Chilled Beet Soup

Perfect for starting a long evening of eating and drinking. Low in calories, this modern take on borscht uses up the beets, beet green for a deep earthy flavor, that is, if you can look beyond the beautiful colors it produces. I occasionally mix and match type of beets to vary the flavor but chefs be aware: Using a combination of gold and red beets turns the soup into a muddy brown color, making it less than appetizing to the eye.

I serve this delicacy with a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt, fresh dill and butter croutons and a splash of olive oil to complement the taste. You can use sour cream and croutons from dark rye bread as a variation. Dill remains though. It really brings out the flavors in this dish. Best to use fresh dill.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch red beets with greens intact (approximately 2 lbs)
  • 1 medium red onion, quartered
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp. caraway seeds (or cumin seeds)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 5 medium cloves of garlic
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 oz. baguette slices cubed (or 1-2 thick slices of good, rustic bread)
  • 1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill (or few teaspoons of dried)

Makes about 8 cups and usually serves 8-10 people. Takes about 15 minutes to do the prep work (cutting, chopping). Spare another 1.5 hours for the cooking part, although it is not hands on for the most part.

Remove the beet stems and leaves. Wash the beets and the leaves well.

In a 4- to 6-quart sauce pan, combine the beets, onion, sugar, vinegar, caraway seeds and a teaspoon of salt. Add seven cups of water, cover and bring to boil over high heat. Then lower the heat to medium and cook covered, until beets are tender (when pierced with a fork), about 45 minutes to an hour.

In the meantime, very coarsely chop the stems and leaves. Once the beets are done, remove them from the pan from a slotted spoon and rest in a bowl to cool. Add the stems and leaves as well as the garlic to the pan and cook covered until stems are tender, no more than 10 minutes.

Peel the beets and return them to the pan. In a food processor (not the one with the bowl for mixing stuff but the one that decimates/blends/grates), puree the mixture in batches. Should take about 4-5 batches.

Over a large bowl, use a medium-mesh strainer and force the puree through. If you prefer a lighter body soup (like me), then use a finer mesh strainer, like a spider one and do not force the puree. It takes slightly longer and possibly more wasteful but the juices are more potent and without any pulp.

Taste the soup and season as needed with more salt and vinegar. Let the soup come to room temperature and then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Before serving, melt the butter in a 12-inch frying pan and crisp the baguette cubes to make croutons. While the croutons are still warm, plate the soup, decorate with a small dollop of yogurt, croutons, dill and drizzle of olive oil.

Here is the nutrition information on this recipe:

chilled beet soup

Spinach, Barley and Gruyere Timbale on Marinara

Are you totally intimated by my use of big cooking words? Better yet, are you impressed?

Ha. Timbale is just another way of saying molded custard, like a quiche without a crust.

I love this dish. It is filling and satisfying and not a million calories. I feel better, richer and happier every time I serve it. The textures, the various tastes all simple and complex depending on the bite… The homemade marinara underneath perfectly complements the dish. And it looks fucking awesome. Just make sure you butter the ramekins well. And a baking pan large and deep enough to use as a water bath for the ramekins.

For the uninitiated, the tasks at hand may be intimidating but fear not. It is a bit labor intensive but it is worth it. I have done this so many times that I deem this one an easy dish. Not because I am so talented but because I have enough practice. And dammit, I am talented, even if it is just a little bit.

The first few times I made this dish, I served it as one of the many courses… Since then, I bought much smaller ramekins so people don’t get so full. The way I have outlined the recipe here, I would suggest serving this as a main course. And it is vegetarian to boot.

Ingredients

For the Marinara

  • 28 oz of diced tomatoes (2 cans)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  • 2-3 sprigs of basil leaves

For the Timbale

  • Butter for ramekins
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups tightly packed blanched spinach (from 1.5 lbs of baby spinach or 3 lbs from fresh on stem), finely chopped
  • 2 tsps. fresh thyme, chopped 
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cooked barley
  • 3 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated (in a tight spot, use Parmesan)
  • 2/3 cup 2% milk
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Several basil leaves, julienned, to dress the plate

Makes 6 1-cup ramekins or 8 5-0z ones. Prepping the ingredients will take about 30 minutes. Cooking and baking time will add up to 2 non-consecutive hours, without needing much attention.

Make the marinara. In a blender or food processor, pulse the tomatoes.

In a 4-quart sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic to the pan and let it get only just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato, sugar, salt and the basil to the pan and bring to a gentle boil. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and let simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring once in a while. When done, remove the basil sprigs. You can prepare the marinara a day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator.

Start making the timbale. To blanch the spinach, first wash the spinach well if using from a bunch (rather than out of a pre-washed bag). Fill a large bowl with 20-30 cubes of ice and then fill the rest with cold water. Bring a large pot of water to boil and using a strainer or steamer basket, boil the spinach in batches, no more than 20 seconds per batch. Transfer immediately to the cold water. Drain and squeeze out excess water. I leave the spinach in another strainer over a bowl so it drains as I prepare other stuff.

