Years ago, when we lived in Chicago, I embarked on a joint cooking adventure with my husband’s niece (hi Rathi!) to make borscht. We were super casual about it – you know, let’s make borscht tonight, we said as though we were the kind of people that made Ukrainian beet soup every day at 7pm. Ha! What seemed like four hours later (I kid, it was probably closer to three), we finally sat down to steaming hot bowls of soup complete with all the traditional toppings – sour cream, mashed potatoes, dill and the rest – and I’m not sure whether we were more thrilled to be eating what turned out to be a delicious soup, or just monumentally relieved to be done with the epic exercise that was our borscht recipe.
If we got together again now (which we really should, pronto), I would invite Rathi to pull up a chair and try my current version of borscht, which takes all of ten minutes to make once you’ve cooked the vegetables. And if you have a pressure cooker, aka the magical kitchen appliance that makes short work of everything, you’ll be done with the initial cooking stage in a flash. And the best part of this new version? It’s served cold, which makes it the perfect summer soup. The new gazpacho, so to speak. So, get those ideas of sweating over long-simmering stews out of your head and get with this new program, where borscht means a delicious mix of beets, cucumbers, potatoes, green onions and chopped boiled eggs, all suspended in a shockingly pretty pink buttermilk base. Cool refreshing, and just the thing for the sunny days that we now have in spades. You are most welcome.
Cold Summer Borscht
Recipe adapted slightly from The Wednesday Chef
1 pound beets (2-3 beets)
1 large potato (or 2-3 small ones)
½ English cucumber (or 2-3 baby cucumbers)
2 large eggs
4 cups kefir or buttermilk
3 cups cold water
3 tablespoons thick strained yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the washed beets and the potato in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, at a low boil until a knife inserted into the potato goes in without resistance (should take about 20 minutes) The beets will take longer, but should submit to the same knife test. (Time can vary according to size and freshness of the beets.) Alternately, if you are smart enough to own a pressure cooker, halve the potatoes and beets and cook them in separate containers, for 4 and 8 whistles respectively. Drain and cool until easy to handle. In a separate pot, hard-boil the eggs. Drain and cool the eggs. Wash the scallions and grate the cucumber.
When the beets have cooled sufficiently, peel them and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. Put the grated beets into a large soup bowl or pot. Peel and dice the eggs and the potato. Add both to the beets. Slice the scallions and add to the beets. Add the grated cucumber.
Mix the strained yogurt into the vegetables and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add the kefir or buttermilk and the water. Mix carefully, cover and put in the fridge to let the flavors meld. Serve cold from the fridge. WE enjoyed this with a little crumbled feta on top, which is not traditional but totally yummy.