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Joni Woolf: Weather calls for soups — try one of these

Though it is not cold outside, it is rainy, dreary, stay-at-home-if-possible weather. The darkness comes early and the body wants something soothing, easy and delicious. It’s time for soup.
One of my favorite foods, anytime of year, is beets. When I’m cooking for myself and the family up the hill, I often buy fresh beets as the vegetable offering. My son-in-law and I especially, like beets. I clean them, slice them, cook them in a little water that I add about 1/3 cup vinegar and a couple of teaspoons sugar to, along with a dash of salt and pepper, and it’s a perfect side dish. Or occasionally I will prepare roasted vegetables (squash, turnips, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, onions — whatever is at the market) and add beets for both taste and color. So, it is odd that I have never once thought of making Borscht (though I did enjoy it once at a Russian restaurant in Atlanta). It is a fairly simple soup to make, but quite different from what we usually think of when we think “soup.” For a real change, let’s try it. Then maybe we will add it to our list.

Borscht
1 onion, chopped
3 cups peeled and chopped beets
2 celery stalks, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 ½ cups chopped mushrooms
1 large cooking apple, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 ¼ quarts stock or water (chicken or beef stock)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
a small pinch of dried thyme
1 large bay leaf
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the garnish: 2/3 cup sour cream and a few sprigs fresh dill
Place the chopped vegetables and applies in a large saucepan with the butter, oil, and 3 tablespoons of the stock or water. Cover and cook slowly for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Stir in the cumin seed and cook for 1 minute. Add the remaining stock or water, the thyme, bay leaf, lemon juice, and seasoning to taste. Bring the soup to a boil. Cover the pan and turn the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes. Strain the vegetables and reserve the liquid. Process the vegetables in a food processor or blender until they are smooth and creamy. Return the vegetables to the rinsed pan. Add the reserved stock and reheat. Adjust the seasoning. Divide into soup bowls and garnish with swirls of sour cream in each bowl and top with a few sprigs of fresh dill. Lovely to look at, and a joy to serve.

Tomato and Vermicelli Soup
2 tablespoons olive or corn oil
1/3 cup vermicelli
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 cups peeled, seeded and roughly chopped tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
Heat the oil in the skillet. Add the uncooked vermicelli and saute’ over medium heat until golden brown. Do not let the strands burn. Remove the pan from the heat. Lift out the vermicelli with a draining spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside. Puree the onions, garlic, and tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Return the skillet to the heat. When the oil is hot, add the puree. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until thick. Transfer the puree to a saucepan. Add the vermicelli and pour in the stock. Season with sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir in the cilantro and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer the soup until the vermicelli is tender. Serve in hot bowls, sprinkled with fresh cilantro. Then pass the Parmesan. All you need to add is a little bread and wine, and voila! Another perfect winter meal.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net