Butter 6 1-cup ramekins (or 8 5-oz ones), making sure the sides and bottom get generously ‘oiled.’

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl and stir in rest of the ingredients and add 3/4 tsp of salt. Scrape the mixture into the ramekins, filling them only 3/4th of the way and no more. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan deep enough and fill it with enough hot or boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Place the baking pan in the oven and reduce heat to 325 degrees. Bake for 30-40 minutes until set and a skewer inserted in the center of a ramekin is almost clean.

While the timbale is baking, reheat the marinara sauce. When it is time to serve, spoon 3-4 tbsp of the marinara on each plate. Run a knife around each ramekin and unmold on to plates. Ramekins will be hot so be careful. Dress up with julienned basil leaves.

Here is the nutrition information on this recipe:

spinach timbale nutrition facts 2

Green Beans and Shallots with Toasted Nuts and Goat Cheese

It appears that I am on a green beans kick…

This time, I made it with shallots, walnut oil and goat cheese. It is NOT a revolutionary approach or anything. I just want to try new things with green beans, that’s all.

I had this dish with roasted chicken breast and a glass of Austrian sparkling wine (it was Brut, 2006).

Green Beans and Shallots with Toasted Nuts and Goat Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 lb., green beans, trimmed
  • 2 Tbsp shallots, minced
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsps walnut oil
  • 2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a boiling pot of water, cook the beans 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl with ice water to stop cooking. I usually recommend cooking the beans for another minute or so but this time, you will cook the beans a bit with the shallots so 3 minutes seemed to be enough.

In a small non-stick fry pan on medium heat, toast the walnuts, stirring frequently for about 3-4 minutes.

In a large skillet on medium heat, saute the shallots in the olive oil for a minute or so. Then add the walnuts and the beans. Saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper (small pinches should do).

Serve immediately,  topped with goat cheese.

Makes 4 servings. It could probably serve more folks but I figured the calories on Sparks People recipe calculator for 4 people. Here are the nutritional facts:

Green Beans with Nuts and Cranberries

A summer-fresh taste in minutes, really. Nutritionally, it is a bit on the high side fat content-wise, but you can justify it as a side dish with a nice grilled protein… fish or chicken would go well. By the way, I thought I did a pretty awesome job with the picture on this one. I am getting better and better. Who knew I had a knack for photography? I digress.

Green Beans with Nuts and Cranberries

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs. green beans, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup roasted nuts, unsalted mix (I prefer to roast it myself with what I have at home)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • Salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add one tablespoon of salt and the green beans and cook until tender, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking.

If roasting the nuts you got, put the nuts in a non-stick pan over low heat. Roast, stirring occasionally while the beans are cooking, for about 4-5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the nuts, the olive oil and the cranberries.

Drain the green beans. Pat dry them with paper towes as you transfer them to the large bowl with the nut mixture. Toss to coat. Adjust taste with salt and pepper, and possibly some red pepper flakes. You can serve this warm or at room temperature. I wouldn’t recommend putting it in the fridge before serving. The flavors will get lost.

Makes 8 servings.

Here are the nutritional facts:

Sigara Boregi (‘Cigarette’ Pastry)

Somewhat challenging prep but the payoff is worth it. Sigara boregi is something every Turkish household used to have when I was growing up. The name comes from the shape. It looks like hand rolled cigarettes. And I do a mean roll.

The feta, parsley and black pepper play off of each other in a way that makes this a special feeling dish although there is absolutely nothing special about it. I also use red chili pepper flakes to spice it up ever so slightly. Frying is bad for you of course so be careful when you make these. They go down very easily but if Recipe Calculator on Sparks People is right, then these puppies are 64 calories each. Yikes. But so gooood.

Sigara Boregi (‘Cigarette’ Pastry)

Ingredients

  • Yufka triangles, from a Middle Eastern grocery
  • 4 oz fat-free feta cheese
  • 1-2 tsps Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 pinches of black pepper
  • 2 tsps water, in shallow dish
  • Sunflower oil for frying

Note: Yufka is the Turkish word for a round and thin hand-rolled pastry sheet (thicker than phillo, thinner than flaky pastry sheets). You can find the triangles in the frozen food section, generally in packs of 24 triangles, in most Middle Eastern markets.

Thaw the triangles and then cut them vertically to double the triangle count.  Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the feta, parsley and black pepper.

On a dry surface, lay out a triangle of yufka and put a teaspoon of feta mixture on the wide edge (see image). Then fold the outside edges inward just below the mixture, and roll the yufka into a ‘cigarette’ leaving about 2 inches of flap at the tip of the triangle. Dip the 2 inches of the yufka in the water and then finish rolling it in shape of a cigarette. The water will help seal the pastry.

In a shallow frying pan, pour a 1/8 inch thick layer of sunflower oil and fry the pastries on medium high heat, turning them midway through approximately 45-50 seconds per ‘cigarette’.

Makes 48 cigarettes.

Here is the awful truth about this dish’s nutrition:

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