Vegan Soups and Stews Blog Tour: The Borscht Edition
Posted May 14 2009 5:01pm
We interrupt your regularly scheduled chocolate for...borscht. That's right, another storm is swirling across the country and an expected 6-10 inches of snow, followed by sleet, followed, naturally, by ice will soon blanket the frozen solid heaps of snow left behind by our last storm and there's only one thing for it: make soup and stay in.
Whether through meteorological divination or just plain good timing, cookbook maven Nava Atlas has today released the 4th edition of her book, Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons. The 3rd edition of this go-to soup cookbook was handily veganized, and this latest edition features a slew of seasonal vegan soups, a new photo spread, historical quips on soup, soup making and star ingredients, as well as the general good sense and good humor of Nava Atlas. Having been asked to be a stop on the Vegan Soups blog tour, I was lucky enough to have this new edition to turn to for a delicious, if temporary, remedy to the winter chill.
What with the winter outside being frightful, I immediately cruised the fall and winter sections of the book, open to the possibility of pretty much anything that might warm the old bones. And being, as I am, 28 going on 82, I latched onto an old world recipe for Hot Beet and Potato Borscht. Five years of participation in the Parker Farms CSA, wherein we are inundated with beets, has been time enough for me to cultivate a pretty happy relationship with the beetroot, but I did have my doubts about borscht, so it was on faith that I proceeded. Faith, and desire to meet a household request for more beets. I live with an avidly game eater. There is nothing in the world of vegan possibilities that he will not eat. Generally, this is a great arrangement for an experimental cook such as myself, but it does have a slight downside that can be captured in the following exchange: "What would you like for dinner?" "Oh, anything!" So, when on those rare occasions that an actual request for a particular food or ingredient is made, I try to accommodate, and happily, Nava'a borscht fit the bill perfectly.
In a sprawling exploration of this classic Slavic soup, journalist James Meeks sorts out several enduring myths concerning borscht. It is not, as many claim, a Russian creation (its origins are in the Ukraine) and it need not include beetroot, though it is perhaps most known in that incarnation. In his borscht-related travels, Meeks heard of recipes that included "a ragbag of unorthodox ingredients: dill, sugar, vinegar, flour, spring onions, basil, pickled apples, dried apples, plums, cherries, aubergines, olives, prunes, marrow, sausages, ham, mint, tarragon, paprika and oregano. The arbitrary and anarchic community of domestic borshch-makers," he says, "is a rebuke to political borders, order and standardisation, whether the Soviet standardisation of central planning or the capitalist standardisation of identical retail outlets." Borscht then is a reflective rebel soup: experimental, seasonal, individual and maybe even a little whismical, even as it is tied to history, tradition, place and people.
So it's fitting to add a vegan version of this boundless soup to the winter repertoire. At once comforting and hearty, this borscht is tangy and playfully flavorful. To accompany the sprawl of flavors in the borscht, Nava also provides a recipe for Onion-Rye Scones, which I made in a slightly altered form (barley instead of rye) for a wonderfully warm and substantial winter meal. Another classic borscht add-on is sour cream. I happened to have leftover homemade sour cream on hand, though Nava also provides a recipe in her book for that essential element of the soup; essential not just for the extra sour notes and creaminess but for the gorgeous swirls of pink that lighten the deep hue of the soup.
And speaking of color, this was a particularly auspicious soup colorwise for this week which marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year. This is the year of the earth Ox and it welcomes in a period of solemn dedication to hard work that promises a steady and calm time ahead. Let's hope anyway. Gong xi fa cai! These are almond cookies from our Chinese New Year dinner, which I share with you in anticipation of the coming post that will detail our feast. In the meantime though, you can do a cultural mismash and ladle up some of Nava's bright borscht in welcome to the Ox.
Hot Beet and Potato Borscht with citrus notes and fresh dill
serves 6-81 1/2 tablespoons olive oil2 large onions, chopped3 medium potatoes, peeled and grated4 medium beets, peeled and grated1 large carrot, peeled and grated1 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed or store-bought organicjuice of 1 lemon2 tablespoons minced fresh dill2-3 tablespoons natural granulated sugar, more or less to tastesalt and freshly ground pepper, to tasteVegan Sour Cream, to serve, optional
Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until golden. Add all the remaining ingredients except the sugar, salt and pepper, and optional sour cream.
Add enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring to a rapid simmer, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer gentle until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.
Adjust the consistency with more water if the soup is too dense. Season with sugar, salt, and pepper, then simmer for 5 minutes longer.
If time allows, let the soup stand for an hour or two. Heat through before serving. Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.