Cold Summertime Borscht
In the heat of summer, there is nothing better in this world than a cold soup. I'll stand by that blanket statement, too. I have a friend, perfectly reasonable in all other ways, who, as soon as it's chilled, strips the label 'soup' from any kind of puréed vegetable. Leaving us with, well, I guess just puréed vegetables. Baby food, really. And to me, baby food has never been particularly appetizing, so we'll go with soup.
This soup was divisive in other ways, too. I loved it. As in really, really loved it. Probably could have just drunk it straight from a glass like the vegetable smoothie my friend would probably insist it is. R? Not so much. He took a few bites and generously gifted me the rest of his bowl. I should have know, though. And I did know I was pushing my luck with this one. I think the bright pink color had him fooled for the first few spoonfuls, but then the vinegar, mustard, and beets (none of which he actually likes) started to sink in.
To me, these piquant ingredients are instantly refreshing, and they brighten up the earthy beets. Borscht seems so Old World, since it is, having its origins in Ukrainian and Russian cooking. The warm version usually consists of beets and cabbage in a meat broth, but the cold version is much lighter and perfect for summer. This one, the version from Christopher Hirsheimer & Melissa Hamilton's Canal House Cooking series, is traditional in that it calls for a base of sour cream. But I mixed part sour cream with part thick Greek yogurt. Feel free to use one or the other, although I'd go with sour cream for the garnish in either case.
Adapted from Christopher Hirsheimer & Melissa Hamilton's Canal House Cooking Volume 1
3 large beets, trimmed (remember to save those beet greens for another use!)
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
Half a small yellow onion, chopped
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 cup sour cream plus extra for serving
2 cups Greek yogurt (nonfat is fine)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons half-and-half
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
Fresh chives for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400F and wrap each of the beets in tin foil individually. Roast for about 1 hour, until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.
When cool, slip the skins off the beats and chop them. In a large bowl, combine the beets, cucumber, onion, bread crumbs, sour cream, yogurt, mustard, half-and-half, vinegar and sugar and give it all a good stir with a wooden spoon. Purée these ingredients in a blender, working in batches. Add salt to taste and refrigerate, preferably overnight so the flavors have a chance to develop.
To serve, top the chilled soup with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives.