I am sure most of you, beautiful people, know what a borscht is. I am equally sure that everybody has a different idea of what it is. It reminds me of the four blind men and the elephant story: remember how each one of them felt a certain part of the elephant and then compared the elephant only to that part, not getting the idea of the whole? I’ve heard people say, “Borscht? It’s a cabbage soup.” True, but there is only one kind of borscht that I know of which is, in fact, a cabbage soup. The rest of them, and I know three more different ones, aren’t. The other prevailing impression is, “Borscht? A hot beet soup? Yechhh!” Also true, but again there is only one kind of borscht that is a hot beet soup, and that’s the one that also has cabbage in it. But this is the middle of summer, it’s pretty hot out there, although it had been much hotter in Odessa in July before sweaty aborigines and hordes of tourists got the blessing of air conditioners. We are making Cold Red Borscht, as opposed to Cold Green Borscht (to see that recipe, click here), which is a cold beet soup, but without cabbage. It is also called Svekol’nik, from Russian Svekla – beets.
You need to get beetroots together with beet greens. Then you separate roots from the greens and put the greens aside for now. Peel the beet roots, cut them in quarters, cover with water, and cook to softness.
Meanwhile, while your beets are cooking, you can get the rest of your veggies ready. A nice size carrot, half a bell pepper, medium size sweet potato, a few scallions, and those beet greens. Actually, they are beet dark reds, or even purples, but you know what we are talking about, right? A handful of fresh parsley tops the list. Start with the carrot, and as soon as it is peeled, throw it into the pot to join the beets. Hold on to the rest of your veggies for now.
There is a definite order of veggies going into that pot, and they actually go in pairs, like animals on Noah’s big boat. Peel sweet potato, clean the half of sweet pepper, and cube both. We like chunks of vegetables in soups and salads to be on the smaller side, so I cut them to about 1/3 inch (1 cubic cm), but if you prefer them larger, do it any which way you like. They go into the pot next, but not yet.
Now you have to chop your scallions and beet greens somewhat smaller than you did potato and pepper. So whatever size you choose for those first veggies, these guys have to be smaller. Get them ready, but put them on the side for now.
By now your beets and carrot should be nice and soft. Fish them out of the pot but leave the liquid boiling. Let them cool a bit, enough to grate them. Meanwhile, you can add sweet potato and pepper cubes to the boiling reddish-purple liquid. Add water to fill the pot. I am using my two-quart pot, and all quantities of ingredients account for that. Once beets and carrot are grated, throw them back into the pot and stir. Bring to boil again, reduce to medium heat, and cook for about 10 minutes, until potato and pepper pieces are soft to the touch. Add scallions and beet greens, stir, bring to boil again, reduce heat to medium and cook for about five minutes, until beet stalk pieces just soften.
To make this borscht more attractive, I prefer to tear parsley into rough pieces, mostly leaving the leaves intact, but if you want it chopped, you can do whatever you like. Add parsley when you consider your borscht ready, then season with salt and pepper. All done?
All, but for a secret ingredient – a splash of lemon juice. There are variations with chopped, diced, or crumbled hard boiled eggs, or even sliced hard boiled eggs floating on the surface, which looks very beautiful. You may want to try that, in which case omit lemon juice – they’ll clash.
It is usually served with a dollop of sour cream. In my case, it is Tofutti Sour Supreme and a sprig of mint. Refrigerated well, it is probably one of the most refreshing and colorful summer soups I’ve ever seen, and chock-full of vitamins!
- 2 large beet roots with greens
- 1 large carrot
- 1 medium size sweet potato
- 1/2 green sweet bell pepper
- 2 quarts water
- 3 -4 scallions
- Large handful fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Splash of lemon juice
- Separate beet roots from greens. Peel and quarter beet roots. Cover with water, bring to boil, reduce to medium heat.
- Peel carrot, add to beets. Cook together until soft, about 15 minutes.
- Peel and cube sweet potato, about 1/3 inch (1 cubic cm).
- Clean and cut green pepper to the same size as potato.
- Cut scallions and beet greens, including stalks, into pieces smaller than potato and pepper pieces.
- Once beet root and carrot are soft, remove them from the pan and put aside to cool. Do not discard liquid.
- Place potato and pepper cubes into liquid, add water to fill the pot, bring to boil, reduce to medium heat.
- Grate cooked beet and carrot. Add to the pot, stir, bring to boil, reduce to medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until both potato and pepper are soft to the touch.
- Add scallions and beet greens and stir. Cook on medium for about 5 minutes, or until beet stalks soften.
- Tear parsley into large pieces, add to pot.
- Season with salt and pepper, add a splash of lemon juice to taste. Bring to boil and turn off. Make sure parsley retains its bright color.
- Refrigerate well. Serve cold, garnish with sour cream or substitute and a sprig of mint.