Leave root and 1 inch of stem on beets; scrub with a brush. Place beets and fennel seeds in a medium saucepan; cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until tender. Drain beets through a fine sieve into a bowl, reserving fennel seeds and 3 cups cooking liquid. Rinse beets under cold water; drain. Peel beets; cut into 1/2-inch cubes, reserving 3/4 cup for garnish. Combine remaining beets, reserved cooking liquid, and fennel seeds in a bowl; set aside.
Combine 1/4 cup water and oil in a medium nonstick skillet; place over medium-high heat until hot. Add fennel bulb and onion; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender.
Combine fennel bulb mixture, beet mixture, buttermilk, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender; process until smooth. Pour soup into a bowl; cover and chill thoroughly. Ladle 3/4 cup soup into individual bowls, and top with 2 tablespoons reserved beets.
How can something so simple be so delicious? I made 1/2 the recipe to use as a starter with a simple salmon loaf with roasted potatoes and brussels sprouts. My only change was to use a tsp. of chicken soup base instead of salt (the soup base is quite salty) just to add a bit more flavor. I would also suggest saving slightly less cooking liquid so that you can use the whole amount of buttermilk. I only used about 2/3 of the recommended amount because I didn't want to have a thin soup; in retrospect, I would rather have more buttermilk and less beet cooking liquid. Be sure to get your beets really clean b/c the cooking liquid is your "stock."
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