Ok, yes, I know. You have to turn the oven on to make this soup… Wait, wait, wait, though.  Even if you don’t normally like borsht (I don’t) or even beets, this is cool and invigorating. Culled from Amanda Hesser’s authoritative and engaging 2010 NYTimes cookbook, this soup is simple and simply delicious.

The beets proffer their sweet earthiness and body, lemon juice contributes its bright acid, and the cucumber garnish punctuates it all with crunchy freshness. I elected to serve it on the cool side of room temperature, and added diced shrimp. Like the cucumber, they provide a textural counterpoint to the smooth soup and make it a bit more substantial without weighing it down. A good thing, as I really don’t feel like cooking any more than I have to right now.

Either red or yellow beets work well–I’ve used both in different batches this week. The former produces a glorious magenta soup, the latter a brilliant Big Bird yellow. They are equally delicious. Obviously, for vegetarians, omit the shrimp, but do not be tempted to leave out the cucumber. Its sprightly crunch adds a great deal.

The original recipe called for half water and half chicken stock. If you’re going to serve the soup hot, or at least warm, do go ahead and swap in 3 c of low sodium chicken stock for 3 c of the water. But for serving any cooler than room temperature, stick with all water. The chicken stock adds a bit of backbone that’s nice in a warm soup, but leaves a pall of a fatty dullness when the soup is cool. Since it’s still eighty badillion degrees right now, I’ll be sticking with the all water version for the forseeable future.

Chilled Gingery Beet Soup with Cucumber
Adapted from Amanda Hesser, The Essential New York Times Cookbook
Yield: 6 servings (2 qts)

1 1/2 lbs fresh beets (red or golden)
2 tbs olive oil, divided
1 large shallot
1 clove garlic
1 1″x 4″ piece fresh ginger
1/2 tsp sea salt
6 c water
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp champagne or white wine vinegar

1 English cucumber
1 lb shrimp

Preheat the oven tho 350°F. Top and tail the beets, and scrub them well. If they’re baseball-sized or larger, cut them in half. Cut a large piece of foil and pour on 1tbs of the oil. Put the beets on the foil and coat them in the oil. Crimp the edges of the foil together, wrapping the beets in a nice little package. Put on a baking sheet and roast till beets are easily pierced, about 1 1/4 hours.

While the beets are roasting, cook the shrimp–dropping them into boiling water and cooking 3-4 minutes, till bouncily firm and pink. Remove, cool, peel and cut into small dice. Set aside. Wash the cucumber and cut in half lengthwise. Scrape out and discarded the seeds using a teaspoon and cut the cucumber into thin strips, then crosswise into fine dice–about the same size as the shrimp. Set aside.

Peel the shallot and mince it. Peel the garlic and mince or grate it on your handy dandy ginger grater.  Combine remaining olive oil, minced shallot, garlic, and ginger in a small saucepan and sautee over low heat for 4-5 minutes till nicely fragrant and the shallot has softened a bit. Set aside

Once the beets are cooked, remove them from oven and carefully open the foil packet–beware of the steam. When cool enough to handle, slip the skins from the beets and cut them in chunks. Combine the beets, shallot mixture, vinegar, most of the lemon juice, and about 4 cups of water in the carafe of a blender and let it rip till completely smooth. Add remaining 2 cup water to thin to the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning appropriately–more lemon or salt may be needed. Cover and chill.

To serve, divide the cucumber and shrimp between soup bowls and gently pour in the soup.

Hesser, Amanda. The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co.) 2010.