Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Not Your Grandmother’s Beet Borscht

I don’t know if you grandmother made borscht. Mine didn’t. Grandma just opened a chilled jar, plopped the soup into bowls and ladled on the sour cream. Even so it was a refreshing tonic to the humid New York City summers. If your family has a tradition of homemade borscht, this vegetarian recipe is likely to be different because the beets are oven roasted, not boiled, and the beet tops and stems are used, too. (Your beets came topless? Substitute Swiss chard stems and leaves.) This variation also features sherry and or balsamic vinegar.

This light-flavored soup with a zing produces a dark red bowl of borscht packed with beet shreds and greens. It can be served hot, warm, room temperature or cold. Serve with a selection of toppings and add-ins (see the list of suggestions at the bottom of the recipe) and enjoy.

Not Your Grandmother’s Beet Borscht
Serves 6

4 medium beets, about 6-8” in circumference, with tops attached
Vegetable oil spray or oil to grease baking pan
1 cup sherry wine vinegar and or balsamic vinegar (I used a mix of a half cup of each), divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion, peeled
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 cups of vegetable broth or stock
3 cups of boiling water
1 or more tablespoons of brown sugar

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut tops from beets about an inch or so from the beetroot. Reserve. Scrub beets but do not peel. You should have about 1 ½ pounds of beets. Spray a baking dish with spray oil product or grease with vegetable oil. Place scrubbed beets in baking dish and pour in half of the vinegar, 1 cup of water and salt and pepper to taste. Bake until the beets can be easily pierced by a fork, about 1-1 ½ hours depending on the beets. (I’ve had beets that took less time and ones that have taken more.) Turn the beets in the liquid mixture occasionally while baking uncovered. (Add water if pan starts to dry out.) Set aside to cool. Once cool, cut tail end of root and top stems off of each beetroot. Peels should rub off, if not scrape or pare off with a knife. (Use plastic gloves or put a gallon size plastic bag on each hand to prevent staining.)

Roughly chop reserved beet stems and tops (or substitute Swiss chard stems and leaves). You should have four lightly packed cups. I used about a cup of the chopped stems and the rest were the chopped greens. (Save remaining tops and stems for other uses.)

Grate cooled, peeled beets with the onion.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped stems and tops and sauté until greens are wilted and the stems are starting to be tender when you bite into them. (About 10 minutes.) Add in grated beet and onion mixture and sauté for a moment. Add the 2 cups of vegetable stock. Stir. Add in the 3 cups of boiling water and salt and pepper to taste (the amount will depend on how salty your stock is, but I used ½ tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper). Stir to combine, bring to a simmer. Let simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes (adjusting heat if necessary). Taste. The beet shreds should be cooked through but still have a little crunch. Add the remaining ½ cup of vinegar and the 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Stir in well and taste. Add more brown sugar if required.

Serve hot, warm, room temperature or chilled. (Be sure to taste the soup at the temperature you plan on serving it and adjust the seasonings accordingly. The temperature will make a difference to the taste. In general cold dishes need stronger seasonings than warm ones.) Garnish with any combination of the following: boiled, sliced potatoes, sour cream or yogurt, chopped hard boiled egg, diced cucumber and/or minced dill or mint.

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