#1 - 7262
The Day (Connecticut)
July 23, 2003
The Best A Beet Can Hope For
By MARK BITTMAN
Borscht is the highest and best use for a beet. Quick to cook (at least in my version), easy to vary, loved by almost everyone -- even children -- borscht is the archetypal midsummer soup, and belongs in everyone's repertory.
There is a grand borscht, laden with brisket or other meat (and usually served hot), that casts its too-fussy influence over many summertime borschts. I prefer the light, refreshing version whose ruby color and clear flavor make it very nearly graceful, even elegant. That's really saying something, considering that this is a dish with few ingredients, chief among them a lowly root.
Borscht can be as simple as simmered shredded beets with sour cream or yogurt. To make a meal of it, I like this soup with a hot boiled potato and a cold hard-cooked egg. Diced cucumber is another nice addition. (Borscht lovers can be very particular about the additions. Famously, in "The Talk of the Town," Cary Grant plays a fugitive whose preference for a beaten egg in his borscht leads to his capture.)
The marvel of this recipe is that you can cook all the components separately, and most of them in advance, then combine them just before serving. There is something about cooking the potato at the last minute and plunging it, hot, into the ice-cold soup that I really like, although I can understand the preferences of those who add their potato cooked but cold. Prepare the borscht in the relative cool of evening, and you can enjoy it the next day with little effort.
There is one little refinement that I think makes this minimalist borscht special: I use an entire bunch of dill and bind together the stems (and roots, if any). I simmer this little package with the beets from the beginning, and it flavors the broth beautifully. I garnish the soup with fresh dill at the end. The combination of sweet beets and grassy dill simply screams summer.
Time: About 1 hour, plus chilling
2 pounds red beets, peeled
1 large onion, peeled
1 bunch fresh dill, stems removed and tied in a bundle
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered, optional
1 firm medium cucumber or half an English cucumber, peeled if necessary and diced, optional
4 medium red or white new potatoes, boiled until tender and kept hot, optional
Grate beets and onion together on a box grater or food processor outfitted with basic blade (pulse carefully) or grating disk. Place mixture in large saucepan with dill-stem bundle and 6 cups of water to cover.
Bring to a boil, then adjust heat so liquid simmers steadily but not violently, until beets are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper, remove dill stems, and chill.
When soup is cold, taste and add lemon juice, salt and pepper as necessary. Chop as much of the dill fronds as you would like for garnishing. Serve borscht in bowls, with garnishes of your choice and the dill. Pass sour cream at table.
Yield: 4 servings.