Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Red and the Black... Beet, Barley and Soy Bean Soup

Whew! The past few months have been intense! I will not bore you with work and health related details (this is, after all, a food blog), but let's just say there is a reason comfort food has been the culinary theme in my kitchen for the past little while. Luckily for my sanity, things are finally simmering down. I've also been reading a lot, which is always a good way to keep me sane and happy.

I don't remember mentioning it before, but I am what you may call a book junkie: I love reading all kinds of books and I have an actual library in my apartment, where I spend as much time as possible, away from electronic devices. Books (along with music) have been my escape and pleasure for as long as I can remember, and I tend to get them by the cart-load. I recently stocked up from my Amazon wish list, using the excuse that colder weather means I'll spend more time inside, reading (though when it's warm, I spend a lot of time outside, reading).

For some reason, I am on a classic literature kick lately: Dickens, Austen, Wharton, Fitzgerald, Thackeray, Tolstoy... These guys treated language with incredible respect, as something truly beautiful, and made prose that you can read out loud and it just... flows. I'll grab one of their books, make myself a nice pot of oolong tea, sit in my big reading chair, and off I am! But I do get hungry every so often, and while the books feed my soul, my stomach needs more substantial sustenance.

I got inspired by "Anna Karenina" (and by "Vegan with a Vengeance"), and I whipped up a big pot of this lovely soup. Filling, comforting, nourishing. Just the thing to keep me reading until the wee morning hours! It also feels great with the chilly weather we have been having lately.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons dry tarragon
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cups water
6 medium-sized beets, cut in half, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3/4 cup pearl barley
1/4 cup tamari
1 (15-ounce) can black soy beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

In a stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tarragon and a few dashes of black pepper; sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the water, beets, barley and tamari, cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the beans and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the barley from sticking together, or until the barley is tender.

Add the balsamic vinegar and the dill. Serve hot, with croutons and extra fresh dill for garnish.

OK, I cheated: I used regular black beans, because I couldn't find black soy beans... and I had no croutons, but my boyfriend found a wonderful Russian bread (rye, molasses and malt give traditional Russian bread a rich, dark color, which my boyfriend equates with the darkness of the Russian soul... but mostly, it just tastes really good) that tasted so awesome with a big bowl of this soup.

While my boyfriend and I are enamored with more traditional, minimalist borscht, this soup is more filling, and make a perfect lunch, with enough nutritious goodness to keep you going until dinner! The color is simply gorgeous, and it tastes great reheated (perhaps even better than fresh, to be honest).

The wonderfully comforting smell of beets is something thrilling when the days get shorter and colder. For some reason, it really reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen (even if she seldom cooked with beets): homey and safe. Enjoy this soup whenever you want an escape from this crazy world, into a warm and fuzzy place.

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