19 September 2008

Borscht is Beautiful

Borscht always seemed like one of those things that my grandparents ate but was so hopelessly out of date that it would never pass my lips. This summer, I began to develop a mini fascination with it, especially after seeing beets crop up all over the food blogs that I read. When Zach and I went to our CSA pickup and red beets were labeled as 'acye' (as much as you can eat) I took three but as we were biking away I suddenly stopped (not the world's best idea on a busy bike trail) and told Zach we had to go back and get more beets as I was going to make borscht.

After loading up our canvas tote with beets we headed home. There was no time to make a soup that evening but I started to look up recipes the next day. Even though I had never had borscht before, I knew I was looking for a smooth soup that would be a violent maroon color which meant any recipe that didn't involve pureeing or enough beets was out. I also found a few recipes that called for mixing sour cream directly into the soup, resulting in a very strange Play-doh purple color, but that really did not seem appetizing. Finally, I came across a recipe by Tyler Florence that looked reasonable yet interesting. He roasted the beets before pureeing them in a soup and made a grated dill and apple topping for it.

I did make a few little changes to his recipe though. I added about 50% more beets than it called for, as I really wanted a rich beet flavor. I decreased the amount of oil called for from 6T to 3T and added a lot more dill. Fresh dill is really essential for finishing off the soup, but I used dried herbs where the original called for fresh in other places.

The borscht came out just as I hoped, a shocking purple-pink color. The taste was phenomenal too, with just the right balance of sweet balanced by the tart apple and sour cream and everything was perfumed by the fresh dill. I served the borscht at a warm room temperature but Zach decided he prefers his piping hot but I like it chilled too. For us it was dinner, with a loaf of fresh bread and a glass of wine, but it also made a great lunch the next day and would be a rather pretty first course for a fancy dinner-- in fact, I'm thinking about serving it at Thanksgiving.

Roasted Beet Borscht
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Yields 8-10 bowls

Note: The beets need to be roasted for 1 hour before you can make the soup. I did this the night before.

For the Roasted Beets
1.5 lb (700g) fresh red beets, cleaned with greens removed
1 t. dried thyme
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper

- Preheat oven to 400F. Set the beets on a baking sheet (you might want to cover it with foil for an easy cleanup) and pour on the olive oil then sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper. Use your hands to rub the oil and seasonings all over the beets.

- Roast for about one hour, or until beets are fork tender. Allow to cool for a bit then carefully peel of the skins (they should slide right off) and cut into chunks. Reserve beets until you want to make the soup.

For the Soup
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/4 t. dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 C. chicken (or veggie) stock
2 T red wine vinegar
1 T honey
1 green sour apple
1 t. lemon juice
4 T fresh dill, roughly chopped
Sour cream, for garnish

- Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onions, carrot and dried thyme and allow to soften for 8 minutes. Add in the chopped garlic, give a stir, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add in the stock and the roasted beets, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.

- While the soup is simmering, shred the apple and toss with the lemon juice. Chop the dill and mix with the apple. Set aside until ready to serve.

- After the soup has cooked, carefully transfer it to a blender and puree in batches (SEE NOTE) or use a stick blender if you have one. Return soup to pot over a low flame and stir in vinegar and honey then taste and check for seasonings. Serve immediately with the dilled apple and a dollop of sour cream or chill and save for later.

NOTE: Always be careful blending hot liquids. Don't fill the blender more than 1/3-1/2 was full. Remove the center plug in the blender lid and place a folded up kitchen towel on it. Use one hand to hold the kitchen towel wad on top while you hit the 'pulse' button with the other. This will allow some steam to escape while you are blending. If you leave the plug in the steam will build up in the blender and literally blow the top off like Old Faithful and you will be wearing borscht in your hair like I was.


kat said...

Oh, I haven't had bourst on soooooo long! Might be time to whip up a batch. I'm like your husband I prefer it piping hot

Sue said...

I would eat this hot AND cold. Gorgeous recipe.

Blending hot things is the only thing I use my silicone pot holders for. I still think they're weird to use for taking stuff out of the oven, but they're perfect for this. And the borscht will rinse off of them so easily.

Katerina said...

The only time I ever mad borscht there was a typo I the cookbook which called for a cup rather then a tablespoon of sugar, totally ruined.

However, as I am currently quite the beet fanatic I just have to try this, and I agree with your assessment of the dill. The more the better.

Jen said...

Sue- I made a squash soup last night and used a silicon pot holder over the top instead of a towel-- much easier cleanup.

Katerina- I'm trying to imagine borscht with a cup of sugar... it must have been really strange.

Kat-- Thanks for the comment as always.