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Refreshing Cold Soups: Beet Borscht

By Bill Dwyer

What could be more fitting for a hot climate like ours than flavorful cold soups? They make a great accompaniment to a sandwich for a light meal, or a nice change from fruit drinks as a refreshing snack.  Over the next few months I’ll be presenting three classic cold soups: vichyssoise from France via USA, gazpacho from Spain and Latin America, and this month’s recipe, beet borscht, from central Europe.

Though borscht is a Yiddish word, beet-based soups are not exclusively Jewish, and are found .in the cuisines of all the Slavic countries as well as Romania, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Scandinavia.  Recipes for borscht often include cabbage, other vegetables and sometimes meat. Kosher borscht is made with either a meat stock (beef or chicken)—meat Kosher, or vegetable stock (or just water)–dairy Kosher.  For me, the quintessential borscht is the following dairy Kosher version.

Ingredients: (makes 4 – 6 servings)

  • 1 pound (+/-) fresh red beets
  • 4 cups vegetable stock*
  • 1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt (preferably coarse salt)
  • ¼ – ½ tsp white pepper, to taste
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice (or a bit less white vinegar or lime juice)
  • sour cream (natilla)
  • dill or fresh parsley (for garnish)

Directions: 

Cut the root ends and greens, if any, from the beets. (If the greens are reasonably fresh, they make an excellent side dish for any meal, prepared as you would spinach or chard.)  Wash the beets and brush or spray them with oil. Wrap them in foil and roast them in an oven at 400ºF (175ºC) for an hour, turning every 15 minutes. If you don’t have an oven, you could roast them in a toaster-oven or a covered barbecue, but you’ll have to monitor them more closely so they don’t burn. Do NOT use a microwave oven!  Allow to cool to nearly room temperature.

Pour the stock into a medium sized soup pot. Add the thyme, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes.

While the stock is simmering, peel the beets and grate them coarsely into a large bowl.  Add the grated beets and any liquid the grating has produced to the stock. Continue to simmer another 20-30 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Using a slotted spoon, remove the thyme sprigs. Refrigerate until cold.

Serve with a generous soup-spoonful of sour cream and garnish with dill or parsley.

 Enjoy!

* If you don’t have vegetable stock on hand, you can substitute water, make your own stock. Quarter a tomato, an onion, a potato into 6 cups of water in a large pot. Slice medium-sized carrot and large celery stalk into 1-inch pieces and add them to the pot. Add a teaspoon of black peppercorns, 2 or 3 whole cloves and 2 – 3 sprigs of fresh thyme. Boil until the veggies and seasonings have given up their flavor to the liquid. Strain out all the solid ingredients and discard.


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