Swedish Parsnip And Leek Soup With Pickled Beet Swirl

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I strongly believe that condiments are the cats meow.  The door of my fridge houses so many sauces, mustards, and chutneys that it bulges out and will one day inevitably collapse under the strain of too much flavor.  However, there are times when I see a post like this and realize that not only is it past time to go to the grocery store, but perhaps I also need to focus a bit more energy on using up my random jars and pickled products to make room for some real food.  

A quick peek in the pantry revealed that I still have about 3 litres of Mojo Marmalade Sauce, 2 enormous Mason jars of pickled beets, an assortment of home made jams and jellies, and several jars of assorted savory and sweet chutneys.  In the fridge, I have one of each.  Sigh.  Well, it’s time to make a battle plan, and my first stop was the pickled beets.  I mean, Mojo Marmalade sauce can be used to add some sunshine-y citrus flavor to a multitude of marinades or sauces, but pickled beets?  I…uh….well, I eat them straight from the jar with a fork, I occasionally add them to potato salad, they’re chopped up to garnish canapes here and there, but that’s about it.  What else DO you do with pickled beets?  Any ideas?  Anyone?  For a food that I enjoy so much, I’m certainly not very creative with it.

Traditional Swedish cooking is easy to appreciate and assimilate.  The main flavors come from herbs like dill and parsley, savory onion, and spices like cardamom, nutmeg and allspice.  However, the true beauty of Swedish cuisine is found through the simplicity of taking honest (and often inexpensive) ingredients and cooking them properly to allow their full flavor to come through.  At the very base of Scandinavian cooking we find comforting and nourishing food, which tastes like what it is (potatoes that taste like potatoes?  Imagine that!), and pairs perfectly with the sharp and briny pickles and mustards that the area is known for.

When the weather outside is snowy, dreary and gray, why not turn to the cuisine of the Swedes?  After all, if anybody knows snowy, dreary and gray, it would be them….

Swedish Parsnip And Leek Soup With Pickled Beet Swirl

Serves 6

  • 1 large parsnip (about 1/2 lb)
  • 4 large Yukon Gold or yellow flesh potato (about 2lb)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic (about 1.5 tbsp when minced)
  • 3 handsome leeks
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 L chicken stock (4 cups)
  • small bunch of dill
  • generous salt and pepper
  • snipped chives to garnish, if you like

Pickled Beet Swirl

  • 2-3 small pickled beets (about 1 cup chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup red wine *
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 large lemon (juice only)
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

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Peel the potatoes and parsnips.  Cut them up into large chunks, with the parsnips slightly smaller to compensate for their longer cooking time.  Throw these into a pot with the solitary bay leaf, cover with water, and bring it up to a boil (uncovered) on the stove until the potatoes are tender (about 15 – 20 minutes).

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While the potatoes get ready to cook, chop the root ends of of the leeks.  Yes, technically I said ‘3’ leeks, but this bunch has a touch of the babushka in it – there’s a daddy leek, momma leek, angry teenager like, and crooked little baby leek!  I figure that if we average these out, that’s about 3 leeks in total.

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Cut each leek vertically down the middle, and then turn it and cut again so that you have 4 equal quarters.  Slice them across, horizontally, into 1/2 inch pieces.

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Leeks are quite possibly an even dirtier produce than fresh cilantro (and that’s saying a lot!), so be sure to rinse them out very, very well.  Unless the leeks are getting braised in large wedges, I like to dice them before they get washed – just to get as much filth out as possible.  Or, do what you want and just tell people that it’s pepper.  And remind me never to eat at your house.

Finely mince the cloves of garlic.

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In a large heavy bottomed skilled, gently heat the butter and olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the leeks and onions, and sweat them out slowly for 15 – 20 minutes until they are meltingly soft and tender.  Make sure that your heat is nice and low so that they don’t burn, you just want to cook them low and slow until they start to caramelize a little bit.

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When the potatoes are cooked and soft, take them off the heat.  Put a large pot or heat-proof bowl underneath a colander and drain the potatoes, reserving their cooking liquid.  Pull out the bay leaf, just temporarily though.  You’ll add it back to the soup as it simmers.

