I’ve been preaching good gut health for as long as I can remember, partly because in my family we’re very conscious about eating foods that tend to nourish, rather than harm. My parents taught me growing up that good health starts with our tummies, and so if our stomachs aren’t happy, the rest of the body will soon follow suit.
Us Indians consume a turmeric-rich diet naturally and certain achars that we consume are very similar to kimchi and kraut. These only aid digestion and provide us with the gut detox we need every once in a while. Dal and Achar-things that we don’t give a second thought to, are leaps and bounds more nourishing than say, a lasagne or a pizza. We’re still lucky enough to be in a country gifted with plenty of seasonal produce that we either cook with, or ferment to consume in the months to follow. In my house, red carrots or dilli carrots are combined with green garlic, mustard, chilli and water to make an achar that’s ready in mere days because of the heat. In colder places elsewhere, it would take longer to make.
I applied the same principle to a bounty of black carrots gifted to me by Shikha Bafna, a reader of Belly Over Mind. By fermenting these black carrots very simply in brine for 12 days, they turned pickley sour in taste and turned the water they were immersed in a beautiful purple.
I wanted to use these black carrots to make the Eastern European soup borscht-something that I just knew I would love because of its sour notes. There are as many versions of borscht as there are countries in Eastern Europe and they can be made in many many ways. While working on my own recipe, I read extensively on the soup, particularly enjoying a version with oxtail and beet, another with mushroom stock, and yet another by Olia Hercules which was green! Confused but adamant to find my own borscht, I began cooking and things just fell into place. The fermented carrots added a tomatoey tang to the soup, apples and beets added sweetness, while the spices and turmeric added warmth and depth to the final soup. A spectacular gut-friendly detox potion that’s surprisingly delicious.
Fermented Black Carrot Borscht Soup
You can double the recipe for the fermented black carrots and keep making this soup when desired. If you can’t find black carrots, red dilli carrots work perfectly, as do coloured carrots.
Fermented black carrots
Black carrots 4 (350-400g)
Salt and water
For The Soup
Coriander seeds 1/2 tsp
Shahi jeera or caraway seeds 1/2 tsp
Saunf or fennel seeds 1 tsp
Cumin seeds 1/4 tsp
Olive oil 2 tbsp
Onions 3 small or 2 medium, thinly sliced
Garlic 6 cloves, peeled and minced
Fresh carrots 2, (150g) (preferably red Dilli carrots), cut into large dices
Beet 1 small (if you buy any greens with the beet, chop them and set aside), cut into large dices
Apple 1, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
Fennel bulb 1/2, fronds removed and bulb chopped
Ginger 1 2-inch piece freshly grated
Turmeric powder 1/2 tbsp
Lemon 1, zested
Chicken stock or vegetable stock 4-5 cups
Apple juice 4 tbsp
Honey 2 tsp
Greek Yoghurt for finishing (I used Epigamia Plain Greek Yoghurt)
Dill fronds and fennel fronds to garnish
Start the recipe at least 12 days, or up till 2 weeks in advance to making the soup.
If the black carrots are thin-peeled, there is no need to peel them, but if you’re squirmish, go ahead. Chop the carrots into large dices and add to a super clean jar. You need to add in the water and salt next to top up the carrots. The water should be just enough to submerge the carrots completely. Measure out the amount of water you’re adding in cups. For every cup of water you add, add a tablespoon of coarse salt. Give the jar a good shake and leave it in a dark place to start fermenting. Every three days burp the bottle by opening the lid and shutting it again.
When the carrots are good and sour to taste, you may begin making the soup. To begin, take a large heavy bottomed saucepan and to it, add the butter and the olive oil and place over medium high heat. When hot, add the whole spices and let them begin to sizzle. Do not let them burn, and reduce the heat if you have to. Next, add in the ginger, garlic and onions and sauté for a whole minute. Add a pinch of salt to this mixture and let it cook on medium-low for 5-6 minutes, or until the onions have browned.
Tip in the fermented carrots, the fresh carrots, the beet, any beet leaves, half the fennel bulb, plus the turmeric powder, lemon zest and toss everything together. Increase the flame to medium-high and toss the root vegetables around very well till everything starts to smell quite aromatic. Once the vegetables start to brown a bit and are just starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, add in the chopped apple and deglaze the whole mixture with the chicken stock or vegetable stock. Mix everything together very well, then turn the speed up to high and let it come up to a boil.
When the mixture comes up to a boil, reduce the heat to low, put a lid on and let the vegetables cook for 20-25 minutes covered or until the carrot and beets are fork tender and can be easily pulsed. Take the pan off the heat, add in the apple juice and the honey, then season the soup. Let the soup cool before blending the whole soup into a thick purée. Taste for salt and adjust to desired thickness if necessary by reducing it.
Serve the soup garnished with a dollop of yoghurt and lots of dill and fennel fronds.