Dr. Zhivago Borscht

By • February 23, 2010 58 Comments

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Author Notes: I had a low red blood count at birth so doctors in Russia suggested that my mother start including beets in my diet to increase my iron within the first year of my life. How did my Mother prepare beets for me when I was an infant? It's reasonable to assume that beet juice was my other 'mother's milk'. This vegetable and I really have been inseparable friends for all of my life.

Over the years, I watched my mother make borscht countless times. When my mother made it (and she never wore gloves), the kitchen smelled of earth, which belied the surprisingly sweet flavor of this amazing root. In high school, I began refining the recipe, dispensing with my mother's use of sour salt and replacing it with more fresh lemon juice. In my twenties, I subtracted parsnips and dill stalks and used fewer carrots and potatoes. Every change I made allowed the focus of the recipe to return to its original beet flavor. My favorite borscht allows me to experience the contrast between sweetness and tanginess, and to adjust that contrast with my own preferred blend of sour cream and garlic slivers and juniper berries. Finding the balance that works for your tastebuds is the heart of this recipe's sex appeal.

Food52 Review: We've never tasted borscht this pure and clean. Naked Beet's broth is supremely light, a clear essence of beet spiked with a healthy dose of lemon juice and perfumed with a large handful of dill. The carrots, potatoes and celery bob amongst the ruby shards of beet, so that each mouthful is substantial yet straightforward. We salted the soup towards the beginning so that the veggies would absorb some salinity, and we added plenty of lemon juice at the end. Don't skip a generous dollop of sour cream; when swirled gently into the soup, it lends just the right amount of richness. - A&MThe Editors

Serves 8

  • 10 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaves
  • 3 medium sized beets
  • 2 medium sized carrots
  • 1 large potato (1 yukon or 2 small red)
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into thin moons
  • 1/4 bunch fresh dill, minced
  • 1/2-1 whole lemon, juice of
  • 2-3 teaspoons salt
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • 12 whole juniper berries (optional)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream (per bowl)
  1. Set your pot of water on low heat. Add in 1 tbsp of oil, chopped onion, bay leaf and juniper berries. Peel the beets and cut them into halves if they’re small enough or into thirds or quarters if they’re very large. You want them to be of relatively equal size. Drop them gently into the water as you continue working on the rest of the vegetables.
  2. Peel and cut the carrots into rounds, and for the potatoes, cut them into 1/2? size cubes or small chunks. (I prefer my vegetables small as I find they distribute a lot better into individual bowls.) Add them to the pot as they're ready. Then add the chopped celery and the juice of 1/2 of a fresh lemon. Bring your heat up and cook the soup until a fork easily pierces through one of the larger beet pieces; this should take about 15 minutes on medium low heat.
  3. While the beets are getting tender, you should skim the soup from some of the foam that will form. By doing this, you will inevitably be taking out some of the oil along with it. Once you’ve skimmed it, put in an additional 1/2 tablespoon of oil.
  4. Once your beets are done, scoop them out of the soup (bringing back into the pot any vegetables that might have clung to the beet) and let the beets cool for 2 minutes so you can handle them more easily. At this point, you can turn the pot to low heat. I’d advise wearing gloves for the next part so you don’t have to take beet stains off your hands. Using the large holes on your grater, shred your beets. Once you’ve grated all the chunks, carefully put all the shredded beets back into the soup pot and let this cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. The soup should have a sweet tart taste. After the 10 minutes, add in the dill and taste the soup to adjust flavors accordingly. Add salt, a tad of pepper, and if the soup is still too sweet for you, another tablespoon or 2 of fresh lemon juice. Remember that if your soup is very hot, you will not taste the actual level of salt, so err on the side of less, as each time you reheat the soup, it will get slightly saltier. This soup is the perfect example of melded flavors getting better in the following days.
  6. Notes: Serve hot or cold, with sour cream or not, but eat this with black bread. If you want to make the soup a bit spicier, add thin slices of garlic to the soup before serving. If you want just a hint of garlic, then rub a cut clove over the crust of your bread. In the Winter, if you want to experience an even more authentic Russian meal, serve this soup with a side of mashed potatoes topped with sardines. Let the juices of the sardines drip into the butter- or milk-mashed potatoes. If you cook this in the Summertime, omit cooking with juniper berries and use a topping of cubed persian cucumbers or a hard boiled egg split in half.

More Great Recipes: Vegetables|Soups

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