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Winter Simmer 

Turkish, Iranian and Russian-Jewish soups

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Photo by Holly Harvey

Are you tired of talking about the weather? If so, dear reader, I apologise because I really can't avoid it if I am going to write about soup. As I write, the turgid slurry of chilled wind and water is pounding on the door, paying no mind to my terrier's need for a walk or my need to shift off the couch. All is drear. Funds and fun are woefully lacking. The world's tiniest violin won't STFU. The silver lining is that I like to cook. Normally parsimonious, I struggle to make single portions but since I have been blessed this winter with an opportunity to live with my lovely brother Maximilian and his charming partner Claire, I am no longer terrified by the ominous warning "Serves 10."

Max and Claire are both frugal and strong adherents to the eating locally and ethically philosophy, which I agree with but left to my own devices I tend to treat myself to not doing dishes and buying ready-made food. With them as housemates, that's mostly out the window, especially with the gloppy wet weather, so we have been having a great time exploring different styles of cooking. Max works entirely without recipes, while I prefer referring to cookbooks because I a) am not a professionally trained chef and b) cookbooks are so freaking fabulous to read and look at. Max and Claire recently bought and butchered a hog from Shively Farm so we have a large supply of bones for stock. They have also turned me on to the ease of keeping a ziplock in the freezer for onion peels, garlic ends and other mildly flavored veggie refuse so every weekend there is a ready supply of ingredients for stock.

I am going to share three simple winter soups that are delicious, easy to make and use seasonal vegetables. The lamb and bean soup is Iranian, while Borscht is, of course, Russian/Jewish. The enthusiastic quantity of fresh dill in the following soup is Turkish style and the soup is light and flexible; one could add any vegetable at all. This is how Max made it last week:

Barley-Dill Soup

Things to know about barley: Get hulled, not pearl, if you want to eat a whole grain. The cooking ratio is 1 cup barley to 3 cups liquid, and the barley will triple in volume. Barley is delicious and I don't know why we don't eat it all the time. It's easy, cheap and hard to screw up.

Seves 4.


2 quarts meat or vegetable stock

1 cup hulled barley

3 cups seeded and cubed winter squash, any kind

1 leek or 1 onion (or 1 cup of any allium), chopped

1 bunch fresh dill, washed and chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, soften the leek or onion over medium heat in a tablespoon of sunflower or other neutral flavored cooking oil. Add stock, barley and a ½ teaspoon of salt and cover pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Add the squash and simmer until both it and the barley are soft — about another 25 minutes. Test the barley for doneness; if it's still hard, cook it for another 5 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the dill and lemon juice. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed, as well as additional lemon juice if you like it tart.

Jada's Iranian Three-Bean Soup


1/3 cup washed yellow, red or black split peas

1/3 cup lentils, any

1 16-ounce can small white beans, drained and washed.

1 pound cubed lamb stew meat for stewin'

1 large onion, sliced thickish

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Salt, pepper

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon chili pepper

1 teaspoon whole cumin

5 nubs garlic, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 large eggplant, cubed

2 bell peppers, any color, cleaned and cut up

1 small can chopped and peeled tomatoes

4 potatoes, peeled and cut bite size

1 big handful parsley, washed and chopped

2 quarts water

First, toast the cumin in a dry pan over medium heat. Once it becomes fragrant, remove from heat and grind well with a mortar and pestle.

In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, brown the meat and onions in a tablespoon cooking oil for 5 or 6 minutes over medium high heat. Add the spices, salt and pepper. Add 2 quarts water, bring to a boil and lower the heat to simmer, covered, for 1 ½ hours. Add all the other ingredients except parsley, as well as more water if needed. Return the pot to a boil, then cover it and lower the heat to let it simmer again for 25 minutes. Taste for salt and add the fresh parsley to each serving.

Rough n' Ready Borscht

Borscht is arguably my favorite soup and it's almost impossible to eff up. And who isn't always searching for more ways to eat sour cream?

Serves 6.


1 pound cubed beef stew meat

3½ quarts water

3 large beets, peeled and cubed

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 bay leaf

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

1 teaspoon ground cumin (see toasting and grinding method above)

1 bunch fresh dill, washed and minced

Sour cream for garnish

In heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat oil over medium heat and cook the beef and onion for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the water, bay leaf, cumin, salt, pepper, half the dill (washed and minced), sugar and vinegar. Bring the pot to a simmer, reduce the heat slightly and cover it. Let it simmer for 90 minutes, checking and stirring every 15 minutes to ensure nothing's sticking and adding more water if necessary. Then add the beets and cook them another 45 minutes to an hour. If you want to reduce cooking time, add the beets after 60 minutes of simmering and cook them at least 35 minutes more. But ideally you are aiming for a total cooking time of 2 to 2½ hours, with the beets cooked for about 45 minutes.

Taste for salt, and serve with lots of fresh washed minced dill and sour cream. Oh, and rye bread. And pickles.

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About The Author

Jada Calypso Brotman

Jada Brotman grew up in Arcata before moving to the U.K. and then New York City, where she cut a wide swath in the world of cheese. Insert joke here. She returned to the home of her fathers four years ago, and now works as a journalist and seasons her crepe pans in downtown Arcata.

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