Winter soups, for all their comfort and warmth, aren't known for their color. My greenmarket January haul tends to be root vegetables, alliums and tubers — and perhaps a few cruciferous friends. That's a lot of beige and brown food in my bowl, and most of the time, that's just fine. It's soothing. It makes me feel nourished.
Maybe it's the short days, but predictably, every February, I start to long for a hint of color.
Enter beets, deep red and dyeing everything they touch a saturated magenta-pink. Beets check all the boxes: They are earthy, comforting, sweet and colorful. Some say the root vegetable tastes like dirt, but I've never met a beet I didn't love. Maybe it's my Russian heritage — beets are the undisputed superstars of Russian cooking and adored in Persian, Middle Eastern and North African cuisines, as well — but I'll eat them in any permutation: in borscht, in vinegret or herring-under-a-fur-coat (two beloved Russian dishes), julienned raw in salads or spun into a garlicky spread, zakuski-style.
In the throes of this winter, however, I craved a gentle, delicate soup. I decided to make a finely ground pistachio-herb topping to imbue a beet soup with even more color as well as herbaceous and gutsy notes.
Toasting the pistachios in the oven with a little olive oil, turmeric and salt punched up the nuts' flavor and color. Once they were cool, I blitzed them with generous handfuls of dill, parsley and cilantro, adding a bit more salt along the way.
Once the beets were cooked and pureed into a soup, I spooned a bit into my mouth. The result, while fragrant and delicious, felt thin - like something was missing. Adding cream didn't feel right. I wanted to keep the soup vegan and light and continue to channel flavors of the Levant. I remembered being served a dish of roasted beets drizzled with lemony, garlicky tahini. What if I added the tahini to the soup to thicken it up? My instincts proved right: Whirred into the soup, it provided the necessary backbone, and it did something unexpected - it brightened the dark red puree, turning it a striking fluorescent pink.
Topped with colorful pistachio-herb topping and drizzled with olive oil, the soup lifted me up with its cheery pink color and soothing flavor. And while there was richness to the soup, it didn't feel heavy.
Though the days are still short, I've found a soup to be my guiding light through the rest of winter, as I impatiently wait to spy my first spring asparagus and the bright produce to follow.
Pureed Beet Soup With Tahini and Herbed Pistachios
Add some color to your winter eating with this delicious, flavorful soup. Ruby red and redolent with herbs, lemon and tahini, the soup can be adapted any number of ways. Want to swap out tahini for cream? Go for it. Craving a heartier broth as a base instead of water? Use vegetable, chicken or even beef broth instead. Not a fan of pistachios? Try walnuts, pine nuts or earthy-sweet pecans. Use whatever herbs you have on hand. In fact, the soup is an excellent way to make sure those half-used bunches of fresh herbs don't go to waste.
— Olga Massov
For the soup:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large carrot, diced (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 pounds beets, trimmed, scrubbed and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, dill and cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons), or more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
7 cups water
1/4 cup tahini
For the pistachios:
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) raw shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, dill and cilantro
Position the baking rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees.
Make the soup: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.
Add the carrot, beets and herbs and stir to combine. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Add the water and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat so the soup is at a simmer, partially cover the pot and cook until the beets are soft, 30 to 40 minutes. Taste — the soup should be tart and well-seasoned — and add more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice, if desired.
Add the tahini and the remaining 4 tablespoons oil and, using an immersion blender, puree the soup to your desired consistency. You may want it to be completely smooth or a little chunkier.
Make the pistachios: While the soup is simmering, on a small, rimmed baking sheet, toss the pistachios with the oil, salt, turmeric and crushed red pepper flakes, if using, until combined and toast, 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool completely. The nuts can be prepared to this point for up to 2 days ahead.
Place the nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Gradually, add the herbs and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Generously garnish with the herbed pistachios, drizzle with more olive oil and serve. Serves 4.
— From food writer Olga Massov