Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cold Borsh

You'd think that the difference between a hot borsh and a cold borsh would just be the temperature. But guess what? The only thing these two soups have in common are beets, potatoes, and carrots. While the hot borsh is the quintessentially Russian dish (hearty and meaty), the cold borsh breaks every stereotype. It's vegetarian, it's colorful, it's cold, it's fat-free (naturally so, not because I am trying to be healthy), and it has the look of the infamous "vertical" food. I can totally see a waiter in an upscale restaurant bringing you a bowl with a sculpted mountain of chopped raw vegetables, then pouring in the bright magenta liquid from a little porcelain teapot until the vegetables stick out like a little island. "Consommé de Betterave et Crudités," says the waiter. It's an outstanding combination perfect for a warm spring day.

Note: since this soup has to chill, make it at least one day before serving

Serves 8

For the borsh:
2 medium beets (about 3 inches in diameter), trimmed, washed, but unpeeled
2 red skinned potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled, and thinly sliced
1 whole onion, peeled
1 tsp whole black pepper corns
1 bay leaf
2 tsp lemon or lime juice (or to taste)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
Salt to taste

For the toppings:
  • chopped cucumber
  • chopped radishes
  • thinly sliced scallions
  • chopped dill and/or parsley
  • chopped hard boiled eggs
  • sour cream or yogurt
  1. Put beets in a large pot. Add 3-4 quarts cold water (or enough to cover the beets completely), cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered until tender when pierced with a knife, 60-90 minutes. Remove beets from the water, cool, and rub the peel off with your hands (you'll be a little colorful for a day or so, but the beet juice does wash off).
  2. Add potatoes, carrots, onion, pepper corns, and bay leaf to the beet stock. Season to taste with salt. Simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. As the vegetables cook, you'll see scum rising to the top. Skim it periodically.
  3. Remove the onion and bay leaf from the pot.
  4. Grate beets and add to the pot. Take off heat immediately.
  5. Add lemon juice and sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning. The soup should be intensely flavorful (that's salt's job), with bright, fresh taste (that's lemon juice's job), and some sweetness for balance.
  6. Chill in the fridge overnight.
  7. To serve, pour into bowls and pass the toppings around at the table. Borsh will stay in the fridge for up to 5 days.


SusaneatsLondon said...

My mother is Polish and she taught me to grate my beets before cooking -- this results in a shorter cook time, brighter beet color, and, theoretically, more bang for your beet. (In my mother's method the grated beets are strained out of the soup and no potatoes or carrots are added. The clear beet broth is served cold with a garnish of creme fraiche and thinly sliced cucumbers.)

Helen said...

Hi Susan,

I've never had a Polish borsh before, so I have no idea whether the taste and color is different from Russian borsh. This dish is almost as controversial as Bouillabaisse or BBQ :) Every cook is convinced that theirs is a true way. For Russian borsh, the beets are always cooked, removed and grated. According to my Mom, the soup should be taken off heat the moment the beats go in to preserve the color. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if your way worked equally well. Who knows -- maybe even better. But borsh is one of those dishes that is all about tradition for me and when I cook it, I want it to taste exactly like my Mom's, so I might never find out the truth. I find it ironic that I am much more methodical and logical about French and Italian cooking. I don't have any preconceived notions or "that's not how my grandma used to make it" attitude.

I experiment a lot and I find out for myself what works and what doesn't. When it comes to Russian cooking, I am much more sentimental and tend to stick to the techniques I learned from my Mom and Grandmothers.

Enjoy the spring and more cold soups :)


SusaneatsLondon said...

I totally agree -- and my mother, if questioned, would concede Polish borscht is an entirely different beastie than Russian. Both are delicious and, I suspect, quite similar (i.e., seasoned liberally with lemon, etc.). Of course the other garnish I forgot to mention is lots of dill.

Love your site, BTW, and I'm excited to try your gravlax -- I make it frequently.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous shot of what looks to be a refreshing soup!

green girl said...

Hi Helen,

I feel the same way about borsh (I'm Russian, btw) - I use the techinque that my mom has used, but also add my own twist, sometimes. I grate the beets, and add them to the chicken broth that I prepare ahead of time... oh but first I fry the grated beets with grated carrots and onions, and then add them to the broth. That's how my mom had done it, but every Russian woman had her own interpretation of borsh (I also like to add kidney beans instead of potatoes, for example).

I had never thought of making it cold though! I might try it, because I really miss the "cold soup experience" in the summer. Just the other day I was really craving акрошка ("akroshka"), a classic Russian cold soup made with квас ("kvas"). But there's no way of getting the real stuff in Canada, and it's the main ingredient.... oh well, I'll try your cold borsh!


Helen said...

Hi Alla,

Thank you so much for these interesting borsh ideas. I was just in Baltimore talking to my Mom and Grandma about borsh and my Mom was actually curious if you have a rough recipe of your Mom's borsh. She said that braising grated beets with carrots and onions is another wonderful way to cook it and she tasted it before at other cook's homes, but never tried it herself.

I also found out why you might not have heard of cold borsh. I always assumed it was a Russian dish because I remember having it in Moscow when I was little. But turns out, it's a Russian Jewish dish. It's one of my favorite things to eat in hot weather and if you like okroshka, you'll like the cold borsh. I haven't had okroshka since leaving Moscow 16 years ago either since it's impossible to find good kvas in US.


Kake said...

Thank you for this recipe! I made it the other day, even though I didn't have the garnishes, and it was still really good. There's a photo (not as good as yours, but hopefully still enticing enough to persuade people that it's still tasty even without the garnishes) on my Flickr photostream.

Helen said...

Hi Kake,

Your borsh looks excellent! Thanks so much for your feedback :)


Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if there is an error in the recipe in the ratio of beets to water (2 beets:3 quarts)? My broth was disappointingly watery tasting and looking. I'm going to double the beets the next time around to try to get a richer flavor.

Helen said...

your broth won't be very colorful or flavorful until you grate and add the beets in the end. How many beets depends on their size. If using good size beets (about 3 inches in diameter), you only need 2, but the lovely beets you get at the farmers market in the summer are tiny, so you'll need more than 2.