Battle of the Borscht / by Anne

borscht This summer I saw a tempting version of cold borscht in David Tanis’ book, A Platter of Figs, which includes exciting additions I hadn’t used before in borscht.  Ingredients such as coriander seeds, cayenne, and whole cloves winked at me from the book, offering the thrill of a little flavor adventure.  

I already loved my version of borscht so much.  Improving upon perfection?  Is it possible?  Making the new David Tanis version, I was excited by the intoxicating smell emanating from the pot.   Since this new version was intended to be served cold, though, that aroma was lost when cooled.  In the end, the new cold borscht recipe was delicious, but my heart still belongs to the simpler version. Is this about flavor nostalgia or the superiority of simplicity?  And did I give Tanis’ version a real chance? 

Clearly I need to make them both side-by-side to make a final assessment.  Oh, darn—I must make multiple vats of delicious soup.  Well, for posterity’s sake, I’m willing to take one for the team.  Below are my modified versions of both borschts (this is a fun plural word to say).  Maybe this autumn you can try them both as well, and we can compare notes.   Happy borscht-ing!

Borscht

Adapted from Joy of Cooking  -- This is the one I’ve made the most.  I tasted this version over 20 years ago and have made it countless times since.  In my mind, it’s a classic.

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 T butter
  • 2 cups finely chopped beets (peeled first)
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrots
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 cups stock or broth (beef, vegetable, and chicken all work well)
  • 1 cup very finely shredded green cabbage (also, cutting the strands short in length makes them easier to eat in the soup)
  • 2 T red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, or more, to taste (I usually use more.  I have also used balsamic in a pinch)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Garnish options: (use one, two or three of the following)
  • Sour cream
  • Dill
  • Chopped boiled eggs

Directions:

  1. Melt butter over medium to medium-low heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. 
  2. Add beets, carrots and onions, and sauté until vegetables are soft.  Stir often.  This takes about 10 minutes. 
  3. Add the stock, cabbage and vinegar.  Lower heat slightly and simmer gently for 30 minutes.   
  4. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if desired.  Be generous with the salt, but consider whether this soup will be served hot or cold. It will taste saltier if cold, so you might hold back a bit now, and wait until it chills to make final seasoning adjustments.
  5. You can keep the soup at the current consistency, or if you like a smoother borscht, you can also purée part of—or all of—the soup in a blender.  You might need to add more stock to suit your preference in thickness if you opt to purée.  All three textures taste wonderful in different ways.
  6. Serve warm or cold, garnishing with sour cream, dill, and/or chopped boiled eggs.  I use sour cream nearly every time, only occasionally adding the other two options. 
  7. At the table: If you serve the borscht with a dollop of sour cream in the bowl, also consider offering an extra bowl of sour cream at the table for those who wish to add more.  Vinegar is another welcome option at the table for those vinegar fiends who would like to add even more tartness to their soup. 

Makes about 5 cups

 

Cold Pink Borscht in a Glass

Adapted from A Platter of Figs -- It would be interesting to try this hot when comparing it to the recipe above. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lb beets, peeled and sliced
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 large shallots, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 or 3 whole cloves
  • ¼ tsp cayenne, or to taste
  • 1 T sugar
  • 5 tsp red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • 1 T olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/3 cups whole-milk yogurt, plus more for garnish, if desired
  • Chopped dill or chives (optional)

Directions: 

  1. Combine everything but the pepper, yogurt, and chopped herbs in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven.  You’ll want to start with a generous spoonful of salt for this amount of soup. Bring to a boil over medium-high to high heat. 
  2. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  3. Adjust the seasonings, remembering that this soup is meant to be served cold and will taste saltier than when it is hot.  Add the black pepper. 
  4. Important: Remove bay leaf and all the cloves.
  5. Purée the soup in a blender.  If desired, strain the purée into a large bowl. 
  6. Chill for several hours .
  7. Just before serving, stir in the yogurt.  Add more vinegar or water, if necessary, to reach your flavor and thickness preferences.
  8. Pour into small water glasses, with or without spoons depending on how thick you prefer your soup.  Garnish with your choice of black pepper, a dollop of yogurt, and/or the chopped dill or chives.

Makes about 10 cups