Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Svekolnik (Cold Borsch)

I have trouble with seasonal cooking. I like hot soups year-round. I will rarely turn down a good stew. I'm uninspired by salads until August, when I can pluck tomatoes and cucumbers right from my mom's backyard garden. I may have qualms about using the oven when it's 80+ degrees in my non-air conditioned apartment, but a nice poppy seed roll chases away my regrets.

Svekolnik, also known as cold borsch, is one of my consessions to warm weather. It's nothing like hot borsch, which is a meal in a bowl. Rather, svekolnik is a light, low-calorie soup that tastes bests when the weather is hot, hot, hot. It could almost pass for hip, vegan raw food. I'm cheating a bit here because my mom made the soup above. But I liked eating it and will make a svekolnik of my own one of these days.

I don't have the exact recipe, but the basic technique is this: In a soup pot, bring beets and water to a boil, then simmer until the beets are tender. Remove and cool the beets, then peel and grate, adding them back to the liquid.

[Update, August 08: The recipe is this: thoroughly wash and scrub a pound of beets. Cover the beets with six cups of water; bring to a boil; then simmer for 60-90 minutes until soft. Proceed as written.]

Add lemon juice, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the beet liquid to taste. This is the hardest part--underseason, and the soup will be bland. It should taste sweet-and-sour, erring on the side of sour. My mom's secret ingredient is a good splash of dill pickle brine. Chill the soup throughly in the fridge, preferably overnight.

Right before serving, chop up: hardboiled eggs, boiled and peeled potatoes, fresh peeled cucumbers, scallions, dill and parsley. I also like pickles in svekolnik. Divide the fix-ins between bowls, ladle the soup over the top and serve with sour cream.


mzn said...

I think I'm going to make that. It's just my kind of thing. I love the idea of adding pickles.

Maybe this is culturally insensitive but I have to know: have you ever had borscht out of a jar or bottle? I grew up having Manischewitz borscht around the house and although it's quite sweet, I am fond of it.

Mrs. M. said...


No, I've never had Manischewitz. I did have a very sweet borsch at Ella's Deli in Madison, which for all I know could have been Manischewitz. It was too sweet for me, though. Really needed a splash of pickle juice.

Helen said...

Oh yum!

This is my favorite summer soup. I haven't made it yet this summer, but it's coming soon. It's almost identical to your recipe except that we cook diced potatoes and sliced carrots in the beet cooking liquid. I like to add radishes to it as a topping if they are available. Have never tried pickles in it, but it sounds like a great idea.


Anonymous said...

I love cold borscht, too, but in the interest of keeping my HOT kitchen a bit cooler am wondering if I could just throw a can of cooked beets and their juice in the food processor, then proceed with your recipe, or do the beets really need to be grated? (I'm also thinking of semi-permanent red half-moons at my finger ends!)

Your soup looks and sounds delicious!

Mrs. M. said...

Helen--I like to add radishes too. Cooking potatoes and carrots in the beet liquid is a good idea. I might try it next time.

Rebecca--You could throw some beets in the food processor, sure. It's not a tradional version, but I've seen recipes calling for exactly that. In her soup book, Barbara Kafka has a food-proceesor svekolnik recipe.

Helen said...

Hi Yulinka,

My Mom made the cold borsh for the 4th of July weekend and added some pickle juice per your recommendation. It was excellent :) Thanks for advice!


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Unknown said...

At Simlpe Pleasures restuarant last week I had a svekolnik with processed to a puree and with a healthy measure of garlic. Delicious. They also added crab meat which added a nice texture but the taste was lost.

Anonymous said...

We made Gazpacho on Sunday -- so yummy, but I think I'll put less garlic into it next time. I know it's not exactly a Russian food, but it's delicious on a hot day!

I'm History, Man! said...

Hi--I've got a bottle of Manischewitz Borscht that I want to get rid of. I find your recipe enticing too! So, I'm going to try it to compare it to the bottle. I just want to find out about serving over "fixins." Hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes. radishes, pickles--lots of interesting tastes. Large dollop of sour cream--and all served cold. Do I have it right? I haven't made borscht before. Might even add some more beets. Ideas?

Mrs. M. said...

I'm History--That sounds pretty good to me. I've never tried Manischewitz, but as the first commenter notes, it's pretty sweet. You could add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice (or pickle juice) to make it a bit less cloying. As long as it's not very thick, you could easily pour it over fixins.

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