If there’s anything that conjurs up memories of growing up in a Lithuanian Jewish home in South Africa, it’s cold borscht (or what we simply called beetroot soup) in the summer. There were always large mason jars filled with soup in the fridge in the summer, and it was a great snack or first course for any dairy meal. We would always eat it with a dollop of sour or regular cream, with finely chopped cucumber. If someone was feeling energetic, maybe a boiled baby potato would find its way into the bowl, but if not, that was also fine.
Oddly enough, until not bvery long ago, I had never made beetroot soup myself, for a couple of reasons: Firstly, the gentlemen in my family do not like beets, and secondly, in Israel, beets are very sadly sold devoid of their stems and leaves. My late mother always made her soup with the whole beet, including the stalks and leaves, which were my favorite part. Without them, I don’t believe the soup would taste as good. I’m very likely wrong, but it’s my schtick.
A few weeks ago, to my joy, my greengrocer was selling whole bunches of beets. I grabbed a bunch and finally made my first pot of cold borscht. There are so many recipes out there that over complicate this very simple dish. This recipe is simple, and you can add whatever accompaniments you like. But the basic recipe keeps ingredients, and patchkie, to a minumum and it works well. At the very least, it tastes just like my mother’s!
1 bunch of beets (about 6 small beets) with stems and leaves
Cold water (about 2 liters/quarts) to more than cover the beets
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of vinegar
Sugar to taste
Salt and pepper
Accompaniments: Finely chopped cucumber, sour cream or sweet cream, small boiled baby potatoes
How to do it
- Very thouroughly wash the beets so there is no grit left. Cut the beet bulbs off the stems, and peel and cut in half. Grate them in a food processor on the coarse blade. Chop the stems into half inch/1.5 cm pieces. Shred the leaves.
- Put all the beet parts into a large pot and cover with the water – water should be about 4cm (2 inches) above the level of the beets. Being to the boil and reduce to a simmer for about half an hour (or until the beets are cooked through). Note: If you don’t have a food processor, you can boild the beet halves for about half an hour or until a fork can slide into the beets, and then hand grate them. Don’t over cook them because they will coninue cooking with the stems and leaves for about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add sugar (about 1-2 tablespoons).
- Allow to cool completely, and then add the lemon juice vinegar and salt and pepper. Keep tasting till you get the right level of acidity.
- Serve cold with whatever accompaniments you like.
Serves about 8.