Saturday, May 26, 2012

Spring Borscht, Polish Beet Soup

Borscht with Eggs and Herbs, topped with Dill
Borscht with Springtime Goodies

Recipe Adapted from The Art of Polish Cooking


Until last August, I was afraid of beet soups, and had never eaten them. Early childhood memories of watching my grandmother from Poland make dark, foreboding soups (that I never tasted) made me cautious. Because my cooking goals for both 2011 and 2012 included exploring my Polish family cooking roots, learning to make beet soup was inevitable. Especially since we get loads of beets in our CSA share.


Beets, Beet Greens, Vinegar, and Chicken Broth
Borscht Basics
I started last summer with a simple earthy Ruby Red Beet Soup served at room temperature, adapted from Deaf Smith Country Cookbook. It’s lighter than I imagined a soup of beets and their greens to be, but intensely beet-y. I put off further beet soup exploration till last month, when hubby Bruce found a Simple Borscht recipe that seemed similar to what my Bopcha (grandmother) made, from The Art of Polish Cooking. Its delightful sweetness inspired me to make two more beet soups: Golden Beet Soup with Herbs and Pureed Red Beet Soup with Dill, both of which were delicious.

Beets with Greens, Dill, Parsley, Green Onion, Lemon, Eggs
Spring Borscht Produce
And so, on to the complicated Spring Borscht, also from The Art of Polish Cooking. I could imagine my peasant ancestors in spring, after the harsh Polish winter, gratefully cooking their springtime bounty of new beets, fresh herbs, eggs, homemade chicken broth, butter, and sour cream. But I couldn’t imagine that all that would taste good together, and thought that the beet greens might make the soup bitter. But I was wrong! The added ingredients balance one another perfectly, and even Bruce, who dislikes anything made with sour cream, ate two bowl of this (thanks in part to Lilly sour cream, which contains only cultured milk and cream).  The soup quite is hearty and chunky, a real celebration of the fruitfulness of spring.

The recipe uses 1-2 bunches of beets, depending upon their size. I doubled the amount of dill, parsley, and green onion, and added an extra hard cooked egg. This makes the soup even thicker, which I like. If you prefer, use only 2 eggs, and/or add some more chicken broth. Original recipe calls for beef or chicken broth, and you could substitute any veggie broth as well. I garnished with a little extra dill, but you might prefer parsley, green onions, or a combination. Let’s celebrate the (veggie) gifts of late spring!

Bowl of Borscht, with Spring Onion and Chopped Dill
Garnished with Herbs
Spring Borscht
serves 6 - 8

1 lb. young beets
Beet greens
2 cup water
1 tsp. white vinegar
4 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp. flour
¼ cup cold water
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. or more salt
1 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. dill leaves
2 tbsp. chopped green parsley
2 tbsp. chopped green onion
½ cup sour cream
2-3 hard cooked eggs
extra dill, parsley, green onion for garnish
fresh-ground salt and pepper

Scrub, peel, or scrape beets. Dice into ½ - ¾ inch pieces. Chop beet greens and stems into similar size pieces.

Boil beets and greens in water and vinegar for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally, and watch the water level. When done, much of the liquid will be evaporated.

While beets and vinegar are cooking, prepare the last-minute additions: squeeze and measure the lemon juice, measure out sugar, salt, butter, and sour cream.  Chop and measure the herbs, and chop the hard cooked eggs.

Add broth. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes.

While soup is simmering, whisk flour with ¼ cup cold water in a medium bowl or large measuring cup, blending thoroughly to form smooth paste. Then, when soup has simmered, gradually whisk about ¼ cup the hot soup broth into the flour mixture. Stir broth-flour mixture into soup.

Simmer a few (3-6) minutes until slightly thickened, stirring frequently. Taste to be sure “floury” taste has dissipated. Remove from heat.

Stir in lemon juice, butter, sugar, and salt. Then stir in dill, parsley, and green onions. Next, stir in sour cream until uniformly distributed. Finally, stir in chopped eggs.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with extra dill, green onion, and/or parsley. Serve with fresh-ground sea salt and pepper, which in small quantities bring out the soup’s flavor.

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