Beets…you either love ’em or hate ’em and I love them!
I love them roasted, shredded raw and blended up in a juice. If they are on a menu, usually as an appetizer with some crumbled goat cheese, I have a difficult time passing them over for another selection. But my absolute favorite way to enjoy beets is in borscht. Cold borscht that is, I do not like hot borscht or borscht that is made with tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, beef or pork. Oh no, absolutely not. I like my borscht to be vibrant pink, a result of the beet cooking liquid being mixed with dairy, and featuring only chopped beets, cucumbers, scallions and dill. The addition of a hard-boiled egg is optional but a fabulous way to make a meal out of this refreshing summer soup.
I discovered this version of borscht while working at my first “paying” job in New York City. I was at the lowest level at a tiny public relations firm on the East Side, just down the block from the United Nations. I was so excited to be living in a studio apartment (with a roommate, of course) and on my own in the big city that I was committed to making my $17,500/year salary work any way I could. This meant a rotating lunch menu of: a baked potato and can of tuna that I would bring from home (please don’t ask, I have no idea where this combination came from but I will reluctantly admit that I would top it off with red wine vinegar. Let’s just leave this one alone.); lettuce-tomato-honey mustard on a toasted onion bagel from the corner deli (they guy behind the counter had a tough time figuring out what to charge me because I was ordering a bagel with all the free condiments. Little did he realize that when he settled on 75 cents that I would be back every other day for a year and a half.); and my occasional splurge from the Jewish deli one block away, cold borscht, a version so similar to the recipe below, served in a plastic pint container with a hard-boiled egg sunk to the bottom. That was a lunch I’d look forward to on Fridays, a reward for a hard week’s work, as it cost me a whopping $4.95.
If you don’t like beets, I probably can’t convince you to make this recipe which happens to be adapted from the fabulous Ina Garten’s Summer Borscht from the cookbook, Barefoot Contessa at Home. If you are on the fence about beets, and of course if you love them, please give this a try. I urge you to make a batch and keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. I bet you will be a borscht convert before the pitcher is done.
And if you happen to be throwing a summer dinner party, there couldn’t be a more perfect first course. This borscht is made in advance, is a “non-issue” as far as timing since it’s served cold, is adventurous without being completely off the charts and makes for the most beautiful presentation possible.
Beets are abundant right now, on farm stands and in supermarket produce aisles. What have you got to lose?
- 5 medium fresh beets (about 2 pounds without tops)
- Kosher salt
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 16 oz reduced fat sour cream
- 1/2 cup reduced fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 Tbls freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp Sherry vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups medium-diced English cucumber, seeds removed (or while cucumbers are fresh locally, peel and de-seed a regular cucumber)
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
- 2 Tbls chopped fresh dill, or more to taste, plus extra for serving
- 6 hard-boiled eggs, optional for serving
- Place the beets in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook uncovered until the beets are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Beets are tender when a knife can be inserted easily. Remove the beets to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and also set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the beet cooking liquid, the chicken stock, sour cream, yogurt, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt, and the pepper.
- Peel the cooled beets with a small paring knife or rub the skins off with your hands. Cut the beets in small to medium dice. Add the beets, cucumber, scallions, and dill to the soup. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Season to taste and serve cold. Or if you are making a meal out of the soup, add a peeled, hard-boiled egg (whole or chopped) to each bowl of soup just before serving.