Chill out with cool beet soup
It’s summer. We’ve had some hot weather. I bought young, tender beets, together with their greens, at the farmers’ market. It’s time for … cool beet greens soup!
Beets and herbs grow well in the harsh, cool weather of central and eastern Europe — Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and the Balkans. In winter, many varieties of borscht — some with beans, some with beef, some with chicken, some with cabbage — are popular. Each region has its own version, but Ukraine is often cited as the soup’s place of origin.
Summer calls for light, cool soups — so a chilled version of borscht is a popular national dish in Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. Welcome Kholodnoi Borscht (Ukraine), Chlodnik (Poland), Saltibarsciai (Lithuania) Ciorba de sfecla (Romania). Of course, these different countries have slightly different variations.
Some use few beets and rely on greens. Others don’t use greens and instead use pickled beetroots. The soup is flavored with lots of garlic and fresh dill. It is garnished with hard-cooked eggs and raw sliced cucumbers and sometimes, radishes. Yogurt, kefir, sour cream or buttermilk give summer borscht its rich pink hue, creamy texture and a mildly tangy, refreshing flavor.
Made with tender, young beets with greens — plentiful at the Farmers’ Market now — that are known as “botwina” or “botwinka” (pron. “bot-vinah,” “bot-vincah,”) the Polish-Lithuanian version dates back to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 14th century. When I visited Lithuania in June of 1992, this soup was in every restaurant and cafeteria.
Summer borscht is a healthy treat. Beets are packed with folic acid, potassium, vitamins A and C, fiber, and many powerful antioxidants and flavonoids. Betacyanin, the dye responsible for the bright crimson color of red beets, is a powerful cancer preventative.
With just 19 calories in a half-cup, the greens are even more nutritious than the roots. They’re loaded with fiber, beta carotene, folic acid, vitamins C and A, calcium and iron, and almost twice as much potassium as the roots. Like most other greens, they contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids and phytochemicals that protect against heart disease and certain cancers. Studies show that beet greens may suppress nicotine cravings, helping smokers quit.
On hot summer days, cool off with this light, creamy, refreshingly tangy soup! Serve it by itself, with cheese toasts, or with young dilled potatoes or mashed potatoes. Either way, it makes a great summertime lunch or supper. Here are a couple variations.
Chlodnik (Polish / Lithuanian)
1 bunch beet greens, with a few small young beets
1 / 2 teaspoon salt
2 cups broth or water
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 cup diced cooked ham (optional)
1 large cucumber
A few radishes (optional)
1 quart buttermilk or kefir
1/2 cup fresh dill sprigs
Eggs (one per person)
Remove beets; baby beets should be about the size of a radish. Peel and grate the beets. Wash and chop the stems and greens. Place in a pot with onion and ham, if using. Add broth or water with half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cook about ten minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Peel and chop cucumber. Stir into soup, along with chopped fresh dill and buttermilk. Chill 6 hours or overnight for flavors to blend.
Before serving, cook eggs until hardboiled; peel and quarter. Place the egg in the bowl, add fresh minced dill, chopped cucumber and radish and top with soup. Serve with dilled new potatoes.
Cold Borscht, Ukrainian Style
4 large beets (or 8 small ones)
2 or 3 quarts broth or stock (beef, chicken or veg)
2 bay leaves
Several grains allspice
2 medium red onions
3 cloves garlic
1 small or medium red cabbage
1/2 cup good quality red wine vinegar (or to taste)
1 bunch chopped fresh dill weed
Salt, pepper to taste
Per serving bowl: 1/2 cup diced fresh cucumber, 1/2 cup diced fresh radishes, 1 or 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt or sour cream, 1/2 of a hard-cooked egg, sliced or chopped
To remove skins from beets, either run under boiling water for a minute or place in a dish, cover with paper towel and microwave a minute or two. Test to see if the skins are loose; after 4 or 5 minutes they should slip off easily.
Chop the peeled beets. You can julienne them with a food processor or shredder, or cut in half and slice on a cutting board.
Shred cabbage finely using a food processor.
Peel and dice the large onion. Peel and mince the garlic.
Add broth, salt, bay leaves, allspice, cabbage, onion and garlic to a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, then add the beets. And continue cooking for about 30 more minutes. It should get sweeter as it cooks and some of the liquid boils away.
Remove from heat, cover tightly, and let it cool overnight, or for several hours. Place in the fridge after it has reached room temperature.
Taste. Season with salt, pepper, and red wine vinegar.
To serve: hard-boil some eggs (1/2 to 1 per person). Chop dill. Chop cucumber. Chop radishes.
Place chopped hard-cooked eggs, dill, cucumber and radishes in bowls. Pour soup over, and add a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt.
Serve with fresh-baked Challah bread or French baguette.
Option: Use 6 – 8 cups broth. Omit sour cream or yogurt and instead, mix cooled soup with 1 quart of cultured buttermilk. Add dill, eggs, cucumber and radishes as above.
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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Words Are My World.