Beets. We use them all the time in the kitchen. I cannot count how many times I have finished my shift with my hands stained red from beet juice. Cooked beets, fresh beets, beet salad. We make them all. After a year in the kitchen, frankly, I was beginning to get sick of beets. I mean, really, how much can you do with beets? Oh, how little did I know.
A word about my uncles: My mother's two brothers live here in Israel. One is a poet/writer/teacher/linguist/general knower of knowledge.He's the person I call when I need something translated from the French, or you know, need to know the origins of the word gamba. He lives in an old, crumbling apartment in Florentine, which is probably the hippest neighborhood in Tel Aviv right now. My other uncle, the baby of the family, lives in Kfar Saba in a beautiful little house, with a beautiful little garden and a lemon tree that drips lemons (and a wife and three adorable, precocious kids) He works in hi-tech. He also knows a lot of things. Practical things. Things like, help my computer crashed and won't turn back on; and should I buy an Ipad, etc.
Both of my maternal uncles are superb cooks. They are, however, in keeping with their personalities and general tendencies, very different cooks. I call my Tel Aviv uncle when I want to know why my tart dough keeps shrinking, and how to make untergeshlugeneh bundlach (Hungarian vichyssoise. A family recipe). I call my Kfar Saba uncle when I have an odd conglomeration of ingredients sitting around and I don't know what to do with them. Inevitably, he will think of something creative and absolutely delicious, that I would have never though of on my own. In Tel Aviv I am liable to be served little cookies, rich with butter. In Kfar Saba, I get grilled salmon and grain salad. In both cases, I leave sated and very, very happy.
All this was a very long way of introducing my uncle Tzvi's (Tel Aviv uncle) Florentine Chamitzah, which I first heard about in Kfar Saba, as my uncle and I were waiting for our nephew/nieces/cousins to gather around the table so we could eat the best roast chicken in the world. In any case, a chamitzah is a tart soup that often features kubbe as its star. When my uncle originally told me about the soup, he presented it as a borscht-a beet soup. And the truth is that it is sort of cross between a beet soup and a chamitzah. It is deep red and beety, but also tart and spicy. It is not one of those soups that you just sort of throw into the pot. You have to build this soup. First comes the sauerkraut, then the broth vegetables and the heat, in the form of chili peppers. Then comes the chicken stock. The resulting broth, simmered for an hour and strained of its vegetables, is delicious, but the soup is not done. Nope, in goes tomato paste, red wine and a touch of honey. Simmer, simmer and at the end you will have this thing- this beautiful, smooth, tangy layered thing. It is a wonder to behold. My uncle Tzvi calls it a sipping soup, and drinks it from a mug. I served it in bowls to company, with a kneidel (a matzoh ball). The kneidel was pretty good, but honestly, what this soup wants is a nice piece of kubbe.
So, thank you Uncle Tzvi, for introducing me to this soup. It's a good one.
Tzvi Mermelstein's Florentine Chamitzah
1 560 gram can of sauerkraut, drained
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 green chilli pepper (or more, to taste) chopped.
paprika, a pinch (or, to taste)
cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 carrot, chopped
1 beet, chopped
1 celery root, chopped
1 liter chicken stock
400 grams tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 cups water
a splash of white vinegar (optional)
1 tbl honey or brown sugar
1. Heat a few glugs of vegetable oil in a large soup pot. Add the sauerkraut and saute for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the onion, garlic, chili, paprika and cayenne. Saute till slightly translucent. Then, add the carrot, beet and celery root. Saute till warmed through. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for an hour or more.
2. After about an hour, remove the soup from the heat and strain. Toss the veggies (or, eat em if you'd like, but they shouldn't have much flavor left, so you might as well just compost em). To the broth add the tomato past, red wine and water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Taste, adjust seasoning (you may need to add some salt). If the soup is not tart enough add a splash of vinegar. Otherwise, just a tablespoon of honey or brown sugar to bring all the flavors together. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
3. Serve, either in mugs as a "sipping" soup or in bowls (with a nice a piece of kubbe or a kniedel).