Cooking with Calley P: Beet the heat on Valentine’s Day

Calley Prezzano is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained Chef who has made a career in fine dining cuisine, emphasizing fresh & local products from the area. In this blog for The Nicaragua Dispatch, Chef Calley shares recipes that make cooking in Nicaragua an adventure for all five senses. This week: Beet the Heat with Valentine’s Day Gazpacho

Yes, I know Milford, CT got 38 inches of snow last weekend, but it’s sunny and warm down here by the beach in Nicaragua. In fact, it’s so hot that I am unintentionally donning a festive, pink sunburn.

What better way to beat the heat that with a cold soup—and just in time for the Día de Amor y Amistad, as Valentine’s Day is known here Nicaragua.

The beauty of any soup is that it can be made in advance. A cold soup is even better for serving friends and loved ones. This way, you can be dressed up and not stressed out. Even reheating something can take you away from spending important time with others.

Movies rarely portray romantic evenings starting off with grease fires, intense smoke, scalding-hot chowder spills, or over-salted spinach. On special days, I recommend sticking with meals you know how to cook, or, better yet, something that can be made in advance.

Fresh ingredients make for good soup (photo/ Calley P)

Mateo’s favorite pureéd vegetable soup is carrot—he raves about the carrot soup—but for Valentine’s Day, I am partial to beets. The convivial, magenta-colored vegetable is fun and the flavor is delicious. Nicaragua grows great beets, and they are available year round. The flavor is enhanced by roasting, instead of boiling, which leeches out the sweetness. The beets are combined with a thick coconut milk-blend. The coconut milk has a mixture of spice from local produce available here in Nicaragua: fresh ginger, garlic and chiles—even a bit of lemongrass, too!

This soup is light, which is great for Valentine’s Day. I know that truffled risotto sounds appealing, but it’s awfully heavy before an evening of love or friendship. I think that the last thing you’ll want after dinner on the Day of Love is dead weight in your gut, or to fall asleep facedown at the table.

The key to making this soup stellar is a good blender. Also, the beets need to be at room temperature, not too cold. This will allow for easy blending to create a smooth pureé, without any coconut milk speckles.

Please be aware that the soup is chock full of beets. If you are not a regular beet-eater, take note. The brilliant color of the beets may come back to surprise you a little later on, as you flip through a magazine in the bathroom. But no reason to call a doctor—it’s just the beets.

Keep the beets at room temp (photo / Calley P)

You can make this soup up to 2 days in advance. For a complete light meal, pair with a light green salad, mandarin oranges & yogurt dressing.

Here at La Finca y El Mar, we are serving the soup as a first course option for our Valentine’s Day Menu. I recommend that it be followed with a lobster ravioli entreé or braised Pellibuey.  For details on our Valentine’s Day Specials here at La Finca y El Mar, click here.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

Roasted Beet Gazpacho with Bee Gee Shrimp
  •  2 pounds beets
  • 2 can coconut milk
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons culantro
  • 1 small piece of a habanero chile, or 1/2 whole jalapeño, seeds removed
  • 6 stalks lemongrass, bottom 2 inches only
  • 2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 16 Bee Gee Shrimp, cooked & cooled
  • Sour Cream


1)  Place washed beets in a baking dish and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover the dish with foil and bake the beets at 350°F, for about 60 minutes, until fork-tender. Let cool, peel, and chop into large chunks.

2)  In a blender, combine coconut milk, garlic, ginger, culantro, chile, lemongrass. Blend for about 1 minute, until thoroughly combined. Strain, to remove tough pulps, and set aside the liquid.

3)  In the same blender, after a quick rinse, add the beets. Pour in the reserved coconut milk-blend and pureé for about 1 minute, until the beets are completely puréed. With the blender running, add sesame and vegetable oils, lime juice. If the soup is to thick, add up to 1 cup of water.

4)  Chill the gazpacho in the refrigerator and add salt and pepper to taste.

5)  Serve cold with shrimp garnished on top.

Serves 4.


Calley Prezzano was classically trained in San Francisco, California. She has cooked in Michelin Star Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and was the founding Executive Chef of Jicaro Ecolodge in Granada, Nicaragua. She is the founding Executive Chef of La Finca y El Mar Restaurant in Rancho Santana in Tola, Nicaragua. (



  • Mateo

    Carrot Soup Rules!

    • Tim Rogers

      Calm down, Mateo

  • http://HangOnToTheVine Helen

    Lovely. I’m from the Beat Generation.