Monday, March 17

St. Patty's Day Borscht

No, borscht is not an Irish food. I actually made this for my Potluck Book Club, which was meeting to discuss the Ukranian-set, fairly Jewish novel "Everything is Illuminated." We tried to stick to the cultural themes with our culinary selections, and despite my longing for blinis and latkes I decided I would tackle that neon hallmark of Eastern Europe: beet soup.

Oddly enough, while I was concocting my soup I couldn't help notice the similarities between Irish and Ukranian cuisine. Potatoes, cabbage, beef, your mouth watering yet? Well, mine wasn't. I had a hard time believing beets belonged in soup, particularly as I surveyed the rather drab-looking assortment of ingredients. However, I must say this soup turned out to be quite delectable. The vegetables were tender yet textured, and although my house still smells like vinegar the flavor lent a pleasantly refreshing acidity to the broth. Furthermore, the sour cream provides a creamy balance, and I couldn't resist adding a handful of micro-greens for an Americanized crunch -- not to mention some St Patrick's Day green.

Although I always pictured it pureed, borscht is in fact traditionally served as a chunky, broth-based soup. The main seasonings are usually caraway seeds (think rye bread) and dill, but since I couldn't find fresh dill I substituted chervil. Furthermore, most borscht recipes call for beef stock and a few beef bones, neither of which interested me. A few vegetarian recipes recommend a handful of porcini mushrooms to provide the missing meatiness (why are mushrooms the universal meat substitute?), but I instead opted for the remainder of the Harpoon Munich Dark Ale I enjoyed during my prep work. After tinkering with a few recipes, including this one from the Food Network's web site, here's what I ended up with:

5 fresh beets, unpeeled
1 parsnip, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons white or red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
2 small onions, quartered and thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, cored, cut into 1-inch wedges, and shredded
A small handful fresh chervil
3 bay leaves
One 16-ounce can diced tomatoes (with liquid)
12-15 small fingerling potatoes, cut in halves or thirds
10-11 cups water
1/2 bottle stout beer
6 cubes vegetable bouillon
Sour cream and micro-greens, for garnish

In a large saucepan, cover the beets with cold water by l inch. Stir in 1/4 cup of the vinegar and 2 tablespoons salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until very tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from liquid, cool, and peel the beets. Cut into 1/4" thick medium-sized rectangles, and set aside.

Add potatoes to the same pot/liquid and boil until very soft. Set aside, reserving one cup of cooking liquid.

Heat the oil in a very, very large pot over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, carrots, parsnip, garlic, and caraway seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the cabbage and beer and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes.

Tie the chervil and bay leaves together with a rubber band and add to the pot with the beets, tomatoes, bouillon, and water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes to bring the flavors together. Stir in the beet liquid, potatoes, remaining 3 tablespoons vinegar, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Season heavily with pepper. Chill.

Serve topped with dollops of the sour cream and handfuls of micro-greens. Pass additional vinegar at the table.

Serves enough to end the Irish Famine. Or at least 12 hungry people.

NB: You can serve borscht warm, too. But I like pretending spring is here, and thus cold soups are more appropriate.

And did you know borscht is considered a classic hangover cure? Try it. Maybe tomorrow, for all the Irish out there.


Rachel said...

I'm so glad it came out well!!! How did the kohlrabi turn out?

Allison said...

Oh yum. This (most likely) went over your minimal ingredients idea - but looks like it was SO worth it. Yay for beets!

lapa said...

very nice

Ricki said...

I think I must try this (already bookmarked)! I love beets, and do enjoy my beet soup warm. I can understand the hangover cure--beets are liver cleansers, so they must counteract the effects of too much alcohol.


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