Brighten your dinner with BEETS in a hearty and healthy soup called Borscht!
“Beets?! I hate beets!” says Horace Vandergelder to Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly.” I know that because I painted on wrinkles, donned a grey wig and played him in college. I had somehow managed to make it to age 20 without ever tasting a beet (I guess they weren’t a particularly popular vegetable in the rural south during the 1980s). When we got to that scene in rehearsal, Wendy Wimmer shoved a real beet into my mouth from a can the props master had given her. It’s a funny scene in the play, and I didn’t think I’d have to act very much – just wince in actual disgust. To my surprise, I loved the taste! Some years later, when I was living in the East Village in New York City, I had my first bite of Borscht in the popular Ukranian restaurant, Veselka, where I used to wait for takeaway in the back and watch little Polish grandmothers peel potatoes into large barrels for pierogis. If you are ever in the city, do yourself a favor and go to Veselka for the pierogis and borscht!
Borscht is a popular dish in many Eastern European countries.
Recipes vary widely, most of them using beef stock and beef marrow bones. Personally, I prefer hot borscht made with chicken and a bit of Kielbasa, and I will eat it any time of the year!
A good borscht is a hearty marriage of flavors, starting with the primary ingredients which all grow under the ground. Add to this earthy foundation a bold combination of sweet and sour, along with the tang of fresh dill, and you will smack your taste buds senseless!
After I left the city, I started playing with m
y own version for this bright red bowl of deliciousness, and this is what I came up with. Wear gloves when you peel the beets, though, or they will stain your hands!
1 cup diced shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup celery, diced
1 tbsp bacon drippings
2/3 cup carrots, diced
1 turnip, diced
1 large potato, diced
2 cups red cabbage, shredded
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried dill
8 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups raw beets, peeled and diced
1 cup beet leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish (+ 2 tbsp for garnish)
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
1 1/2 cups diced, cooked Kielbasa sausage
1 12 oz can butter beans
1 cup water
1 tbsp flour
3 tbsp sour cream (+ more for garnish)
1/3 cup freshly chopped dill (+ several sprigs for garnish)
salt, to taste (I add mine at the end)
Chop all the veggies and set aside.
In a large soup pot, sauté the shallots, garlic, and celery in the bacon drippings for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, turnip, potatoes, cabbage, thyme and pepper and sauté five minutes more. Add the broth and stir in the tomato paste to dissolve. Add the beets with their greens, bay leaf, dried dill, vinegar, brown sugar and 1/4 cup of horseradish. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 1/2 hour.
Add the chicken, sausage, butterbeans, and 1 cup of water then return to a simmer for an additional half hour.
Whisk the flour with a few tbsp of the hot broth, then whisk in the three tbsp of sour cream until smooth. Stir back to the pot, along with the fresh dill, and simmer for 15 minutes more. Adjust seasoning and serve, garnished with a dollop of sour cream, a sprig of fresh dill, and a sprinkle of grated horseradish.
Waste not, want not – Wash and save the stems and leaves from the beets, then throw them into the juicer with some orange and ginger for a healthy drink.
Toss the more tender beet leaves in with your favorite lettuce for added taste and color in a salad! Fresh beet greens are a good source of iron and are loaded with fiber, protein, and important vitamins like K and C.