The Milkweed Diaries

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Anarcho-Southern Garden-Fresh Borscht

Fall beets are busting out around here, and so my kitchen is full of beet-derived concoctions.

Yesterday I made beet-basil pesto with red and green beet tops, basil, olive oil, garlic, and walnuts -- it turned out a strange, slightly unappetizing mauve color, but with an excellent tangy, spicy flavor.

Over the years since I've been shopping at farmers markets and growing my own food, I've developed a great love of beets--both roots and tops. And a deep devotion to borscht. Even if it didn't have such a unique and fabulous taste, the color alone is so beautiful that it makes a borscht-centered meal feel like a special occasion to me. How often do you get to put something magenta into your mouth, really?

My borscht does not include any cabbage, celery, or carrots, which from what I have gathered from borscht recipe perusing over the years, are traditional ingredients. I don't like to have too many ingredients distracting from the beets. Finely-chopped beet greens to add to the nutritional wallop of the soup, and are also a nice addition because if you grew the beets or bought them at a farmers market, you probably have tops to make use of somehow.

I have heard that the truly traditional way to make borscht is to ferment the beets first, and I want to try it one day, but this time I opted for a quicker time from dirt-to-mouth.

Beet roots contain folate, carotenoids, and flavoniods, and can help fight cancer and heart disease. Beet greens are chock full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, all sorts of minerals (including magnesium and iron), and protein. A soup with both roots and greens feels like a good balance, nutritionally, energetically, and taste-wise to me.

I like my borscht creamy and tangy with a hint of sweetness to accentuate the natural sweet-tangy taste of the beets. I also like to roast the beets to bring out the sweetness even more, a trick I learned from my friend Shane.

So here's the recipe:

Anarcho-Southern Garden-Fresh Borscht
An extremely non-traditional spin on the classic Russian soup

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 2-3 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I used Garnet Chili potatoes,an 1853 heirloom variety that we grew this year)
  • A big pile of beet roots -- I used 9 cups whole beets, including Bull's Blood,Chiogga, and Yellow Intermediate Mangel varieties
  • A handful of fresh dill weed, finely chopped
  • A bunch of fresh beet tops/greens, including stems, finely chopped (about a cup chopped)
  • 1 quart of plain, whole milk yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon plus one pinch salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Green onions for garnish
Making the pink purée

  1. Roast the beets and onions in a cast iron dutch oven or ceramic baking dish with 2 Tbs. of the butter at 300 degrees until tender. I do this the night before and refrigerate the roasted beets and onions until I'm ready to use them the next day.
  2. Puree the roasted beets in a blender, adding the yogurt as you go. If you need to add a bit of water to keep the blade turning, do so. You should end up with a smooth, beautiful, purpley-pink puree.
  3. In that same cast iron dutch oven that you used for the roasting, saute the potatoes in the other 3 Tbs. of butter. Add a little water when they start to stick to the pot, cover and cook until soft. When the potatoes are almost done, add the beet greens and saute for another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Add the pureed beetroot-onion-yogurt mixture to the potatoes and beet greens.
  5. Add dill, the tsp. of salt, black pepper to taste, honey, and vinegar, plus water to thin a bit if desired. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes or so until the flavors are well melded.
  6. Top with sour cream and finely-sliced green onions, and serve hot with crusty bread for dipping. Enjoy!
Borscht keeps for at least several days in the fridge (maybe longer -- it never lasts any longer than a day or two around here) and is excellent as a chilled summer soup.

The finished soup ready to serve. . .just add sour cream and other optional toppings such as sliced green onions or a chopped hard boiled egg.


El said...

I adore beets but am alone in my household! If you ever find yourself in my vicinity, let's have a beet festival, okay?

What I love about reading your site is you're always about 3-4 weeks ahead of where we are, gardening-wise. So I tend to think to myself "those beets are big but they'll be bigger soon" and it's true. They will. And: I will be ready for soup then!

thanks for the recipe; it looks just wonderful.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

We're over in the Piedmont (warmer and drier). Recommendations on beet varieties?

Milkweed said...

Thanks El! Yes, let's eat beets together one day. . .

Jack, I don't know if these varieties would do well where you are or not, but Yellow Intermediate Mangel, which I got from Seeds of Change, seems to be super-hearty under a wide variety of conditions, and grows to an impressive size. It seems to be less prone to skin-withering when left in the ground, too. I've also had good success with Chioggia (from Fedco), and with the more delicate Bull's Blood (Fedco), which doesn't get as big as Chioggia or Yellow I.M. but I can't help loving for the gorgeous color of the root and, I hope that helps, even though we're growing in different conditions!

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

Many thanks!