Beets Taste like dirt! Period! I know they cleanse the blood, are high in iron and are part of my Mother’s Polish cultural heritage. But still, I just really can’t believe that after confessing that I had made Borscht at her funeral, family members actually asked for the recipe.
As kids my mother would occasionally make borscht mostly as comfort food for herself and she tried everything else from pickled beats to boiled beets to get her kids to eat them. Most days we would rather leave the table hungry than eat beets. I eat some pretty weird stuff like kidneys and liver by choice and both of them are high in iron but beets are simply not on my list.
The ingredients for Borscht are pretty obvious, they are the items that would survive the winter in a poor person’s root cellar when there is no meat to be had (beets, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes) and no refrigeration. Even the flavoring selection is simple (salt, pepper, dill, and optional vinegar). The other decisions are to serve it hot or cold; serve with meat or not; serve lumpy or pureed and add milk or not. Now some choices are easy based based on family tradition others are based on personal taste.
My Mother’s Borscht was served hot, without meet, pureed and with milk. I don’t do milk in soup so I skipped the milk. The only problem I had was that I didn’t have a recipe because mom never wrote anything down and also because we were so poor she was not a very good everyday cook. (She did great on holidays and when we had company, when money was no object.)
I had a strong ally in my quest for perfect Borscht and that was my friend Tracey who eats beets on a regular basis, uses them as an ingredient in smoothies and has training in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales University. I am a reasonably good cook and understand the contribution from individual ingredients to the entire recipe.
So we set off on our quest to make a Borscht that didn’t taste like dirt.
The first time I made it was in a pot on the stove with Tracey, the second time was in my coffeepot using canned beets, and the third was in the coffeepot using a real beet. All three renditions were vegetarian and since I made it three times, I have to confess to my Sainted Mother, I am beginning to actually like this stuff.
2 cloves garlic
1 14.5 oz can vegetarian broth
1 Beet Large and firm
Potato – equal size to beet
2 medium carrots
1 Tablespoon fresh cut leaves loosely packed Dill (if dry use ½ teaspoon)
Put the olive oil, rough cut onion and garlic in the pot and saute without browning. Butter was the traditional fat, but I prefer Olive oil. When the onions start to glaze, add the broth. Chicken is traditional, but if the meal is 90% vegetarian, I usually go all the way and give my body a one day break from meat.
The dill, potato,carrots and beet are diced and added to the pot.
After cooking till soft, blend everything in a blender. Don’t worry too much about over or under cooking as the blender smooths everything out and there is more cooking time as the mixture is returned to the pot to adjust the spics and add the vinegar
Tracey and I figured out the value of every one of the traditional ingredients by putting them in the pot one by one and tasting them at each step.
- Beets are a high energy nutritious food.
- Carrots add more sweetness and cut back the beet flavor.
- Potatoes are very neutral and make a smoother soup.
- The dill adds zest like it does in potato salad or pickles.
- The vinegar gives some acidity like balance in a good wine. This effect was traditionally reached my letting the soup ferment for a few days and reheating before serving.
- This soup definitely needs salt and pepper to taste.
As seen above the meal is very attractive when served with a sprig of dill and a dollop of sour cream – Just like Mom did.
Tracey was happy the soup came out so well.