How about getting friendly with your gut?
A friend of mine read that playing music to your child while in the womb influences the development of their brain. He didn't know if it was true but decided he had nothing to lose and started playing Marvin Gaye's ‘What's Going On' a lot. Maybe we can take a similar approach with the gut. Scientists have established that there's a whole universe inside us, populated by a hundred trillion microbes that have a significant influence not just on our digestion but on our physical and even mental health. The science of the microbiome is in its infancy so we don't yet know the whole story, but it seems to me we've got little to lose by exploring what foods might benefit the gut and its microbial residents.
So, this soup is structured around beetroot, barley and kefir, all of which appear to have beneficial effects on our digestive health. There's lots of beetroot in the recipe because it's got plenty of fibre, it's an anti-inflammatory and it contains lots of glutamine, an amino acid that's good for gut maintenance.
For the pickled beetroot
- 70g white wine vinegar
- 80g peeled beetroot, finely chopped
For the beetroot stock
- 2tbs vegetable oil
- 2 small onions, peeled and finely sliced
- ½ garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- 150g peeled beetroot, thinly sliced
- 3 litres water (or vegetable stock)
- Salt and black pepper
For the beetroot barley
- 2tbs vegetable oil
- 100g peeled shallots, finely chopped
- 100g pearl barley, well rinsed and drained
- 750g beetroot stock (from above)
- 150g peeled beetroot, grated
For the pan-roasted root vegetables
- 2tbs vegetable oil
- 150g peeled root vegetables (your favourite), cut into 1cm dice
For the kefir horseradish
- 50g kefir
- 15g creamed horseradish
- 1tsp white wine vinegar
- Few sprigs of fresh dill
To finish the soup
- Handful of fresh dill, plus extra sprigs to garnish
- 250g beetroot stock (from above)
- 30g peeled beetroot, grated
For the pickled beetroot, bring the wine vinegar to the boil in a small pan and add the beetroot. Immediately take the pan off the heat and leave the beetroot to cool and pickle for 2 hours. Drain before using: you need 80g for the soup.
To make the beetroot stock, heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook over a medium heat until softened. Add the beetroot and continue to cook until the mixture starts to caramelise. Pour in the water (or stock) and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the stock and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. You need 750g for the barley; 250g to finish the soup.
For the beetroot barley, heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, then add the shallots and cook gently until softened. Add the pearl barley, increase the heat and let it toast a little. Pour in the beetroot stock, add the grated beetroot and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Cook for 25-30 minutes until the barley is tender; you need about 400g.
Adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
For the pan-roasted vegetables, heat the oil in a pan over a medium-high heat. Add the diced vegetables and cook until evenly coloured on all sides. Transfer to a tray lined with kitchen paper to drain and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To make the kefir horseradish, combine the kefir, creamed horseradish and wine vinegar in a bowl and season with salt to taste. Just before serving, finely chop the dill (you need about 1tsp) and stir through the mixture.
To finish the soup, warm the beetroot barley through in a large pan over a medium heat. Finely chop the dill (you need 1tbs) and stir through. In a separate pan, bring the beetroot stock to a simmer and add the roasted vegetables, the 80g pickled beetroot and the grated beetroot. Simmer for 2 minutes, then strain through a sieve, saving the roasted vegetables and beetroot.
To serve, spoon the beetroot barley into the centre of two warmed bowls and pour on the stock. Divide the roasted vegetables and beetroot between the bowls, spoon the kefir horseradish into the centre and garnish with sprigs of dill.
Taken from Is This a Cookbook? Adventures in the Kitchen by Heston Blumenthal (Bloomsbury, £27). Read our review here
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