Continuing with my holiday plan this year, I bring you again a favorite family recipe we always make at Christmas, in one form or another. Festive, traditional and delicious, here’s the version we made last year, which we’ve christened: Zoë‘s borscht. Merry Christmas, one and all!
A short history of my borscht
The very first time I served borscht, I had no idea how to make it. I hardly knew how to spell it!
But I wanted to try my hand at a typical 12-course Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner for a special friend. I must have passed the test, because my friend has been coming back for it ever since.
In those days, at the dawning of time, we didn’t get recipes from the Internet. In fact, we didn’t even have the Internet. We got recipes from cookbooks or family members.
In this case, with no Ukrainian family members or cookbooks handy, we decided to consult the Russian Embassy, which as it happens, was just around the corner. My friend spoke a little Ukrainian and thought he could fake enough Russian to get by.
The helpful woman at the main desk immediately switched to English once she heard our query and gave us some general directions. It’s hard to go wrong with soup and it turned out to be delicious. We’ve made it every Christmas ever since.
My favorite borscht recipe
I tasted the recipe I present here at a friend’s house at Chanukah last year. It’s always surprising to me how closely many of our traditional recipes are shared among cultures. It speaks to the idea that we all grew from the same seed, I think.
This was the first time Zoë helped me in the kitchen, so we christened this version of borscht after her.
Zoë’s borscht with beets and cucumbers
Similar to the borscht served at Calories restaurant in Saskatoon
Makes four or five 6- to 8-ounce (200-250 milliliter) portions
- 1 pound (½ kilogram) red beets, well scrubbed (about 4 medium)
- 1 cup (250 milliliters) water the beets were boiled in
- 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) Greek yogurt or sour cream
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- ½ English cucumber, diced
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) finely chopped fresh dill
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal and chopped
- ½ cup (125 milliliters) Greek yogurt or sour cream
1. Boil beets in enough water to cover, until fork tender (at least 1 hour). Save the beet water.
2. Cool them under running cold water, then peel them. The skin slips right off. Dice half of one of the beets and reserve. Cut remaining beets into chunks and put them in a food processor.
3. Add the beet water, yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, honey and salt and blend till smooth. Wear an apron, as beet juice stains.
4. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in reserved diced beets and diced cucumbers. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, honey and lemon juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5. Serve soup cold, garnished with yogurt, green onions and dill.
- When doubling the recipe, use the same amounts of seasonings and adjust the taste at the end, to suit.
- Try substituting 1 cup of orange juice for the beet water.
- And for an extra special touch splash a little Port on top when serving.
How did it taste?
Me: Fresh, zingy, crisply delicious.
Zoë: Strangely red. She refused to taste it. But she loves yogurt and helped me measure out her favorite food. “Can we make the yogurt red?” I asked. Zoë thought that was a great idea and happily mixed some red borscht into a bowl of creamy white yogurt until she had a lovely bowlful of pink cream. Then she ate it all up :).
We think this marked the beginning of a borscht tradition with our youngest generation.
- Jack Spratt’s breakfast beets – After his gall bladder attacked him, Jack Spratt could eat no fat. He had to learn a few new tricks in the kitchen. Beets are bile’s best friend! Recipes include Jack’s beety breakfast bowl. Delicious!
- The Queen’s beets: Let them eat cake – Grated beets add nutrition as well as sweetness and color to your chocolate birthday cake. Also, read the untold story of Marie Antoinette.
- Beetniks, a winning formula – Sonny and Cher show us how beets can give you the edge in your next race. Learn how to use the leaves of beets to make beetniks, a wildly popular party food on the prairies. Go Go Go!
- Pretty in pink – At your next party, serve a low-fat, low-salt beet hummus, packed with flavor and good carbs.
Sharon has a few copies of her book Cook Up A Story left at home in each format: soft or hard cover, small or large size, color or black and white. She would be happy to mail you a copy along with a complimentary chef hat and apron she sewed from repurposed shirts (one size fits all). Contact her here for details.