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If you have an immersion blender, put the potatoes and chicken stock back into the pot and blend until it’s smooth and chunk free.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, add the stock to the potatoes and puree it in batches in a standing blender.  Remember to use extra caution when you’re pureeing hot foods and soups, because there is always the danger of a scalding splatter.

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Now that the soup is smooth, put the bay leaf back in and add the leeks.

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The soup will be rather thick, and this is where the reserved potato water comes in!  Ladle in the potato water, stirring after each addition, until you have a texture and consistency that you’re happy with.  The soup should be thick enough that you get a nice coating on the back of your spoon, but not so thick that your spoon can stand up in it without support 😉  I used almost 4 ladlefuls of water to get the consistency that I was looking for, but that will also depend on the size of your ladle.

Let the soup simmer away for 15 minutes, to allow all of those gentle flavors to marry.  Don’t forget to taste it and add salt and pepper.  This soup has a particular penchant for both salt and pepper (it really likes the pepper), so no need to have a light hand with the seasoning.  

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In the meantime, chop your pickled beets into rough chunks.  Let’s not be too fussy over size, you’re going to puree them anyway.

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Into a small food processor or blender, add all of the remaining ingredients.  It helps to give the garlic a rough chop first, just to make sure that it blends together well.  If you don’t have whole nutmeg to grate, you can use ground nutmeg instead.  I find that grating it fresh really adds a lot of flavor though.

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Blend this mixture together until it’s smooth and there are no chunks of beet.  If it seems too thick you can add 1-2 tablespoons of water until you reach the consistency that you like. 

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Grab a nice bunch of dill……

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…and chop it finely.  There should be about 1/2 cup when it’s all chopped up.  Stir your dill into the soup and you’re ready to eat!

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To make that lovely swirl on top is child’s play, but ain’t it just so purty?  Ladle the soup into a bowl and use a small spoon to do a gentle gloppy-drizzle of the pickled beets in a circle.  Use a wooden skewer, chopstick, or even butter knife, and glide it through from the center of the beet circle going outward.  This will give it that nice spidery effect.  Or you could just swirl around a bit on top until it’s nicely marbled.  After all, you are the artist, the soup is your (tasty) canvas.  No matter what you do, just take pride in the fact that it still looks way better than Jackson Pollack’s soup would have.  

If you like, you can also garnish the soup with a smattering of freshly chopped chives and/or a sprig of dill.

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Some crusty bread on the side, and you have yourself a warm and comforting lunch that is totally Swede-approved.  Oh, and healthy.  There is very little fat in this soup, which is an enormous relief for people like me who are struggling with the post-holiday oh-my-god-I’m-a-beast-of-burden feeling.

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Maybe a side salad too, because a small bunch of greens always make things seem so much more meal-worthy to me.

And with that, we say, “Låt maten tysta munnen!”  Loosely translated, “Let the food quiet the mouth…”

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  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

    I think people saw “leeks”, “parsnip” and “beets” and got scared of this, but I swear to God it’s one damned tasty vegetarian soup. Finally I understand how Scanadanavians are able to (temporarily) stave off the crushing depression so intrinsic to their culture!

  • http://foodhappens.blogspot.com lo!

    Oh, gosh — I was away for a few days, and I missed all sorts of great stuff.

    Gotta admit it. I think we’ve got the same malady when it comes to condiments 🙂

    I am all over this soup. Looks exactly like something we’d make in the winter months! Root veggies are our friends!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Ha! I agree, and it’s nice to have friends in Lo! places (hehehee…oh Christ, the gods of comedy are sending me to hell for that one). Anyway, I’m glad that at least one person wasn’t scared away by the parsnip and beets!

  • http://www.noblepig.com/ noble pig

    Parsnips and beets are some of my favorite foods…I kid you not. This is totally awesome.

  • Tara

    I’ll be honest. I hate parsnips. They taste so…funky and woody. Yeuch. The beet swirl looks great though, I’ll use this on my potato and onion soup.

  • http://www.kalofagas.blogspot.com Peter

    Wow, this soup is a stunner…very creative and the ingredients jibe…noted, I’m going steal, er borrow this! lol

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