Beets are messy. Let me make that very clear. Not even a Christmas Binge Cookie Bake has made as much of a mess in my kitchen as beets.
My whole beet experience began a few weeks ago. On my weekly shopping trip at my local market, I noticed something new in the produce aisle---bagged greens.
Outside of my usual lettuces and spinach, I’ve really never delved into the greens. Collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, and beet greens were all a mystery to me. According to the handy information on the package, the greens were very good for you and could easily be boiled or sautéed like spinach. A huge bag was only two dollars. Why not?
I plopped the greens in some chicken broth (as suggested on the handy package). They took but a few minutes to cook and were just about the tastiest vegetable I’d ever had. Once I powered thru my bag of beet greens, I quickly moved onto collard greens. Then Swiss chard. I was like an addict going from marijuana to coke to heroin. Only my substance of choice was greens. And there’s no rehab for greens.
Last week I found myself jonesing for some greens in a mostly greenless market---my only choices being collard greens or fresh beets with the greens attached. I decided on the beets with leafy greens. I gobbled up the greens that very night and was left with the beets. And you can’t just throw out perfectly good beets.
According to my handy Joy Book of Cooking, beets took about two hours to boil. What the book failed to mention was the mess. As the beets boiled, they quickly turned the water a bright red and the red juice occasionally bubbled up and overflowed onto my stove top. There was beet juice everywhere. I quickly changed out of my white sweater and into a black one. This stuff made a mess.
When the beets were cooked, I covered them and put them into the refrigerator to cool. Honestly, I had no idea what to do with them. And then it came to me.
I’d eaten Borscht a few times in my life. Can I say?---never particularly cared for it. And I come from Eastern European stock. Borscht is in my blood. However, I had a sinking feeling that I’d never eaten a really good Borscht. I was determined to change that.
The next day, I thumbed thru some cookbooks and distilled the many variations into my own recipe for what I truly believed would be a super-fantastic Borscht. And, cut to the chase---it was. And I will happily share my Borscht recipe, but I firmly believe that all recipes for Borscht should begin with a warning in boldface:
WARNING: BEETS ARE EXTREMELY MESSY!
Perhaps they should also be forced to show you a photo of a kitchen after making Borscht as a deterrent---like those disgusting photos on Canadian cigarettes. Only Borscht photos should include piles of dirty dishes all covered in red juice. Ew.
However, while the clean-up was difficult, making the soup was a breeze. Frankly, the hardest part of making Borscht is getting people to eat it.
I have never encountered such a resistance to soup.
Unlike Chicken Noodle or even Split Pea---Borscht is a hard sell. Maybe it’s the colour. After all, most people aren’t used to eating bright red soup. Then there’s the beets. Sure, tomatoes are bright red---but everyone knows tomatoes. When you order a bowl of tomato soup, there aren’t too many surprises. Beets, on the other hand, aren’t even the most popular root in Vegetable High School. That would be Mr. Popular---the potato. Finally, there’s the name---Borscht. It doesn’t sound appealing. Some people don’t even know what it is. Beet soup tends to go over a little better. But even then, be prepared for a lot of faces.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen people so full of trepidation as when I offered to give them a cup of homemade Borscht. I was this close to offering it to a homeless man just to see his reaction.
And the questions. I’ve never heard so many questions about soup. Normally an offer of soup goes a little something like this:
“Would you like some Black Bean Soup?”
“Yes, I would. Thank you very much.”
Instead, I got this:
“Would you like some Borscht?”
(Pause. Look closely at the soup. Pause again. Make a face.)
“What’s in it?”
“Beets, cabbage, carrots and a little onion.”
(Pause. Look at the soup yet again. Cock your head like a Pomeranian. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Pause again. Squint your eyes and nose and forehead. Pull your hands close to your body. Take a step back. Peer over cautiously into the soup. Pause again.)
“Well…okay, I guess.”
Even unknown meat does not cause as much dread as Borscht. If they ever run out of creepy-crawly things on Fear Factor or Survivor, they should just ask contestants to try Borscht. I guarantee, someone will be getting kicked off the island.
Despite this resistance, those who were brave enough to try my Borscht gave it a glowing review.
I’m not very good at writing down recipes (particularly for soup, which is so easy to quickly alter to taste as you go) however, I will attempt now to offer my recipe.
But be forewarned---BEETS ARE EXTREMELY MESSY. I suggest you not work on or even remotely near unfinished wood or any surface easily stained. Metal and glass are easily cleaned. Your standard kitchen countertop will also clean up nicely with either some bleach or (my favourite home cleaner) a Mr. Clean Magic Dry Erase Pad. Avoid plastics as they might stain. Wear dark-coloured clothes. Your hands will get stained but will easily clean up with soap and water.
Now, having scared the beejesus out of everyone… Go put on a black sweater and...
1 bunch (approximately 3) large beets
1 medium-sized yellow onion
2 medium-sized carrots
2 cups chopped cabbage
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Apple cider vinegar
Sour cream (optional)
Cut the stalks off the beets and save for a tasty greens dish. Wash the beets under cold water, place in large pot, cover with water and boil till done (about two hours). Place beets and the remaining juice in the refrigerator to cool. You can leave it overnight and make the soup the next day, or you can continue on.
Finely chop or shread one small onion and sauté in 2 tbsp margarine. Set aside. Chop about a third of a head of cabbage (perhaps 2 cups) into bite-sized pieces. Sautee in 2 tbsp butter. Shread 2 medium-sized carrots and toss in with the sautéing cabbage. Set aside.
Remove the beets from the refrigerator. The outer skin should peel off easily with your fingers (this is really messy!). Cut off the top and the bottom. Cut the beets into small, bite-sized pieces.
In one large soup pot, add 2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups chicken broth. Add the cabbage and carrots, the sautéed onions and the beets and the remaining beet juice. Add 1 tbsp dill, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Stir occasionally.
Allow to heat but not boil. At the very end, add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Season to taste. Remove from heat.
The borscht is ready to serve and is best with a small spoonful of sour cream.
After you sample the soup, start the clean-up and try to get others to eat the soup. Good luck!