Kissel is a lightly thickened fruit soup, a recipe that comes from Katya who was raised in Russia. Kissel is made with any red berries that are around and can be served as a first course soup, or as dessert, either at room temperature or chilled. The season starts with cherries, running on through strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, and blueberries to the sour cranberries of winter – the perfect blood-red opening to a meal at Halloween. When serving, Grandma likes to add a spoonful of crème fraîche (called smetana in Russian) to her own bowl.
1 lb/450 g cranberries or other fresh red berries
2-3 cups/500-750 ml water, more if needed
3 tablespoons potato starch
½ cup/100 g sugar, more to taste
1. Pit cherries, hull strawberries, and clean other berries as needed. Put the berries with the sugar and 1-2 cups of the water in a pan. Bring the berries just to a boil, stirring often — if using cranberries, they may need a few minutes simmering to soften. Let the berries cool, then purée them in the pan using a hand-held electric machine. Alternatively transfer them to a food processor. Work them through a sieve to remove skins and seeds and return the purée to the pan.
2. To thicken the kissel: Put the potato starch in a cup or small bowl and using a whisk stir in 2-3 tablespoons water to make a soft paste. Whisk the paste into the berry purée with the sugar and remaining water. Bring the kissel just to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk until it thickens. It should be the consistency of heavy cream and if it is thick, add more water.
3. Take the kissel from the heat and taste, adding more sugar if needed; thin it with water if needed – while still warm it should pour easily from the spoon. Pour the kissel into a serving bowl or stemmed glasses and cover them so that a skin does not form. Serve the kissel at room temperature or chilled.