven for 1-2 hours depending on the size. A skewer should go through easily if cooked.
- Meanwhile, toast the spices in a small frying pan till fragrant then grind to a powder in a pestle & mortar or spice grinder.
- Cut the top third off the garlic, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in an individual piece of foil. Pop the garlic in the oven at the same time as the beetroot for 1 hour and leave inside foil to cool.
- When the beetroot are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and remove the top and tail. Chop into 2cm dice.
- Heat a generous glug of oil in a large pot over a gentle heat and sweat the onion and celery till soft but not coloured, about 8 minutes. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and add, along with the spices.
- Cook for a few minutes (adding more oil if you too dry) then add the beetroot, stock, orange strips and juice. Turn up the heat up and bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
- Blitz the soup till smooth and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve with a swirl of yogurt, some toasted almonds and chopped dill.