I’m a little done with the whole beet salad thing. You know the one: peeled cooked beets + dark leafy greens + nuts of some sort + goat cheese. It’s good once, great even. But why does every restaurant in the country seem to have some variation on this formula on their menu? I think we’re all ready for something more from beets.
John confessed the other night he’s just not that into beets. This from someone who works on a farm and eats everything. I, on the other hand, love beets – sweet and jewel bight, they make me think of summer suppers from my parent’s garden. We would eat them plainly, boiled and salted with a squeeze of orange juice and a pat of butter, their purple juices leaving trails across our plates. I could eat them this way always, but if I’m in the mood for something more, I’ll roast them for this vibrant and sweet beet hummus, or I’ll grate raw beets for a mustardy slaw with plenty of fresh dill.
Or, let’s say it’s a swelteringly hot afternoon in July, I just might make this chilled borscht and serve it up sweetly in tea cups on the back porch. The recipe is from David Tanis’ cookbook (the chef at Chez Panisse) Platter of Figs. An ode to cooking by the seasons, Platter of Figs is broken down into 24 complete menus, 6 per season. The recipes overall are surprisingly simple and ingredient driven, and this is no exception. Rather than restaurant cooking for the home cook, this is just home cooking by someone who knows good food; the kind of thing you imagine Mr. Tannis eating at home.
This soup is pure beauty, and worlds apart from boring beet salad. It’s the ultimate heat wave food with its vibrant color and cool character. I’ve never eaten borscht cold before, and I think it’s even better this way. The sweetness of the beets plays well with the spices and the zing of a little vinegar, while the creaminess of the yogurt brings everything together. I like it best served in small portions, as a refreshing first course or light lunch for summer. It would also make a striking hor d’oeuvre served in shot glasses. Beets and all, this soup won John’s firm approval. Serves 4-8 depending.
For the Borscht
one bunch of beets (about ¾ lb), peeled and chopped
4 cups water
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
½ tsp ground coriander
small pinch of ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cayenne, or to your taste
½ tbsp sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
½ tbsp olive oil
generous salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk yogurt
chopped dill and/or chives and/or basil for garnish
crème fraiche or more yogurt for garnish (optional)
Combine the beets, water, garlic, shallot, bay leaf, coriander, cloves, cayenne, sugar, vinegar, and olive oil in a medium sauce pan. Season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 15-20 minutes or until the beets are tender when pieced with a fork. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed – you may want more salt, vinegar, or cayenne. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Puree in batches, using a blender, until very smooth. Refrigerate until cold, 2-3 hours. You may want to chill the serving glasses or bowls at this point also.
Just before serving, whisk in the yogurt. Taste for seasoning again and adjust as needed. You may also want to thin the soup with a splash of water if it is too thick. To serve, pour the soup into glasses or bowls and garnish the fresh herbs and crème fraiche or yogurt.